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No mother truly understands the saying "children grow up too fast" better than Tam Dover.
Her precious daughter Emily McAuliffe had just turned two when she began developing breasts, strong body odour and bouts of acne.
At four, Tam had to teach her daughter how to use panty liners when she started menstruating and now, at seven, Emily is going through menopause, with the same debilitating symptoms as women in their 50s – hair loss, fatigue and mood swings.
"I tell her it's normal so I don't scare her, but there's nothing normal about it," says NSW Central Coast mother Tam, 43. "How do you explain to a little primary school girl she's going through puberty or menopause?
"It's heartbreaking – I can't buy her normal dresses because of her breasts. She's more like a 17-year-old."
Emily was born weighing a healthy 3.6kg and was the smallest of her siblings – Tam's children TJ, 21, and Trinaei, 24, and her 42-year-old partner Matt's children Connor, 19, and Phillip, 12 – before her growth spurt.
By the time she was four months old, Emily was the size of a one-year-old.
As Emily developed into a woman, Tam took her to countless specialists, who dismissed her size as genetic and suggested diets. To make matters worse, Tam, who works in admin, and husband Matt, a security guard, had to pay $500 for every appointment and doctors were still unable to pinpoint what was wrong.
"It placed a huge strain on us financially," says Tam. "Not to mention frustrating as no doctor could detect what was wrong with her."
In 2017, a blood test revealed Emily had the same hormone levels as a pregnant woman. She was diagnosed with Addison's disease, meaning her adrenal glands don't produce enough hormones, and central precocious puberty, which causes early sexual development, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, autism and sensory processing disorder.
It was a relief when Emily began hormone replacement therapy to halt her growth, which gave her early menopause, but sadly it was to no avail. Doctors stopped the treatment as Emily continued to grow.
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"I never wanted my daughter to be a science experiment or guinea pig but that's what she is," Tam says, explaining Emily has endured a ridiculous amount of tests to find a suitable treatment – but the science isn't advanced enough.
Now without medication, Emily is monitored by specialists and having regular DNA and genetics tests. Despite weighing 65kg and wearing a size 16-18, Emily is aware she's different to other girls her age, but she doesn't let it faze her.
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"Sometimes she asks why she has a tummy and why her boobs are so big and we tell her that she is our special little girl and that everyone is different and unique in their own way and that is OK. It's so important she has a positive body image."
Having seen Emily bullied at day care, Tam and Matt were apprehensive about her starting primary school last year but it turns out they had nothing to worry about.
"Emily loves school," says Tam.
"She's so popular. She's really creative, and parents and pupils are just drawn to her. Even though she towers above her peers, she has such a fun, sweet and caring nature – people see past her size and adore her for the beautiful person she is."
Because Emily knows she is different, she has a nurturing nature beyond her years and is all-inclusive of everyone. It's an attribute her parents say is infectious. "She has an amazing empathy and understanding towards others," says a proud Tam.
"In Emily's eyes, everyone is special."
No one knows what the future holds, but the family have much to look forward to with another baby due in January! Emily says she "can't wait to be a big sister".
"She's a beautiful girl with a heart of gold," Tam says of Emily proudly. "She has an amazing resilience and is so loving and caring. I would have another 10 of her I could."