Multiple fathers, benefits on tap... meet the teen mother with triplets on the way!
While most 40-year-olds would be fazed by the notion of becoming the grandmother of triplets, Rachel Briggs is beaming. 'People say she must take after me as if that's a bad thing,' she says, casting a proud glance in the direction of her pregnant teenage daughter. 'But the way I see it, I haven't done so badly.'
That, of course, depends on your definition of achievement when it comes to your family. To date, Rachel has six children aged between three and 21 with four fathers, none of whom seems to have been around for long enough to do much in the way of parenting.
Her elder son, Jay, is a father at 21, while her second eldest child, Sian, made headlines this week after it emerged she is expecting triplets aged 17, two years after giving birth at 15 to her son, Jaden.
Too much too young? Sian Robbins, who will have four children at 18, with her mother Rachel and son Jaden
Jaden's father is no longer on the scene, with the triplets sired by Sian's new boyfriend, 18-yearold Callum. Quite a jumble of fathers, mothers and babies in this residential suburb of Portsmouth then - 11 children by seven men - with not much in the way of employment between them all.
Even by the depressing standards of 'broken Britain', the circumstances of this everexpanding extended family warrant further examination.
The news of Sian's triplet pregnancy comes in the same week that a 13-year-old boy, Alfie Patten, posed for a tabloid paper with his newborn daughter - looking not a great deal older than his baby.
Two different stories, but the same social mire. The casual sex, lack of boundaries from parents, the shrugged nonchalance that this is the norm in a country in which a benefits culture goes hand in hand with the acceptance of women producing multiple children by multiple partners.
Not that Rachel Briggs sees it that way. 'People don't like what Sian is doing, but that's their problem,' she says. 'I would have preferred for her to be older, but you can't turn back the clock, can you? You just want your children to be happy.'
Arguably, Sian, a month shy of her 18th birthday, is rather young to fully understand the long-term consequences of her teenage folly. She proclaims she had planned to start her family at 18, an age when she believed she would be 'grown up enough' to deal with it.
Sian, with Jaden and new boyfriend Callum Thomas. The couple are looking forward to having triplets
'I was going to have the first at 18 and carry on from there, though I was only going to have two, a boy and a girl,' she says.
Circumstances, however, thwarted her plan. While in her fourth year at Warblington School, near Havant, Hampshire, Sian embarked on a relationship with a fellow pupil. Despite the fact they were only 14, it quickly became sexual.
Having had no discussion about contraception with her mother or her boyfriend, Sian became pregnant within weeks. But it was only after several missed periods that Sian confronted the inevitable. 'I took a pregnancy test. When it showed I was pregnant I was really scared and upset,' she says. 'I didn't know what to tell my mum, so I just kept it a secret.'
Initially, she and her then boyfriend - who she prefers not to name - agreed she should have an abortion. But the operation did not go ahead, not due to belated scruples, but what can only be described as a mixture of fecklessness and fear.
'I wanted him to come with me, but he didn't want to. I didn't want to go on my own, so in the end I just didn't have it,' says Sian, with a shrug.
How Jaden will deal with this entirely arbitrary approach to his existence when he is old enough to understand remains to be seen.
Still a schoolgirl, Sian was at the time living at home with her mother and siblings Liah, now 16, Lewis, 12, Harrison, four, and Kira, three.
Rachel discovered her daughter was expecting only when Sian was seven months pregnant.
'I had noticed she was getting bigger, but I just thought she was a growing girl,' says Rachel. 'But one night I lifted up her top after she'd come downstairs. And there it was in front of me.
'I looked at her and said: "Oh Sian, what have you done?" But I didn't tell her off. I could tell she was upset and stressed, so I just gave her a hug.'
Support: Sian believes Callum will make a good father to her triplets, after the father of son Jaden left her before their son's first birthday
After Jaden's arrival in November 2006, Sian called on her mother's help in the first bewildering weeks after her son's birth. When she turned 16, she moved into a two-bedroom rented property, paid for by housing benefit.
Jaden's father, meanwhile, did not stick around long enough to blow out the candle on his son's first birthday cake.
'He'd cheated on me when I was pregnant, so I didn't trust him,' says Sian. 'After we moved in together, it just fizzled out really.'
Rachel is a little blunter: 'All he was interested in was drinking and smoking, like most other lads his age. So I wasn't surprised when Sian told me she'd asked him to move out.'
To her credit, Sian elected to return to her studies, achieving four GCSEs before becoming a full-time mum.
'I wanted to go to college, but they wouldn't give me a place because my baby was too young,' she says. By this time, in any case, her domestic circumstances were, arguably, already leading her down a different road.
Within days of ending the relationship with Jaden's father last March, Sian had embarked on another romance with local boy Callum Thomas, now 18.
Originally a friend of Jaden's father, his friendship with Sian blossomed into something more after a night at the local snooker hall. As Callum cheerfully points out: 'I ended up taking my mate's missus off him.' Their relationship did not involve any discussion of contraception, at least in the first instance.
'At first, we were just careful about when we had sex,' says Sian. 'But when I said I wanted to get a contraceptive implant in my arm, Callum had a strop and said he didn't want me to. He said he was ready for us to start a family.'
Callum was, at least, working at the time, though it is a moot point whether his job as a cleaner for a High Street store meant he was able to support an expanding brood.
In the end, it appears to have been Callum's refusal to attend the family planning clinic with Sian which led to history repeating itself.
Last November, Sian missed her period and a pregnancy test confirmed her suspicions.
'I kept meaning to get contraception sorted out, but then I missed a period. When a test showed me I was pregnant I was still a bit surprised, but when I told Callum he was thrilled. My mum was, too,' says Sian.
So was there a warm moment of maternal love when Sian broke the news to Rachel? Not exactly.
Sian recalls: 'I texted her to say I was going to have a little brother or sister for Jaden. She texted back that it was brilliant and that she wanted to buy the buggy.'
One buggy, as it turned out, would be two less than required. At her first scan three weeks ago, attended by her mother and boyfriend, Sian was confronted by more than one tiny image on the screen.
'The lady said: "It's twins!" Then: "Oh goodness, it's triplets!" ' says Sian. 'I burst into tears. I just didn't want all those babies in there. I thought: "I'll have four kids at 18, how am I going to cope?" '
Callum had a more testosteronefuelled reaction. 'She'd joked I was firing blanks, so I said to her: "I've given you three babies," ' he boasts.
All was not straightforward, however. With two of the three triplets sharing a placenta, doctors advised Sian that it might be wise to abort one of the foetuses to give the other two a better chance. Early tests also suggested the lone triplet might have Down's syndrome.
'I thought about having an abortion because I was scared of having so many babies, but Mum talked me out of it,' says Sian. 'She told me the consultants can get it wrong. A week later, I had another scan and was told they were all healthy.'
Now 14 weeks pregnant, Sian will almost certainly have to give birth to her babies several weeks before her due date in the middle of August.
By then, she and Callum hope to have been moved by the council into a new three or four-bedroom home - funded by the taxpayer, of course - to house their growing family.
It is also the taxpayer who will be funding the other results of Sian's inability to get to grips with the most basic principles of contraception.
She is already receiving benefits of £1,126 a month, which includes her £550-a-month rent, child benefit and family tax credit. This sum, of course, will increase exponentially once the triplets are born.
Having lost his cleaning job, Callum is unemployed - though he is waiting for news on a painting and decorating job he has applied for. He says he would like to work, but there is little in the way of employment available.
'I'd love to get a job - it gets you away from all the nagging and earache at home, doesn't it?' he says. 'But when Sian's had the babies she's not going to be able to cope on her own, so I'll have to stay at home with her for a few months at least.'
Rachel is anxious to put her own slant on these matters. 'People go on about benefits, but Sian gets £47 a week of her own to live on, which isn't much. The rest is child tax credit and pays for nappies. She's got a water bill for £300 she can't pay. No one would necessarily choose to do this.'
Neither would taxpayers necessarily choose to pay for the children this immature couple have produced. Rachel's view also contradicts her assertions that she 'hasn't done too badly' herself in terms of benefits.
She is keen to point out that, until two years ago - when domestic problems required her to give up work - she had always been employed, working as a nurse and supermarket cashier.
Nonetheless, she now lives on benefits in a four-bedroom privately rented property close to her daughter, paid for by housing allowance.
Rachel's family circumstances are not necessarily the best example either. Rachel had Jay when she was a teenager. After splitting up with his father, she went on to have Sian and Liah with their father, Tim Robbins. That relationship lasted four years.
'I know it doesn't look good, but it's the dads I blame,' she says. 'They never want to hang around as they are too interested in drink and drugs.'
At least Sian and Liah's father sees his daughters every Saturday. This week, he chose to add his tuppence to proceedings, publicly expressing his disappointment at his daughter - an outburst viewed disparagingly by Rachel.
'He only sees the kids every Saturday, and he's got five kids by three women, so he's hardly one to point the finger, is he?' says Rachel.
Sian says she is disappointed by her father's criticisms, too.
'He wasn't happy when I told him about being pregnant this time and he wanted me to have an abortion. But he's just being protective because I'm his little girl. He thinks I won't be able to cope, but I'm going to show him I can.'
And what of Callum? How does she think he will shape up as a father?
'Callum's been really good,' says Sian. 'He helps me out with Jaden a lot - he's like a proper father to him, so I'm not worried.
'People are being horrible about Callum because he's going to stay at home and look after me and the babies, but he's just trying to do the right thing.'
The 'right thing', arguably, is an increasingly hazy concept in this very modern tale of family life.
The reality is that four babies under the age of two would be a tough challenge for any couple, but particularly one barely on the threshold of adulthood. But optimism prevails.
'I can't wait. It'll be awesome,' says Callum.
'I'm not worried,' says Sian. 'In 15 years, the kids will be out with mates and we'll still be young ourselves. So we'll be able to go out and do all the things we're missing out on now.'
Let us hope they make it that far. The odds, on current evidence, are not stacked in their favour. In the short term, meanwhile, you can only hope Sian and Callum will find time to make that much-delayed visit to the doctor to discuss contraception.
'I'm definitely going to get the contraceptive implant once I've had the triplets,' she says.
And yet you might still be unwise to bet against a fifth child arriving in the next two or three years - perhaps even before Sian is 20.