‘Think your lockdown is tough? Try doing it with 10 kids and a newborn baby’ ‘Think your lockdown is tough? Try doing it with 10 kids and a newborn baby’
The average mum and dad are finding coping with a couple of children a ­serious challenge amid the coronavirus crisis. So spare a thought for Joanne... ‘Think your lockdown is tough? Try doing it with 10 kids and a newborn baby’

The average mum and dad are finding coping with a couple of children a ­serious challenge amid the coronavirus crisis.

So spare a thought for Joanne and Tommy O’Rourke – who welcomed their 11th child just days after the lockdown started, adding to a brood aged two to 16.

Joanne, 37, is getting by on five hours’ sleep a night while the 13 of them rattle around their four-bed semi.

But she insists the lockdown has brought them closer together and is “a special time”.

She said: “It’s a weird time to give birth. There are no cards up and it’s heartbreaking that relatives can only meet him on FaceTime.

“But we are so grateful he’s here and healthy. Our house might seem manic to other parents but, ­lockdown or no lockdown, it’s all about following a routine.

“It’s easy to let the days trickle by and sometimes we get stressed and exhausted.

“But we are grateful for the opportunity for ­family time and make the most of it.”

The O’Rourkes began isolating a week before the lockdown took ­effect, over fears the virus could ­affect Joanne’s pregnancy.

It means kids Mitchell, 16, Lauren, 14, Joe, 13, Ryley, ten, a girl of ten who cannot be ­named for legal reasons, Tommy, nine, Ashlee-Dean, seven, Freddie, six, Danny, three, and Neave, two, have been stuck in their home in Barnet, North London, for three weeks.

Joanne, a hairdresser, said: “The older ones struggled with the loss of freedom but understood why we were taking coronavirus seriously.

“Babies could be born with all sorts of conditions and we were worried about extra risk.”

In the final weeks of her pregnancy, Joanne ­had midwife ­appointments at her GP surgery, where a “one in, one out” policy was adopted.

Joanne was induced at Barnet Hospital on March 25 and their boy weighed in at 9lb 3oz the next day.

She said: “Thankfully, Tommy was with me for his arrival and the staff were amazing. Though he had to leave soon after and none of my kids could visit.”

Hours after birth, the lad was whisked to intensive care over fears that he had a twisted bowel, then he was moved to London’s Great Ormond St Hospital in an ambulance.

Joanne said: “I had to follow in a taxi because of social ­distancing. It was ­terrifying. I felt so helpless.”

Tests were clear but staff at Barnet Hospital kept him in for another night, in case even tighter restrictions might stop him being re­admitted if there were more issues.

Mum and baby have now been home for nine days – with Joanne breastfeeding as she and Tommy, 38, juggle home-schooling, chores and fun with the other kids.

She said: “We get up at 9am and have breakfast followed by ­schoolwork on tablets or activity worksheets.

“After lunch, it’s ­leisure time – building dens, baking, football or ­painting pictures for the new NHS Nightingale hospital.  They go to their rooms at about 7pm.

“The three youngest are with us and the others ­mostly in bunk beds.

“Lots of people would be ­negative and ask how they get enough individual attention, and that it’s ­irresponsible. But when you see them they are happy.”

Tommy, a forklift driver at B&Q, does the £200 weekly shop. And one of the big annoyances of the Covid-19 crisis is people ­mistaking him for a stockpiler because of his overflowing trolley.

He said: “It’s frustrating when we are just buying enough to feed our ­family. There are three supermarkets near us and I have to go to all three every time I shop to get what we need.”

The O’Rourkes get through six pints of milk, two loaves of bread, three packs of bacon, a box of cereal, a multipack of crisps and a whole toilet roll every day.

Then there are the ingredients for the fresh meals Tommy cooks – ­using school dinner kit to make big batches.

Joanne does four rounds of laundry a day and each child has a household task to complete.

The couple even find time to run a YouTube channel about batch cooking and post to their 5,000 Instagram and Facebook followers.

Incredibly, they admit more babies are “on the cards”.

Joanne said: “I’d like one more but it’s not first on the agenda, especially in these times. Maybe when things go back to normal. We want to enjoy the ones we have first.”

While most parents battle to keep kids from squabbling, Joanne insists having a large number at home is a “good thing”.

She said: “It stops them getting bored because there’s always someone for them to play with. They get on well. The older ones help out with the little ones – whether it’s playing or a bit of reading.

“We have days when we get stressed but that’s just parenting.”

Recalling her fears ahead of the birth, Joanne said: “I’ve never gone to full-term with my other pregnancies but this time I was six days over.

“I was freaking out and begged the midwives to induce me because the quicker he’s out, the quicker we can get home and lock the doors again.”

Joanne says the atmosphere at Great Ormond Street is “strange”.

“I was allowed to sit with him while they tested him but there was barely anyone around. I used that first day to try to breastfeed him, which I’ve never done with my other children.”

Having already named seven boys, they are struggling to decide what to call their latest.

Joanne said: “We’ve had so many suggestions from the kids and followers on social media, it’s so hard.

“But we are going to make a decision and announce it as part of our Easter celebrations.”

Joanne and Tommy are also keen to arrange an egg hunt for the children. But Tommy said: “I thought I’d be fine buying them each an Easter egg at a supermarket because they are non-essential items but I was only able to buy two.

“It’s frustrating the way people frown on you when they don’t know your ­circumstances.

” Luckily my family are really good – they dropped some on the doorstep so we can give the kids a nice Easter and they’re always ­dropping round food in bulk.”

Danny turns four on Monday so Joanne has got in a load of sweets to enjoy while they stream new film Trolls 2.

The lockdown is making no ­difference to her romantic life with Tommy because nights out have long been a thing of the past ­anyway.

Tommy said: “We do date nights in instead. The kids go up at ­seven-ish so we will have the odd meal just the two of us.”


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