Like many of her peers, 50-year-old Tracey Britten has a touch of arthritis, frequent bouts of backache and has, inevitably, succumbed to reading glasses.
However, while her contemporaries may be looking forward to taking life a little easier, their children having left home, Tracey is about to become Britain’s oldest mother of quadruplets.
Now 27 weeks pregnant, she’s in constant pain and has barely made it off the sofa — let alone out of the house — in the past three months. ‘I can’t sleep for long as I wake desperately needing the loo and can only eat tiny bits of food because my womb is pressing on my stomach,’ she says.
Tracey Britten, who is expecting quadruplets, at her home in north London
Nevertheless, she insists — despite a chorus of criticism that she is being selfish and irresponsible — that it will all be worth it.
‘No one criticised Mick Jagger, Ronnie Wood or Elton John when they became fathers in their 60s and 70s,’ says Tracey defiantly. ‘So why are they attacking me?
‘I’ll cope better now than when I first became a mum in my teens and couldn’t help wondering what else I was missing out on. I’ve done everything I want to do now, so I’ll just be able to devote myself to my babies.’
Tracey is already a mother to three grown-up children — a daughter and two sons — and grandmother to eight, aged between seven months and 11 years. What might make her story even more difficult for people to understand is that 11 years ago, after meeting her second husband Stephen, she had a late abortion because the ‘timing wasn’t right’ for a baby.
It was the guilt and trauma of this termination that eventually led her to an IVF clinic in Cyprus this April.
‘We were desperate for another child and would have been ecstatic to have been having twins. But when the sonographer told me nine weeks into the pregnancy that I was carrying four babies, I burst into tears,’ admits Tracey.
‘Although I had four embryos implanted to maximise my chances of conceiving, never in my wildest dreams did I expect to have quads.’
Tracey had been trying, unsuccessfully, to conceive for ten years before embarking on IVF treatment.
As her 50th birthday approached last December, instead of heralding a natural end to her dreams of a fourth child, it brought renewed resolve.
A scan of Tracey Britten’s unborn babies, which has been shared with the Daily Mail
With cost of treatment in British clinics — around £14,000 for the recommended three cycles — being prohibitively expensive, the couple decided to spend £7,000, left to Tracey in her mother’s will, to pay for treatment abroad. They found a clinic in Cyprus, The Kolan British IVF Center, where a doctor declared her physically ‘like a 30-year-old’.
After taking the preparatory drugs at home, they flew back to Cyprus where her eggs were fertilised with Stephen’s sperm and the embryos placed in an incubator, to see which would thrive.
A few days later, the healthiest four were inserted into Tracey’s womb and the couple flew back home.
An agonising two-week wait followed before Tracey was due to attend a private clinic in London, where a blood test would reveal if the cycle had been successful.
However, after 12 days the couple could stand the suspense no longer and she took a home urine test. ‘When the word “Pregnant” flashed up on the display screen, neither of us could actually believe our eyes,’ says Tracey.
Later scans revealed that, while one of the embryos had failed to implant, another had split into two, creating identical twin girls.
Two weeks later, after going to her local hospital in London with stomach pains, Tracey was advised to ‘reduce’ the pregnancy by having two of the babies injected in the womb to stop their hearts.
The consultant said he had known only one mother of quads to make it to 34 weeks. With a history of premature births — her middle child was born ten weeks early — Tracey’s chances of keeping her babies in the womb long enough to avoid them being born with serious medical problems were slim. Infants born before 28 weeks are more likely to have disabilities, including cerebral palsy, and problems with their eyes, lungs, heart and kidneys.
Also, the risks to her own health were not insignificant, with an increased risk of developing potentially fatal pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes.
By opting to abort two, and then carrying the dead foetuses until after the birth, Tracey was advised she would increase the chances of survival and good health for her other babies.
But by then, she’d had several scans in which she had seen the four foetuses — with their beating hearts and kicking limbs — and had bonded with each of them as individuals.
Desperate for an alternative, three months into the pregnancy, she contacted a specialist in the U.S. who has delivered 150 sets of quads.
He reassured her that her chances of a successful pregnancy were increased because, at 5ft 7in, Tracey is relatively tall, meaning there would be more room for the babies to grow.
Tracey also talked things through with a counsellor in London, who invited a retired paediatrician to one of their sessions. It was he who convinced her not to go ahead with a selective termination.
‘He knew of quads who had survived after being born at 23 weeks and said if I could get to 28 weeks, I would be fine,’ says Tracey. ‘He also asked if I would be able to bear to watch two of my children growing up while thinking about the two I didn’t have.’
Tracey was due to have the injections the following day, at around 13 weeks into her pregnancy, but, deciding to let ‘nature take its course’, rang the hospital and cancelled the appointment.
Her obstetrician — she is unwilling to disclose where she is receiving antenatal care or at which hospital the babies will be born — is hoping that she will make it to 34 weeks, when the babies will be delivered by Caesarean section.
Her focus, for now, is purely on making it to that date: ‘I’m not thinking about the early weeks and months of their lives because I don’t want to get stressed. The most important thing right now is to keep them safe inside me,’ says Tracey.
‘When I do allow my mind to race ahead, I picture them at about eight months, when they will be able to hold a bottle and feed themselves.
‘My husband is more prone to worry than me, so I try to reassure him that the babies will be healthy and we will manage. I’ll say, “I’m staying strong for six of us here!”’
While Tracey, a former drugs counsellor, should be allowed home within a few days of the birth, her babies’ prematurity will mean they’ll have to spend some time in the special care baby unit.
Consequently, while she’s bought baby clothes, the couple are holding off buying Moses baskets and a quad buggy (the one she wants will cost £1,150 and is to be imported from Australia) until after the birth.
‘I can’t order them yet. Imagine if not all the babies make it?’ says Tracey, her eyes brimming with tears. ‘I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to look at them.’
On the advice of one midwife with twins, Tracey plans to dress each baby in one particular colour and has sets of sleepsuits, cardigans and hats in light pink, dark pink, red and blue so that she will be able to tell them apart at a glance.
This will make it easier to keep track of which babies have been fed and changed, as well as, in future years, recognise who’s who in photographs.
However, even with such systems in place, and help from Stephen, whose boss has said he can have as much time off as he needs after the birth, Tracey is going to have her hands very full indeed.
Both of her parents died some years ago, but her children and siblings are supportive and will help in any way they can.
This ultrasound was taken on May 31 this year and shows her four children
The only voices of dissent have, she insists, been online where critics have called Tracey selfish and attacked her decision to have IVF at 50, resulting in quads whose care is ‘likely to cost the NHS hundreds of thousands of pounds’.
So distressing has she found these remarks that, two weeks ago, she left her home to spend a couple of nights alone in a hotel, worried that the stress and anxiety might induce early labour.
Her daughter, who is 32 and has three children of her own, was born when Tracey was 18. Tracey says they are the best of friends.
In fact, it was her daughter who insisted on paying for her mum to have that revelatory early scan and she is looking forward to the arrival of her half-siblings, who will be aunts and uncle to her children.
While delighted by the prospect of becoming a father again, four times over even, and supportive of Tracey speaking about their news, Stephen, who has a teenager from a previous marriage, shies away from the limelight. So just how did this middle-aged couple end up expecting quads — and making history?
They met in 2005, two years after Tracey separated from her first husband, when her eldest children were in their late teens and her youngest son was nine.
Two years later, Tracey, aged 39, discovered she was pregnant. However, not having planned the baby, neither felt the time was right.
The main reason, according to Tracey, is that she was about to become a grandma — both her daughter and her eldest son’s girlfriend were pregnant — so she opted to have an abortion.
It was the trauma of this termination — carried out when she was 19 weeks pregnant and which she deeply regrets — that started her obsession with trying for another baby, she says.
As she was so far gone, Tracey had to first take a pill to stop the baby’s heart and then return two days later and swallow another pill to induce labour.
‘By then I could feel the baby moving,’ says Tracey tearfully. ‘No one warned me it would be so traumatic and that I would actually have to give birth, rather than have an operation. I cried and cried.
‘Neither of us could bear to look at the baby once it was born, but the midwife told us it was a little boy. It was horrendous — the memory still haunts me to this day.’
Six weeks later, Tracey’s beloved mum, Pauline, died unexpectedly, aged 66, due to a blockage in the main artery to her heart.
Tracey convinced herself that this was karma and she was being punished for ending her son’s life. She sunk into a deep depression, for which her GP prescribed medication, and has felt unable to work since.
In an attempt to heal their pain, a few months after the termination, the couple, who married in 2012, began trying for another baby.
Tracey is convinced the babies are a gift from her mother ‘who always wanted twins’ in the family, and not merely because it was her inheritance that funded the treatment.
Each baby weighs an estimated 2lb at the moment. They will be born in November, if Tracey makes it that far, by which time they should have gained an extra pound.
‘No one criticised Mick Jagger, Ronnie Wood or Elton John when they became fathers in their 60s and 70s,’ says Tracey defiantly. ‘So why are they attacking me?’
They are unlikely to be allowed home until after Christmas, when they should finally be robust enough to survive in the world.
While that, of course, is when the hard work will really begin, Tracey is looking forward to no longer being pregnant.
‘It’s so exhausting. Once I’ve made it through this pregnancy, I’m sure I’ll be able to survive anything.’
But what of those who think 50 is too old to have a baby and that she will be mistaken for her children’s gran at the school gates?
And that, even if Tracey and Stephen survive the round-the-clock feeds, nappy changes and toddler tantrums, come their mid-60s they will be no match for four stroppy teens?
‘Times have changed. I remember organising my mum’s 50th birthday party and she seemed old to me back then.
‘But we women take better care of ourselves now. Everyone tells me I don’t look my age, and I believe you really are only as old as you feel. Thankfully, I still feel young.
‘My older children have never been in any trouble, and all three are hardworking, so hopefully I can do as good a job with these little ones.
‘I’ve really no idea how people who say I’m selfish can think it’s anything other than selfless to love and nurture my babies.’
Sorry we are not currently accepting comments on this article.