A nutritious casserole, which she had the foresight to prepare earlier, is simmering as Tracey Britten returns ‘home’ from the 90-minute round trip collecting her children from nursery school.
They quickly head for their ‘play room’ next door — a sea of brightly coloured Lego bricks, bikes, scooters, dolls’ prams and teddy bears — to squabble, fight and chase each other round, while their mother counts the hours before bath and bed.
It’s a scene no doubt being mirrored all over this affluent part of North London where they live. However, these children are quadruplets, who made it into the record books four years ago when Tracey, at the age of 50, became the oldest woman ever to give birth to quads in the UK.
Which, no doubt, is already earning her an outpouring of sympathy and awe from fellow, frazzled parents, who have no idea how she manages to cope.
Now consider this: ‘home’, for this family, is currently a Travelodge, as they have been homeless for the past two months.
Amazing: Britain’s oldest mum of quads, Tracey Britten, with her children who are now four
Tough: The family are now living in a Travelodge after the home they rented was sold
Tracey, now 55, has no cooking facilities — the sausage casserole is simmering in a hastily purchased, plug-in slow cooker, perched precariously on a chest of drawers — nor a fridge — milk is kept tepid in a few inches of bath water. All the family have is just two rooms (one to sleep in; the other for everything else) for them and most of their worldly goods.
Laundry is an issue, too. Without a washing machine, Tracey is spending £40 every time she uses the laundrette.
And there is no end in sight. They could, she has been warned, be stuck here for ten years.
‘Who could have predicted that our lives would turn out like this?’ Tracey asks, rhetorically, widening her eyes and shaking her head as she greets me at the lift. She and her children have been holed up in these fourth-floor rooms since having to leave their four-bedroom rented house back in February.
‘The worst of it is having to do everything in one room,’ she says. ‘In a home, you have a kitchen, bathroom, living room, bedrooms, but this is all we have.
‘I feel untidy, grotty, and there are days I don’t want to get out of bed, but I have to stay strong, to keep going for them.’
Tracey earned the title of Britain’s oldest mum to give birth to quads after the arrival of her three girls: Grace and identical twins Fredrica and Francesca, and son, George, back in October 2018, after IVF treatment at a clinic in Cyprus.
She and her husband, Stephen, who is 12 years her junior, were hoping for one baby, but all three implanted embryos thrived, and one divided into identical twins.
Joy: George, identical twins Francesca and Fredrica and sister Grace at Haven Marton Mere Holiday Village, Blackpool, when they were aged one
Struggle: The family can no longer afford to pay private rent
Power couple: Tracey pictured with her husband Stephen who is 12 years her junior
What are the chances? The couple were hoping for one baby, but all three implanted embryos thrived and one divided into identical twins
When the sonographer conducting the first scan told her she was expecting quads, Tracey candidly admits she burst into tears, asking: ‘How am I going to cope?’
Doctors had advised ‘reducing’ the pregnancy, warning that the chances of all four surviving were a million to one. In the event, all the babies did survive, despite being born nine weeks premature — the lightest weighing 1lb 15oz, the heaviest 3lb 10oz — at London’s University College Hospital, and spending their first couple of months in special care.
Her story attracted global media attention, leading to television appearances, including on ITV’s This Morning, during which presenters Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby each held a quad, while Tracey cradled one in either arm.
It also led to a barrage of criticism: the family was denounced as a drain on the welfare state, while others accused Tracey of being selfish for having four children, who would still be in their teens when she was drawing her pension, so late in life.
But despite her early fears, they coped. In the early months, up to 28 bottles of formula were pre-prepared at dawn and lined up in a huge American-style fridge, and the babies were bathed, fed, changed and put down for naps with military precision.
Stephen worked hard as a roofer to support the family, while Tracey, who had trained as an aesthetician, administering Botox, fillers and skin treatments a couple of years ago, was planning to earn a living renting a room at a clinic and seeing clients once the quads were in school.
‘Everything was fitting into place,’ says Tracey. ‘Then the landlord of the four-bedroom house in Enfield we were renting decided to sell up, and we couldn’t find anywhere else we could afford.’
So here they are.
We sit, chatting on a bed in a room that overlooks a busy main road, while Tracey spreads semi-liquidised butter onto crackers as four hungry children hold out their tiny hands in anticipation. They were hoping for some cheese, too, but when Tracey unwraps it from the tin foil, it’s covered in green mould and inedible.
I’m expecting them to kick up a fuss, or at least whinge a bit, but they seem to accept their lot.
Tracey, however, does not. She cannot accept this is how she will spend the next decade of her life, and refuses to be downbeat.
‘I feel terrible that they are having to live like this, though none of it is their fault, and I’ll do whatever I can to find us another lovely, stable home,’ she vows.
The noise is incessant — George, who has been diagnosed with autism, is only content when watching and listening to nursery rhymes, sung in high-pitched American accents —and with no access to outside space, the quads have an awful lot of energy to burn off.
Although her nerves must be permanently jangled, Tracey is endlessly patient, only raising her voice on two occasions throughout the day, to break up a couple of fights.
Promise: ‘I feel terrible that they are having to live like this, though none of it is their fault, and I’ll do whatever I can to find us another lovely, stable home,’ Tracey vows
Ground-breaking: The mother went on to the This Morning show with Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield
Happy: The TV duo looked over the moon to be holding the babies
High spirits: ‘One of us has to be here with the children and keep things as stable as possible for them. It’s better that it’s me — I’m stronger’
Although she and Stephen are still together and he spends time there every day, after work and for longer at weekends, he cannot bear being cooped up in the hotel, so stays overnight at his mother’s house — which is not big enough to fit them all — in another part of North London.
I can’t hide my surprise at this revelation and ask whether Tracey feels angry at being left to cope alone in the hotel while Stephen runs off to his mum’s?
‘He couldn’t cope with being here all the time,’ says Tracey shrugging. ‘He doesn’t like enclosed spaces and the aircon would set off his asthma.’
My eyebrows are still raised, so she adds: ‘One of us has to be here with the children and keep things as stable as possible for them. It’s better that it’s me — I’m stronger.’
But how on earth did this come about? The Brittens had lost their original home, a rented three-bedroom bungalow in Friern Barnet, North London, where the family lived for a couple of years after the babies were born, in the same way they lost the next one — the landlord suddenly decided to sell up.
It’s become a familiar predicament for tenants, as many smaller private landlords decide that, due to changes in legislation, coupled with increased mortgage interest rates, letting property is no longer worth their while.
Rent on each of those properties was £2,100 a month, £1,800 of which was covered by housing benefit payments, but the Brittens have been unable to find anywhere with at least three bedrooms charging less than £3,000 a month.
Unable to make up the difference between their housing benefit and that sort of rent, Tracey approached her local authority in the hope of being offered a council house.
‘The housing department said we would have to be actually homeless, not just facing eviction, before they could add us to the council house waiting list and, even then, it could take ten years before something suitable becomes available,’ says Tracey. ‘How can we possibly wait that long? I’ll be 65 by then and the children will be teenagers.
‘I’m grateful to have a roof over our heads, of course, but we’re stuck in a hotel room 24 hours a day,’ Tracey says about the emergency hotel accommodation the council is paying around £2,500 a week for. ‘I’ve said we’ll take a two-bedroom place, at least then we’d have a kitchen, but I’m told they’re not legally allowed to house us anywhere with fewer than three — and yet they can keep us here!’
After being served with an eviction notice and threatened with bailiffs, the family moved out of the Enfield property on February 26. They were told the only accommodation available in London was at the Finchley Travelodge. Tracey has three grown-up children from a previous marriage and ten grandchildren in the capital city and, she says, desperately needs nearby family support.
Telling herself it was only temporary and that no one could reasonably expect her to live in a hotel room with four children, Tracey packed up her furniture, white goods, kitchen equipment and most of their clothes and toys, organised a van and put it all into storage, at a cost of £200 a week.
Despite calling and sending emails, Tracey says she’s heard nothing from Enfield council’s housing department during the seven weeks since.
It is no surprise to learn that her mental health is suffering. ‘The weekend before we moved here I thought I was having a heart attack in the night and called an ambulance,’ says Tracey. ‘The paramedics said it was an extreme anxiety attack. I’ve had a couple since —whenever I dwell on our circumstances — but at least I know now that, horrible though they are, they won’t kill me. My biggest fear is leaving the children motherless.’
Miracle: A scan showing Tracey’s pregnant belly
Problems: Driving to the nearby park for fresh air and a runaround presents its own problems, as she risks losing one of the limited spaces in the hotel car park
A strange life: Tracey has a quad buggy, which occupies a significant space in the ‘play room’ at the hotel, but it is cumbersome and heavy
Family: As bad as it is, you can be sure she will be too busy fighting for a roof over her children’s head to give in to self-pity or regret
So, somehow, she gets out of bed every morning, pours each of her children a bowl of cereal, with tepid milk from the bath, served with crockery washed up in the bathroom sink, and tackles whatever challenges the day ahead holds. And the challenges are endless. Taking all four children out on foot alone is impossible, given that the hotel is beside a busy main road and she has only two hands. Added to that, George refuses to walk for long, sitting down on the pavement and crying to be picked up.
Tracey has a quad buggy, which occupies a significant space in the ‘play room’ at the hotel, but it is cumbersome and heavy, and pushing four of them puts a huge strain on her already painful back.
Driving to the nearby park for fresh air and a runaround presents its own problems, as she risks losing one of the limited spaces in the hotel car park.
The quads do go to nursery, which is close to their old home in Enfield, from 9am to 3pm in term time, requiring Tracey to drive for an hour-and-a-half twice a day.
However, since moving to the hotel, she has received calls almost daily to say that one of the children is unwell. ‘I don’t know if it’s the heat in these rooms at night, when it’s too risky to open windows because we’re on the fourth floor, or the air conditioning, but all this illness only started when we moved here,’ she says. ‘I’m forever administering Calpol.’
The children are due to start full-time school in September, but Tracey has no idea where they’ll be living then. ‘We’re currently in a different borough and I don’t just need one school place, I need four,’ she says. ‘George will also need one-to-one support, all of which will need organising beforehand.’
At the moment, she’s managing to survive on about three hours’ sleep. ‘George usually wakes up and wants to play with his Lego. If I don’t let him, he’ll cry and wake the others.’
She daren’t risk falling back to sleep because, on two separate occasions during the day, George has let himself out of the hotel room — which doesn’t, of course, lock like a house door — travelled downstairs in the lift and stepped out onto the street, before, luckily, being stopped by a passer-by.
‘It was horrendous, terrifying,’ says Tracey. ‘I was hysterical, thinking someone had taken him or he’d run into the busy road.
‘We have two rooms but they’re not inter-connected, so it’s impossible for me to be in one, sorting laundry or whatever, while they’re in the other, playing, and keep a constant eye on them.’
Given how things have turned out, has she, I ask, ever wondered how her life might be now if she had not decided to spend the £7,000 her mother left in her will on IVF, at the ripe old age of 50?
‘If I didn’t have four children, I wouldn’t be in this situation, but I’ve never once thought why did I have them?,’ she says without hesitation. ‘None of us knew that four embryos were going to grow and, if I’d listened to the doctors, and reduced to two, I could have lost all four.
You would need a heart of stone not to sympathise with Tracey and her situation.
As bad as it is, you can be sure she will be too busy fighting for a roof over her children’s head to give in to self-pity or regret.
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-11987285/How-did-Britains-oldest-mother-quads-end-living-two-rooms-Travelodge.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 How did Britain’s oldest mother of quads end up living in two rooms at a Travelodge?