'I've had seven kids since I was 15'
Wednesday 10 June 2009
When Susie Christian fell pregnant aged 15, she shocked her family by announcing she wanted another seven children.
True to her word, Susie, now 24, has either given birth or been pregnant every year since, and is raking in £24,000 a year in benefits to support her brood of seven.
Undeterred by a never-ending cycle of feeds and dirty nappies, Susie and her husband Dax, 25, are planning on having an eighth baby in two years, despite the fact neither of them work.
“We always wanted lots of babies and we only take what we’re entitled to. I am a good mum and would love to work,” says Susie.
“But I don’t have time and my husband can’t because he has arthritis. People may say we shouldn’t have kids if we can’t support them, but it’s not our fault Dax is unfit.”
The couple earn £500 a week in handouts made up of child tax credits and child benefit. While many young families are struggling to pay their mortgages, they pay just £15 a month towards the rent of their home in Norwich, which has four double bedrooms and a garden. Oldest daughter Hope, eight, has a DVD player in her bedroom and the family has a Nintendo Wii.
Nevertheless, they’re not satisfied. Dax’s Disability Living Allowance of £500 a month was reduced to £100 two months ago because, after an assessment of how his disability affects his life, officials claim his arthritis has improved.
Susie says: “There’s no way Dax can work, some days he’s in bed all day in pain. And I can’t work because I’m looking after him. Now we have to pay for taxis for his hospital appointments ourselves. We can’t use public transport because it’s too uncomfortable for Dax to stand and wait for a bus.”
The couple’s children – Hope, Neisha, seven, Ethan, six, Neo, five, Rhiver, three, Marli, one, and Taio-Ashar, six months – were all planned.
Susie admits she wanted a big family because it made her feel needed. She says: “I like being pregnant and I like having babies. Being part of a big family is fun and it makes me feel needed and loved. I love watching their little personalities develop and each milestone is special.”
Hope, Neisha, Ethan and Neo are all at school and Rhiver attends a free pre-school every weekday morning.
“It’s not all stress – a lot of it’s fun,” says Susie. “I only have two babies at home and the rest are at school or pre-school.”
To help cover the cost of school uniforms, the couple get charity vouchers.
Susie says: “I don’t splash out, we buy our clothes in Asda.”
The couple say it was “love at first sight” when they met on a school trip to Snowdonia aged 14. A year later, Susie persuaded Dax they should try for a baby and nine months later, Hope was born.
“When I met Dax, I knew I wanted his babies and I knew I wanted to be with him forever, so I didn’t see our age as a barrier,” says Susie. “Dax wasn’t sure at first, but he soon came round to the idea of a big family, so we thought we’d better get started.
“Our families said we’d never stay together, but we’ve proved everyone wrong.”
Susie’s dad looked after Hope while his daughter sat her exams. She passed a handful of GCSEs at grade C and D, but just four months after having Hope she fell pregnant with Neisha.
Susie, who married Dax four years ago, says: “We were delighted and didn’t want to stop trying for babies until we’d reached our goal of having eight. Our families weren’t disappointed, they were very supportive.
“We wanted to have children young so we could have a closer bond with them. When they are having teenage problems we’ll be able to talk openly and honestly about them because we were that age not long ago. Having the children so close together means they are great friends and I would love them to always be close.”
Susie passed an A-level in childcare with an A grade after studying part-time while pregnant with Neisha. Between subsequent pregnancies, she worked in a leisure centre and as a special needs teaching assistant for nine months.
Meanwhile, Dax had trained to be an auxiliary nurse after school, but stopped when Hope was six months because of a bad back. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with chronic arthritis and hasn’t worked since.
Susie dismisses suggestions they could’ve put plans for a big family on hold after it became clear Dax couldn’t work, saying: “We knew we’d be able to get by on benefits.”
To her credit, Susie keeps her household in good order. She’s up at 7am to prepare cereal and fruit for the children. She then walks them to nursery and school.
She may then pop to Tesco where she spends £150 on a weekly shop. The family gets through 10 loaves of bread and several litres of milk a day.
She says: “I make all the meals, like spaghetti Bolognese, myself and I make sure nothing gets wasted.”
Then she cleans, cooks and reads to the little ones before doing the school run.
The family eat dinner together and then Susie baths the children and tucks them up in bed before 7pm. She then washes and irons school uniforms.
She says: “I make sure they all have good manners. Because we can’t afford all the latest toys they don’t take things for granted. They’re used to sharing and I think they’re well behaved. Because there are so many of them they have to be considerate.”
“It’s a struggle,” Susie admits. “I have a lot of help from both our families. Some of my friends think it’s daunting having so much responsibility, but I’m not interested in going out and getting drunk. I just love being a wife and mother.”
She adds: “I do want my kids to work and hope they all have interesting and rewarding careers. If one of them became a parent at 16 I couldn’t complain because I did it and I’m happy. Dax joked that if our seven kids had seven kids of their own he’d be a grandad to 49!
“Everyone has the right to a big family and I shouldn’t be criticised for being on benefits. I don’t have time to work and I can’t leave Dax. We only take what we’re entitled to and we’ll stop at eight. Being a wife and mum is the most important job in the world.”
By Suzanne Finney