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I've had a baby a year since I was 15 (& I'm just 21); EXCLUSIVE MUM LIVING ON BENEFITS ALREADY PLANNING No 6.

Byline: By SHARON VAN GEUNS & DENNIS ELLAM

FIVE children is a large family by anyone's standards and a handful for any couple. Yet at just 21, Susie Christian is already thinking of baby No 6... while husband Dax won't be happy until they have at least eight.

The couple, who live on benefits in a four-bedroom council house, had their first child when Susie was 16 and still at school, while the latest, Rhiver, was born when she was just 20.

"Right from the start I knew I wanted to have Dax's children - and lots of them," says Susie. "I was 14 when I met him on a school trip to Snowdonia and it was love at first sight.

"Now I have five children and we're seriously talking about at least one more. Dax always says that he wants at least eight. I used to think he was joking, but now I'm not so sure."

Susie and Dax, who is now 23, named their first child Hope to show they were certain they had a future together, despite all the gloomy warnings their love would never last.

And even though Susie was only 15 when she became pregnant she said Hope was not a mistake. "My first pregnancy was planned as Dax and I were in love and wanted kids," she says. "It wasn't a massive decision. We just really wanted a family and as long as we were happy that is what mattered.

"Dax did not need long to convince me to start a family - just two weeks. Luckily my parents realised straight away we were serious but I don't think they realised just how much, or that we'd be having our first child so soon. But they love Dax and I am obviously young, healthy and fertile, so what is the big deal. I have always been mature for my age."

Yet it was just four months after Hope was born that Susie became pregnant again and second daughter Neisha was born in March, 2002. She was followed by sons, in each of the next three years - Ethan, three, Neo, two, and baby Rhiver, who was born with a rare lung condition and will be celebrating his first birthday next month.

The couple married on Dax's 21st birthday and live in Norwich. He is unable to work because he suffers from a chronic form of arthritis, and Susie has to help care for him.

"I know people might be ready to judge us and I know what they think about young mums," says Susie. "But we don't want to live off benefits. We want to support ourselves.

"Dax worked as a nurse in an old people's home and lifting patients triggered his arthritis. It is getting better with time and hopefully he will be back at work soon. I sat my GCSEs in the summer when Hope was born and have an NVQ in childcare and education. I had a full-time job as a special needs teacher, but I've had to stop to care for Dax but hope to get back to work as well.

"The people who matter to us, our mums and dads, have been great. They have supported us all the way. And Dax is a great husband. He's terrific with the children and has helped with everything.

Their state benefits - Dax's disability allowance, Susie's carer's allowance and pounds 59-a-week in child benefit - have to be carefully balanced. They spend pounds 75 a fortnight on food for the children and pounds 100 a month on clothes.

"We don't have a credit card and never will," says Susie. "If we can't afford it, we don't get it. I know where to find cheap fruit and veg and I managed to get school uniforms for the older kids for pounds 20. In a typical week we get through five to 10 loaves of bread and dozens and dozens of litres of milk. Luckily the children love healthy, home-made food. They gobble up spaghetti bolognese, or real soup. And they don't get five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, they get about a hundred.

"Birthdays are planned well in advance. I have already sorted out Christmas - they're getting around pounds 150 worth of prezzies each."

The friends she knew at school are only now thinking or beginning to settle down to the role of mother and wife - the kind of life Susie has already known for five years.

Doesn't she feel as if she has missed out on her own youth? "I don't regret a moment," she says. "I've five beautiful children, they are all I've ever wanted and they make up for everything else, a million times over.

"I've watched other girls my age go out, getting drunk, thinking that's the best thing in life. But that's never been for me.

"I'll still be young when my children are reaching their teens - I'll be like their big sister as much as a mum."

Susie adds: "The other day at the school gates, I was chatting to one of the other mothers - she was in her early 40s, and her little girl was five, like Hope. She said how much she regretted leaving it late to have her daughter, because now she felt she just didn't have the energy to enjoy those childhood years.

"She told me how she envied me..."

sharonvangeuns@sundaymirror.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

Rhiver, born November 2005 when Susie was 20' Neo, born February 2004 when Susie was 19' Ethan, born February 2003 when Susie was 18' Neisha, born March 2002 when Susie was 17' Hope, born January 2001 when Susie was 16 Pictures: NICHOLAS BOWMAN' Broody ...Susie and Dax
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 22, 2006
Words:947
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