Mum-of-nine scrubs kids in conveyor belt bathtime and washes three loads a day
A mum of nine does three loads of washing a day and runs bathtimes like a conveyor belt.
Manchester mum Claire Ambrose was just 17 when she had her first baby Jake, but he was tragically stillborn at six months into her pregnancy.
At 19 she welcomed her twin girls Jessica and Leah, who are now that age themselves – Jessica being the first to move out of the family's home in Failsworth to live with her boyfriend, Manchester Evening News reported .
After separating from their dad shortly after they were born, Claire raised the twins alone until meeting partner Chris Boyle, with whom she's had seven more children – four boys and three girls.
There's Alex, 14; Alicia, 13; Kayleigh, 12; Lewis, nine; Marissa, eight; Leo, six and the youngest, four-year-old Tommy.
It's the love of that 'baby phase' that has kept Claire, now, 39, yearning for more.
If it wasn't for a breast cancer diagnosis in December – and the treatment she's now having – she admits she would probably have had more children.
Despite the anxiety that followed her stillbirth and the premature arrival of her twins, who came five weeks early, her pregnancies were straightforward, with just the usual morning sickness.
"We didn't plan on having so many," said Claire. "But we didn't stop it either. We were quite laid back really and the children always asked me to have another one too.
"I loved getting a bump and feeling movements. It was probably a bit of enjoying pregnancy and that baby, baby stage.
"I think as soon as the youngest starts to walk and talk and is able to answer back, that's when I want another baby – one who can't answer back" she laughed.
"I would like another girl, because my youngest girl is now eight, but I can't because of the health problems."
When it comes to managing such a big household, Claire – whose shortest labour was with Alicia, who was born at home just 15 minutes after she started with contractions – says it's all about being organised.
The family live in a neat three-storey, four-bed town house.
By the time the kids get home from school each day, she's got tomorrow's uniform hung on the back of the living room door ready to go.
Three loads of washing are usually done each day – the children bring their dirty washing downstairs and separate it into darks, lights and colours.
"They're quite good at helping out really," Claire said.
"The older boys might just chuck it down but generally they all do their bit. If the washer breaks, which can happen a lot, I just want to cry.
"We do have to work as a team or else it just doesn't work. Sunday is the day when we pull everything out and do a big clean and it's the day we get the homework done too.
"Creative homework is the worst, it does get a bit messy and I've had to ask another mum for help carrying things to school before now if it's been a big project they've had to make."
Claire said that bath time is 'like a conveyor belt' with the kids taking it in turns to jump in either the bath or the shower.
"I'll run the bath for one and then when one is in the bath another will get in the shower and it'll just carry on like that until they're all done," said Claire.
She helps things run smoothly by making sure each of the children has a full set of uniform to last the whole week.
The younger ones will have five polo shirts, jumpers and trousers washed and ironed ready for a Monday.
It comes at a cost though.
With £50 each for a pair on school shoes, the footwear bill for the seven school aged children amounts to £350 alone, and that's if one pair lasts the year.
Claire is savvy with money though and saves wherever she can – making the most of sales, offers and cashback sites.
Now unable to work since her cancer diagnosis, Claire has done part-time jobs around the children whenever she could – most recently at McBrides Cleaning last year – and Chris works full time manufacturing frames at Shepley Windows in Dukinfield.
The child benefit cap, which means families can now only claim it for up two children, wasn't brought in until after her children were born so Claire gets £102 a week for the youngest seven.
On top of that she gets £325 a week in child tax credit.
But with bills including the £750 a month rent, nearly £200 a month for gas and electric and £80 for council tax, as well as the weekly £200 food shop, there's little spare for luxuries.
She can't do the shopping in one lot either, because there's nowhere to store it all.
They'll easily go though 40 pints of milk a week, six boxes of cereal and endless toilet rolls.
"I'll buy a pack of 12 toilet rolls about every three days and put four in each bathroom," said Claire, "but almost daily you'll get someone shouting from the toilet that they need one.
"We've had to run out to the corner shop while they're still on the toilet before now."
The children don't go without.
They have smart clothes, consoles and tablets like most kids, but Claire says such big items are always for their birthday or Christmas.
The four boys share one bedroom, the three youngest girls in another and twin Leah now has her own room.
They've never taken them abroad and any family holiday is usually spent in a caravan at a Haven site.
With so many children, it wouldn't be worth risking a fine for a cheaper holiday in term time.
Claire is all too aware of the judgements people make about big families, and is keen to change that stigma.
"There are people I know who don’t work because they don’t want to, they're too lazy or whatever," said Claire.
"I could afford the kids when I had them. We had Chris bringing a wage in too, but even now I still want to be able to give my kids as much as I can.
"And I have tried to teach the kids that if you want money you have to earn it.
"There is slot of stigma that people have children for the benefits – and if they are capable of working and choose not to then fair enough.
"Don’t get me wrong, I love being home with my kids, but I know that if I’m ever going to be able to take them abroad on holiday, or give them nice things, I’m going to have to work for it. I’m not scared of doing that."
She added: "With regards to the benefit cap in respect of more than two kids, then yes in some ways why have them all if you can’t pay for them and you’re not willing to go and get a job.
"But it’s a bit unfair to bring the rule in and cap all big families if there are circumstances that get in the way of them working."
Claire hasn't had much external support apart from that of her own mum, who was able to help more when she was younger, before she had health problems of her own.
Her dad died when she was 17 and her only sibling, brother Anthony, lives in America.
"The comments do hurt sometimes," she said.
"You do get comments where they say that I bet the kids are scruffy or the house is disgusting or that I smoke, drink, or take drugs, but to be honest I clean my house daily.
"I don’t smoke, I certainly don’t go drugs and I had my first glass of wine since Christmas last weekend as a mini celebration for being able to lie on my side again after my op – and that was won on a raffle.
"I rarely go out. I don’t have the money to waste. I’d rather it went on my kids. Things in my house like new carpets I get off pay weekly companies.
"I don’t have the money to pay for expenses like that in full. But I want my kids to have a nice home. I don’t spoil them, they don’t get new clothes every weekend, or lots of treats, or money for nothing.
"On their birthdays they get to pick what they want for tea, like McDonald's or KFC and again I use money off vouchers. I do my best.
"They might not be as lucky as some kids and get as much as some kids, but they never complain. I always try and make them appreciate what they have got and tell them there are children out there who have a lot less.
"They also are lucky enough to have brothers and sisters who will always be there for them to talk to and keep each other company.
"If they ask why they can’t go on a plane, I reply something silly like, 'there isn’t an aeroplane big enough for us all', or 'mummy doesn’t have enough pennies yet, but one day'.
"I also try and take them on free days out to places like Heaton Park or Blackpool. It doesn’t have to cost an arm and leg, money doesn’t have to be wasted on arcades, mine will be happy playing on the beach for hours and having an ice cream."
Claire and Chris recently decided to separate, but she says they remain good friends and he will be there for the children as much as he can.
For now she needs to concentrate on her breast cancer treatment and recovery to hopefully give her many more years to enjoy her big brood.
After a successful mastectomy and reconstruction, she's now on breast cancer drug Tamoxifen and will soon begin three to four weeks of radiotherapy.
But she remains positive – for her own future and that of her kids.
"I'd like to think that the people that know us personally don’t have an issue with us being a big family and the kids are highly thought of in school," she said.
"There are always going to be some comments but I don't regret anything about having a big family. When one of them is away the others will all miss them.
"There's something special about being a big family and I wouldn't ever change that."
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