Britain’s oldest mum of quadruplets has made a special visit to her Preston roots to celebrate their first birthday today.
Tracey Britten, who grew up in Farringdon Park and Wilbraham Street, hit national headlines last year when she gave birth to the three girls and one boy when she was aged 50.
She already has three grown-up children and eight grandchildren.
Today, on their first birthday, she will take them to visit the grave of her mum Pauline Smith at Preston Crematorium. Pauline left Tracey £7,000 in her will, which she spent on IVF to have the babies.
Tracey, who now lives in London, said: “If it wasn’t for mum leaving me that inheritance, then I wouldn’t have been able to have the IVF.
“I’ve always wanted to do this on their first birthday, to say thank you to her.”
Clinic in Cyprus
Tracey, 51, and her roofer husband Stephen, 40, began trying for a baby without success after having had a late termination aged 39, after she and Stephen decided it was ‘the wrong time’, as she was about to become a grandmother.
Last year, after being deemed too old for IVF on the NHS, the couple travelled to a clinic in Cyprus, where successful implantation happened on the first attempt.
Tracey, the youngest of seven, said: “Mum died in 2007 and I saved the money for a rainy day, thinking if something happened to me, I would have something to give the kids to fall back on.
“But then when I couldn’t get pregnant, I thought I’d put it towards that.
“Mum always wanted one of her girls to have twins and so I feel blessed that I was able to do that for her.
“She was a wonderful person, she would give you her last penny. When my older kids were little, and I couldn’t get a babysitter, she would cancel any plans she had to help look after them.
The babies - George, identical twins Francesca and Fredrica and sister Grace - were delivered by Caesarean section, nine weeks premature, at London’s University College Hospital, on October 26, 2018.
Tracey describes Francesca as a “bossy boots”, who if she cries, sets off Fredrica.
She said Grace “is her own person, nice and placid”, and George is “laughing from when he gets up to when he goes to bed”.
Four babies? "Oh my God"
Tracey, who went to Northlands High School in Moor Park Avenue, moved to London in 1994 to make a fresh start for her and her older children. She met Stephen in 2005 and they married in 2012.
After travelling to Cyprus for the implantation, Tracey was persuaded to go for an early scan by her daughter Sara-Lee.
At the appointment, when she was around seven weeks pregnant, the sonographer revealed the news there were four babies.
She said: “I kept saying ‘Oh my God!’ I nearly fell off the bed.
“I was crying, thinking I can’t have seven kids, no way. I’d gone from three kids to seven in seconds. I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience.
“When I got home and told Stephen, he was as happy as Larry. He just said at least we don’t need to have any more!”
When Tracey sold her story to a news agency, The Sun splashed her news across the front page, causing Tracey to seek solitude for two days.
She said: “I didn’t realise what the reaction would be. I had photographers outside my door, journalists were knocking on doors of my family and taking pictures off my daughter’s Facebook.
“It was all very intrusive at a time when I was coming to terms with everything.
“The medics told me that I mustn’t get stressed, so I packed my bags and took myself off to a hotel in Epping Forest, about half an hour away. I didn’t even tell Stephen or my daughter, I just did it.”
Tracey has also had to endure online criticism and has shut down her social media accounts.
A "drain on the welfare state"
Among the negative comments, people have called her a drain on the welfare state and her pregnancy ‘immoral’.
She said: “People don’t say it to my face, but there’s a lot of keyboard warriors.
“When it went in The Sun my daughter told me not to read the online comments, but when someone tells you that, of course you do. There’s a lot of nasty fools.
“People have said ‘she’ll never cope’, but I have, I’m proving them wrong.
“The doctors said it was a one in a million pregnancy and I needed to reduce the number to two, but I’ve proved them wrong as well.”
Doctors recommended two of the babies be aborted
Concerned she would go into early labour and that one of the identical twins was taking the blood supply of her sister, doctors recommended two of the babies be aborted, with the timing of the discovery meaning Tracey and Stephen had only days to make a decision.
She said: “It was traumatic. I tried to do a lot of research online, about the prospects, but there wasn’t really anything.
“I eventually found a doctor in America who had delivered 120 quads, and he helped us to look at it in a different way. He asked us whether we’d be able to live with our decision if we looked at our two children and thought about the two we’d terminated, or would we rather leave it up to nature?
“That helped me a lot. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I’d have chosen the termination.”
As it happened, Tracey, a former drugs counsellor, enjoyed a good pregnancy, resting up and eating well. Her ‘can do’ attitude has served her well with the mammoth task of looking after four newborns in her sixth decade.
She said: “After I had a Casesarean I was up and about the same night. There were other people always on the buzzer, asking nurses to bring them a glass of water or their mobile phone, but I was getting up and active. That’s why I healed well.
“When I had one I wondered what have I done, and this is four! But I don’t regret anything.
“The way I look at it, is that I paid for one and got three free.”
Tracey was 18 when she had her daughter Sara-Lee, 19 when she had son Paul, and 28 when she had son Marley.
She said she’s noticed differences to her parenting now, in a positive way.
She said: “When you’re young, you want to go out, go clubbing, go abroad and you get frustrated when you can’t get a babysitter. But when you’re older you’re more relaxed and you’ve got that out of your system. I want to enjoy the blessing I’ve been given.
“They’re all very placid, and I think that’s something to do with me being relaxed and thinking positively.
“But when they do all scream at the same time I don’t stress about it.
“I had patience when I was younger, but not as much as I have now.
“When they were little and growing you wish they were still a baby, but when you have four, you don’t think that at all. I can’t wait till they reach new milestones.”
Due to their premature birth, the babies are not yet crawling, and only began sitting up six weeks ago.
Tracey said: “They will be mobile soon, but it doesn’t bother me. I’ve got a big playpen and I will use that for when I need to go and do something in the house.”
Tracey’s daily routine
Stephen usually heads to work at 6.30am, leaving Tracey to manage with the children on her own. A firm routine of batch cooking, feeding two at a time, naps in the morning and afternoon, and a production-line technique with Stephen at bath times, are her keys to getting through the day.
But weekly doctor and hospital appointments for both her and the children cause some difficulties, with preparations for a 1pm appointment beginning at 9am.
The babies don’t always sleep through the night, and Tracey is often up by 5.30am, but she has still found time to write and publish a book on her mother into quad motherhood, called Against All Quads.
She said: “When I was going through it, I couldn’t find much at all to read and help me, and anything there was was research and from an academic point of view.
“I wanted to share my experiences from when I fell pregnant to now, in a real way.
“People who have read it have emailed me and said I’ve given them hope, that I’m an inspiration. There’s more women out there in their 50s who want to go through IVF.”