Mum who says EIGHT children in ten years just isn’t enough
Tea-time in the Banham household and there are enough fish fingers on the go to feed a small army.
With three noisy children in high chairs and another five squeezed round the dining table, at peak volume you could be at an excitable kids’ party.
But all eight — aged between 11 months and ten years — belong to Imogen, 30, and her husband Peter, who, at 52, clearly has the vigour of a teen and the patience of a saint.
‘We get through 30 fish fingers in one sitting,’ says Imogen, caught up in a whirlwind of endless, child-centred activity. ‘In a week, we get through 80 bags of crisps, 60 nappies, 14 litres of milk, ten big loaves and massive bags of pasta, chips, vegetables and fruit. We need two trolleys at the supermarket. Even with careful budgeting it costs around £800 a month.’
Imogen Banham, 30, and her husband Peter, 52, from Norfolk, who have eight children (pictured) revealed their plans to have two more
Not to mention the four daily loads of laundry (a washing machine lasts a year in their home), five sets of school packed lunches, the homework, the bathtimes and the bedtime stories. Christmas alone costs £2,000, while the yearly bill for birthday presents tots up to around £1,000.
‘Life is so manic!’ admits Imogen.
But are they complaining? Hell, no. This week they revealed they want another two to bring their brood to a positively Victorian ten. Even then, Imogen is dreading the day she no longer has a babe permanently in arms.
How they find the time and energy to make more babies is anyone’s guess. Their only ‘us’ time is on a Saturday night watching Casualty.
‘I love being pregnant, being busy, all the noise and I just love being a mum,’ says Imogen of her seven daughters and one son.
‘Once, when Peter took all the kids out, I couldn’t stand all the peace and quiet. I didn’t know what to do with myself.’
But, in this overpopulated age, why? Even the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced after Archie’s birth they’d limit themselves to two children to ‘save the planet’.
Imogen responds tartly: ‘Why should big families be blamed when certain people have massive houses to heat and travel all over the world by private jet? We’ve never been abroad and don’t rely on benefits. We’ve always been financially independent, so it’s no one else’s business.’
Imogen, who jokes she may be Britain’s most fertile woman, has hardly gone more than ten months without being pregnant.
Imogen was age 19 (pictured) when she became pregnant with her first child, and had been dating Peter for just five weeks
She was 19 when she learned her first baby was on the way — a happy accident which happened just five weeks after she and Peter started dating. With 30.3 years being the average age of a first-time mum in the UK, it makes Imogen — who had all eight by her 30th birthday — extremely unusual.
She is sure No 9 won’t be too long. ‘I only have to do it once to fall pregnant,’ she says, blushing slightly. But what about Peter, who has a 26-year-old daughter from a previous marriage and is at an age when most men look forward to being a grandfather?
As well as being a hands-on dad, he works full-time as a night shift electrical maintenance engineer, arriving home at 6.20am to help get the kids ready for school before some well-deserved, but often interrupted, kip.
As the sole breadwinner, earning £42,000 a year, he is proud that he supports his family with no state welfare other than child benefit.
Each time I leave hospital, the midwives say: See you next year!
He hopes to have paid off the £800-a-month mortgage by the time he’s 60 and retire at 67, but their youngest will not be 16 then. Two more children and he won’t be putting his feet up until well into his 70s at least.
That’s if he survives being outnumbered by seven, or more, teenage girls. But Peter laughs, looks adoringly at his wife and goes misty-eyed when talking about Nyla, ten, Dulcie, nine, Oakley-Rose, eight, Nova Star, six, Rumer, five, Ephraim, three, Elva, two, and Taysia, almost one.
The Banhams live in a £240,000 three-bed end-of-terrace home, pictured children: Nyla, ten, Dulcie, nine, Oakley-Rose, eight, Nova Star, six, Rumer, five, Ephraim, three, Elva, two, and Taysia, almost one
‘When I met Imogen, I knew I wanted more children, but I never thought I’d end up with eight,’ he says cheerfully. ‘We never discussed how many we’d have; it just sort of happened. But they’re all special.’
So how do they do it? The answer is teamwork, routine, organisation and military precision, plus a very good life insurance policy should one of them expire from exhaustion!
There is nothing chaotic about the Banhams’ spotlessly clean and tidy £240,000 three-bed end-of-terrace home in Norfolk. The hall looks like a small village school with children’s coats neatly hung on pegs with each child’s name. Shoes are tidily deposited into a tray beneath.
Situated on a remote country road, there are fields to the front and back — plenty of space for kids to let off steam — and in the garden Peter has made them their own little working railway with engine and signal box.
For the school run Imogen has an old nine-seater minibus, while Peter makes do with an ancient Ford Ka, though he usually cycles to work.
A large organiser on the kitchen wall marks homework, parent evenings and activities, but there are no play dates with other children — they hardly need even more kids running amok in their house.
Imogen (pictured pregnant with Elva, Nova Star, Dulcie, Oakley-Rose and Nyla) revealed she doesn’t plan to have any more children after the age of 35
Imogen is up at 5.30am — her quiet time before the children wake — when she does the packed lunches, prepares breakfast and puts her first wash on. Home from work, Peter has the briefest of naps before getting all the kids up and dressed at 6.45am.
After breakfast, Imogen loads all the children into the van for the school run while Peter gets some much needed sleep. Some mornings, Imogen will go straight to the toddler group she runs with a friend, or spend school hours cleaning and washing.
When the kids return home from school at 3.30pm, Peter gets up and they start preparing tea for 5pm before homework, TV then 7.30pm bedtime. Peter does bath and bedtime, while Imogen does household chores and breastfeeds the baby. Peter then relaxes in the bath before heading off for work at 10pm.
The five eldest children share the largest bedroom, with two bunk beds and a single. Ephraim and Elva share another room with two cot beds, and baby Taysia’s cot is in with Imogen and Peter in the third bedroom.
When I ask if I should have more, the kids all say: Yes! yes! yes!
Imogen concedes that if they have another two children, they’d have to build an extension. ‘I know we’ve been very lucky to have eight healthy children, and people always say to me: “Why tempt fate by having more?”
‘Everyone kept saying we’d stop after Ephraim, thinking we only kept going because we wanted a boy, but I’ve always loved having babies and I can’t imagine stopping now.
‘But of course, you do worry, “Am I pushing my luck?” I don’t plan to have any more after the age of 35.’
Imogen (pictured centre) recalls Nyla being just 15 weeks old when she discovered that she was pregnant again
Imogen, the daughter of a childminder and lorry driver, was working in a museum cafe and Peter a volunteer carpenter when they met.
WHAT THEY GET THROUGH
In one week…
80 bags of crisps
14 litres of milk
10 loaves of bread
And in one sitting…
Let’s not forget the four daily loads of laundry (that’s 28 a week!)
Both were shocked when Imogen, still living at home with her parents, fell pregnant with Nyla just over a month later. ‘At that stage, it wasn’t a serious relationship and I told him: “Oh, my God, we’re having a baby!” I didn’t really know how it would work out, but I’d always wanted to be a mum,’ says Imogen.
Peter adds: ‘I was very shocked, I must admit, but definitely pleased. I was a bit nervous about meeting Imogen’s parents because I was only a few years younger than her mum.’
With her parents’ blessing, however, Imogen moved into Peter’s home when she was five months pregnant. Both admit they were completely overwhelmed by Nyla’s arrival.
‘It was a shock to the system, even for Peter, who’d done it once before,’ says Imogen. ‘He’d forgotten what it was like to have a newborn, especially the lack of sleep. But we both fell head-over-heels in love with her.’ Nyla was just 15 weeks old when Imogen discovered she was pregnant again, with Dulcie — but the couple say having two under the age of two was so much of a doddle, they decided they wanted another. Then another, then another, then another. All the pregnancies have been trouble-free and the births straightforward —although Elva was born in the back of their people-carrier as Peter drove to hospital at 70mph.
Peter (pictured left) had a sick child in each arm last summer, while Imogen was also unwell and there were beds that needed to be changed
Peter also delivered baby Taysia at home last February when Imogen, again, suddenly went into labour. ‘By that time, I’d been present at seven births, so I pretty much knew what to do,’ he says.
‘The paramedics were there within minutes and Nyla cut the umbilical cord.’
Imogen adds: ‘The first week after we bring a new baby home is hell. The routine changes, we’re exhausted and Peter always says: “No more!” But after a few weeks, the baby has just slotted into the family, you’re back to normal and start thinking: “Wouldn’t it be nice to have another?”
I’m so used to having them now. I never stay in bed for a rest after each birth, I just get straight up for the school run,’ says Imogen.
‘All the other school mums look at the new baby and then joke: “When’s the next one due?” Each time I leave the hospital, the midwives say: “See you next year!”’ Imogen and Peter may make it look easy, but, of course, often it’s not. Peter says: ‘Last summer, I had one sick child in one arm and another sick child in the other. Imogen was ill, too, and there were beds and sheets to be changed. That’s when fatigue hits you.’
Imogen who sometimes dresses her children in the same colour to keep track of them on days out, said that they have to arrive at 11:30am to get a big enough table when eating out
Imogen adds: ‘Sometimes you wake up and think: “Here we go again.” And having eight children can be a logistical nightmare. We can’t afford passports for them all, let alone a foreign holiday, so usually manage a few days each year at a caravan park in Lincoln.
‘When we eat out, we arrive at 11.30am to make sure we can get a table big enough. People often stare or tut about the noise and I worry they’re judging us, assuming we must be on benefits.’
Peter adds: ‘Because I’m around during the day, people think I don’t have a job when actually I’ve been up all night working.’
Imogen sometimes dresses her children in the same colour to keep track of them on days out. Often they walk in single file with Mum at the front and Dad at the back, both for safety reasons and to avoid the grumbles of other pedestrians who complain they are blocking the pavement.
‘It’s lovely when people say how well-behaved they are,’ says Peter, who married Imogen in 2012 after the birth of Oakley-Rose. ‘But that’s not always the case, and you can never relax until they are safely strapped in the car again.’
Despite strict budgeting, money is often tight — especially when the tumble dryer and TV break down, the car needs new tyres and three children need new shoes all at the same time as happened just before Christmas.
Imogen revealed that she sometimes feels guilty that she can’t afford to put the children in after-school clubs
Imogen sometimes feels guilty that she cannot afford after-school clubs, but insists the kids do not miss out and — barring normal childhood squabbles — all love being part of such a big family.
Do they worry about the future? Imogen’s father died suddenly from a heart attack aged 56 in 2015; and with each new pregnancy she runs a risk of haemorrhage.
‘I’d never have had eight children if I hadn’t had a husband as supportive and as involved Peter,’ says Imogen, who says once she has finished child-rearing she’d like to go back to work.
‘We’re both in good health and having so many children keeps Peter young. But if the worst happens you just have to cope, especially when you have eight kids who need you. We’re too busy to worry about what might be around the next corner, but if we’re all happy, why stop? ‘Whenever I ask: “Shall I have more?” they all go: “Yes! Yes! Yes!”’