Alleshia Gregson was 12 when she became pregnant with her son Lewis. She told herself that no one would ever know of the baby’s existence. She would keep it hidden in her wardrobe and feed it bread and milk.
What a pitifully naive vision of motherhood, drawn from her experience of looking after her dolls.
She did keep the pregnancy a secret from everyone, including her mother Cherryl and the baby’s teenage father.
Her mother learned of her daughter’s condition just 22 minutes before the birth, when Alleshia texted her from the family bathroom: ‘I’m pregnant and I think it’s coming.’ Lewis, now three, was born soon afterwards in the living room of the family home.
Unbelievably, ten months later, Alleshia became pregnant again by the same boy.
When her second son, Braidan, was born in May 2011, 15-year-old Alleshia had the ignominious privilege of becoming Britain’s youngest mother of two children who were not twins.
Her story, which came to light this week, casts a bleak reflection of a stratum of society in which the products of broken families are blithely having children when they are still children themselves.
Take the father of Lewis and Braidan, who was just 14 when his first son was conceived.
As well as the two children he has with Alleshia, the boy, now 19, is believed to have fathered three more sons by two other girls and is expecting a sixth child by a fourth partner.
One of these other children was born just a month after Lewis.
The teenage father’s fondness for procreating is not matched by an interest in his children once they are born: he has met Lewis once and has not laid eyes on Braidan.
At Headlands School in Bridlington, East Yorkshire, Alleshia’s pregnancy was an unusual event, but only, it seems, because other girls had abortions when they got pregnant.
One teenager who criticised Alleshia said she’d had four terminations in the space of a year.
Given her unstable home life and upbringing, it is perhaps little wonder that Alleshia became pregnant at such a tender age.
She and her mother moved to Bridlington from Nottingham in 2008. Cherryl, 41, has two other children, Kirsty, 22, and Ryan, 21, from a marriage that broke up.
Alleshia’s father is a car salesman, from whom Cherryl split in 2001, when their daughter was five.
She sees her father, but over the years their relationship has been, at best, fractious.
Alleshia and her mother have never stayed in one place for very long, and by the time that Lewis had been born and Alleshia was carrying Braidan, they were living with Cherryl’s latest boyfriend.
But it was hardly a sanctuary. On the night Alleshia went into labour for the second time, he evicted mother and daughter from his home.
Fortunately, a friend offered to put them up after Alleshia returned home from hospital following the birth.
Cherryl is single and living on benefits in a council house after being sacked from her job as a taxi operator last August.
On top of having her council rent paid, she receives a total of £656 in benefits every four weeks, a combination of income support, child benefit and child tax credits.
Because Alleshia is studying part-time at college, her sons’ nursery fees are paid for under a government scheme to encourage people into work — a total of £864 for four weeks’ care.
Cherryl first became a grandmother at 37 when Kirsty gave birth to a son, Jayden, now four.
All in all, the family could be star guests on the Jeremy Kyle show.
Our interview is conducted in the living room of Cherryl’s semi-detached council house, which is decorated in an arresting combination of black and grey. A dartboard hangs on the wall.
Cherryl, dressed in a vest top and trousers, and tracksuit-clad Alleshia, are watching Jeremy Kyle — yes, really — on the widescreen TV when I arrive.
Lewis and Braidan are running around the room, creating chaos with their toys.
In fairness to Alleshia and Cherryl, it has to be said that the boys look happy and are clean and well-dressed — smarter, indeed, than their mother and grandmother, the latter whom they call ‘Ninnin’.
I ask Alleshia how she managed to fall pregnant before she’d even reached her teens. Her answer is heartbreaking.
She tells me that her children’s father is a boy from Nottingham whom she has known since the age of five. She explains that in January 2009 she went to stay with his family.
‘We were good friends, but this time he made a move on me. I wasn’t comfortable about it, I didn’t encourage it. I was so young and had no experience with boys. I didn’t know what to do,’ she says.
‘When I realised that I was pregnant I just couldn’t believe it. I thought you had to do it lots of times to get pregnant.
‘I was terrified of telling my mum. A friend of mine in the year above me at school had just had a baby and her mum had thrown her out of the house. I was worried my mum might do the same. So I kept it a secret.
‘I went into denial. At first, I told myself over and over again that I had a little worm inside me. I couldn’t really get my head around the fact there was a baby inside me.
‘Then, when I was six months pregnant, I was in the bath when I saw a foot kicking from inside my stomach and it hit home.’
Two weeks before the birth, however, the pregnancy was still barely visible and was totally concealed by clothes. This is why, her mother says, she had no suspicions that her young daughter was expecting.
‘I had noticed she’d put on a bit of weight around her face,’ says Cherryl. ‘But I put it down to her comfort-eating because she’d been bullied after starting at a new school.’
Because of the bullying, Cherryl had started home-schooling Alleshia, who was at home on October 6, 2009, when she went into labour. Terrified, the young girl dashed to the bathroom and closed the door.
‘The pain was unbearable,’ she says. ‘My waters had broken. But I didn’t know that happened in labour, so I thought I was peeing non-stop.
‘Then I could see the head coming out, but I was so scared of what was happening I tried to push it back inside me. There was blood everywhere.
‘I became desperate; the pain got so bad. I just wanted my mum, so I texted her: “If I tell you something, don’t go mad.” My mum replied: “Of course not.” So I texted back: “I’m pregnant and I think it’s coming.” ’
Alleshia heard the phone drop and her mother running up the stairs. Her brother called an ambulance and paramedics arrived five minutes later — just in time to deliver Lewis, weighing a healthy 8lb, on the living room floor.
There were tragi-comic elements to the dramatic scene, including Alleshia’s confusion when the paramedics told her they needed to deliver the baby’s placenta.
‘They said they had to remove the afterbirth and I was like: “But I’ve just given birth. There’s not another one in there, is there?”
Alleshia, Lewis and Cherryl were taken to Scarborough hospital.
‘I was holding the baby,’ says Cherryl. ‘I was in a state of shock — it was one of the worst moments of my life.
‘When I had taken in what had happened, I felt huge disappointment and wished I’d done something to stop it happening.
‘But Alleshia’s sister had told her the facts of life when she was seven. I hadn’t kept that from her. And she hadn’t even had a boyfriend.’
Five days after the birth, Alleshia’s breast milk came through — another bewildering moment for the 13-year-old.
‘I ran to my mum and said I need to go to hospital, I’ve got white stuff coming out of me. My mum explained it was just my breast milk. But I didn’t breastfeed. At the beginning, my mum did everything.
‘I didn’t bond with Lewis at all. When he was in his cot crying, I’d just stare at him, laughing. My mum would say: “It’s all right, he just needs his bottle.”
‘I felt very depressed, but the doctors said I was too young for antidepressants.’
When he was six weeks old, Lewis was placed in the care of a state-funded childminder five days a week from 9am to 3pm. At five months, he started nursery.
At the time, Cherryl was working full-time as a taxi operator; Alleshia simply wasn’t up to looking after him.
She continued to find motherhood an alien experience, but says a turning point came when Lewis contracted whooping cough, despite having been immunised, at three months.
At hospital he was taken to intensive care and the doctors told the family the next 24 hours would be critical.
‘I suddenly realised how much I loved him. At that moment it was like I had been carrying a huge weight and someone had lifted it off. Thankfully, he recovered,’ says Alleshia.
She goes on to tell me that not long after Lewis was born, she found out that his father had another child.
‘I know the mother quite well — she was about 14 at the time. I saw pictures of her baby on Facebook, so I wrote to say congratulations.
‘She wrote back congratulating me on Lewis’s birth and said: “Do you mind me asking who his father is?” ‘When I told her, she wrote back saying: “You’ve got to be kidding! That’s my baby’s dad.” ’ What a depressing — and thoroughly modern — exchange.
When Lewis was ten months old, Alleshia, who used to see her father twice a month, went to stay with him and his wife in Nottingham for five days during the school holidays.
He suggested taking Lewis to meet his young father, saying it would be a ‘good idea’. Alleshia had reservations, but agreed.
It was decided she would spend a few hours at the boy’s house. But for reasons known only to Alleshia’s father, it was four days before he came back to collect her.
Cherryl says she thought Alleshia was at her father’s house, so was not worried.
‘I don’t know why he didn’t come back,’ says Alleshia. ‘I suppose because I’d grown up in Nottingham he thought I’d be all right, because I knew lots of people.
‘This boy and I had sex again. Before it happened, I said to him that I didn’t want to get pregnant again and he said he would use a condom.
‘It was only afterwards that he realised he hadn’t used protection. I cried, but he just said nothing.’
And so Alleshia’s story took another scarcely believable turn. ‘I was very angry about it when I finally found out,’ says Cherryl.
When she returned home, Alleshia took a pregnancy test and her worst fears were confirmed: the test was positive.
‘I felt awful, just sick about it. I was dreading telling my mum that it had happened again.’
By the time she did tell Cherryl, Alleshia was 22 weeks gone.
‘I felt heartbroken at first,’ says Cherryl. ‘It was just before the cut‑off point for abortion, but I’ve been against abortion all my life and to me — and Alleshia — it was unthinkable.
‘Of course I was angry, but what could I do? I certainly wasn’t going to disown my own daughter. But, of course, I wish she’d had her babies later and had a life first.
‘I didn’t expect to be looking after two toddlers at this time in my life. But I love them. Now they’re here, you can’t wish them not to be.’
The second time around, Alleshia’s pregnancy was very visible. She had returned to mainstream schooling and her uniform struggled to contain her growing bump.
She says she was teased and abused by other pupils.
‘One girl said some horrible things, but she’d had four abortions in one year and I thought: “At least my child will be here, alive.” ’
Alleshia went into early labour with her second son on the evening of Sunday, May 8, 2011. She arrived at Scarborough Hospital at 9am the next morning and her baby was born just 20 minutes later.
Alleshia wanted to call her son Ve‑Jay, but as no one else liked the name, she settled on the slightly less unusual Braidan.
‘Things were very different with Braidan — I bonded with him straight away,’ says Alleshia.
Cherryl, who is Lewis and Braidan’s legal guardian until Alleshia turns 18, says she is proud of the way her daughter, who has attended several parenting courses, has coped.
But Alleshia leans heavily on her mother, who is often the one who will get up in the night if the children are unwell, and it’s Cherryl who does all the cooking.
The children’s father has not met Braidan and hasn’t seen Lewis or Alleshia since the visit on which she became pregnant for the second time.
‘I don’t want him to have anything to do with them,’ says Alleshia.
‘When I took Lewis to see his father, he said he’d like to see more of him.
‘But not once since that day has he expressed any interest in seeing him or Braidan.’
Despite everything, and rather miraculously, Alleshia seems to making the best of her situation.
She managed to gain GCSEs in maths and English, and last September began a two-year course in social care at East Riding College. She wants to be a support worker, helping pregnant teenagers.
Alleshia has a new boyfriend, who is 19, who she says is accepting of her circumstances and, indeed, ‘has a word’ with any people who make unkind comments when they are out and about.
She says she hasn’t ruled out having more children, but not until she is in her late 20s.
That is the advice she has for other girls who might risk a teenage pregnancy.
‘I would say wait. Wait until you’re in your late 20s. Have a life, get settled and be prepared.’
Sensible words. But for Alleshia, rather too late.