'They'll never take away our miracle baby': Disabled mother who conceived after 20 years of trying tells of fears her daughter would be taken into care
Like many other new parents, Tricia and Steven McHale are besotted with their baby daughter. Nestled together on their sofa, they take turns to cradle 15 week old Elizabeth Mary, who drinks thirstily from a bottle.
The two exchange the occasional word as they watch her, enraptured. But while this is a scene played out in countless other houses across Britain, for Tricia and Steven, this blissful moment has been hard won.
For over two decades, Tricia, 40 and Steven, 44, from Armley, Leeds believed they would never become parents. Now, they call Elizabeth Mary their 'miracle baby.'
Besotted: Steven and Tricia McHale are bewitched by their newborn baby Elizabeth Mary
The couple, who met as
teenagers when they joined the same church choir in the Leeds suburb of Wyther, had been trying on and
off to conceive since their honeymoon in 1992, and had wondered why they had never fallen pregnant.
It was only when they began trying in earnest five years ago that they realised there was a problem.
Before then, as the main
breadwinner and part-time carer for Tricia, IT worker Steven admits he was uncertain he
could cope with another person to depend on him.
Tricia has been mentally and physically disabled since a tragic road accident aged 13. As she made her way to the sweet shop, a reckless driver knocked her down.
She lay in a coma for eight weeks, with a further five weeks spent on a children's ward.
Tricia sustained massive brain damage and, according to Steven, possible learning difficulties. The terrible head injury she suffered
meant she lost mobility in her right hand and leg, leaving her
unsteady on her feet and unable to walk more than a few steps without support.
The accident also left Trish with
speech and comprehension difficulties, as well as memory loss that means she often repeats herself or struggles to
remember facts and events.
Over the years though, despite the challenges they knew they would face, both Tricia and Steven became overwhelmed by a yearning to become parents.
Five years ago, they decided to try to conceive. When despite their careful calculations nothing was happening, they sought help.
Tricia and Steven McHale had been married for 20 years when they fell pregnant with baby daughter Elizabeth Mary
It was found that fertility problems
were not the issue. Rather, Tricia's disability was making it physically
difficult for the two to connect in such a way that intercourse would
result in pregnancy.
The couple saved for a course of IVF which did result in a pregnancy. Sadly, Tricia miscarried between 10 and 12 weeks. A second attempt also ended in early miscarriage.
Dejected, the two began saving for another course of IVF. In the meantime, they experimented with other methods of insemination.
Before they had embarked upon the second round of IVF, Tricia was stunned to find that she had finally managed to fall pregnant without IVF.
Steven dotes on Elizabeth and has ensured she can stay at home with Tricia
Both were elated – but given their history of miscarriage, they were reluctant to celebrate too soon.
As the pregnancy progressed, despite the physical toll carrying a child had on Tricia, the McHales were able to relax.
But then a new fear took over.
Tricia had read about a disabled woman whose baby was taken away from her by the social services.
Now, she was terrified the same would happen to her.
'I was so frightened the hospital would take her away because of my disability,' says Tricia, with tears in her eyes.
'I knew it had happened to another disabled woman and I was terrified I wouldn't be allowed to keep my baby.'
'I was told I had to notify the authorities that I was pregnant. I thought that meant they would take Elizabeth away.
'When I was in labour the midwives came in and asked me who was going to look after my baby.
'They said “who's going to look after her” I thought, “me of course.”
'I was confused – why were they asking me that Wasn't it obvious that it was going to be me I said I would be looking after her, and if I can't then I'll put her in a
'I didn't want her snatched away from me and I was worried what might happen next.'
During her labour, Tricia was reassured by the midwives, who told her if the authorities were going to intervene, they would have done so by now.
For his part, Steven was adamant that Tricia should be the main carer for her daughter.
'It was never going to happen,' says Steven. 'We wanted somebody to come in to help
Tricia to look after the little one, not to look after the baby for
her – that's the distinction,' he adds.
Steven and Tricia, back right of the picture, decided to tell their story on Channel 4 show One Born Every Minute to let other disabled people know they can become parents
Tricia and Steven set about putting measures into place to enable Tricia to enjoy motherhood as independently as possible at home.
To help Tricia move around the couple's two-bedroom bungalow with baby Elizabeth, they created a contraption using a
wheeled walking aid to which they attached a basket and a mattress.
'We employed a childminder to look after Elizabeth for two days a week, and the other three days, a mother's help comes to assist Tricia,' Steven says.
Steven works just 10 minutes away so that he can rush back at any moment if necessary, and says his firm has been 'so understanding' – allowing him to save up six weeks holiday from last year to add to his two weeks paternity leave, and giving him the flexibility to work from home.
And Steven put notices and signs up around the house to remind Tricia how to make up Elizabeth's feeds.
'But she doesn't even look at them,' he says proudly.' She knows exactly what to do. She is an amazing mum.'
Seven weeks after the birth of 5lb 13oz Elizabeth Mary, Tricia is coping well. She takes care of the day feeds, while Steven is doing all the night feeds.
'I love having a daughter, says Tricia. Getting to love her and cuddle her, it's everything.'
Indeed both are as bewitched by baby Elizabeth as they are by each other. Something which is hard to top, given their devotion to one another.
While the tumultuous early days of having a newborn can rock the foundations of even the strongest marriage, Tricia and Steven are more in love than ever.
'It's made our relationship better than ever,' says Steven. 'My feelings are stronger than ever. Everything has been cemented.
'Having a baby – you fall in love again,' he adds. 'I feel lucky to be with Tricia. She's such a happy person. She's as much a part of me as my legs are. She's my life.'
Tricia is equally effusive. 'Steven is so nice and caring, and handsome,' adds Tricia. 'He's the perfect husband. I love him so much.'
'I wanted baby Elizabeth to have Steven's brains,' she continues, poignantly. 'If she had mine, I'd feel sorry for her. And I want to teach her to be careful around roads,' she says. I don't want her to end up like me.'
'Nobody thought I'd even get married – let alone have a baby,' says Tricia. But being disabled doesn't mean you can't become a mum.'
'I wanted to show other disabled people that they can become parents too.'
One Born Every Minute is on Channel 4 tonight, 25 January, at 9pm.