For most of her adult life Karen yearned for a baby girl. The pretty clothes, the girly pink accessories and the warm bond that grows between a mother and daughter. From two marriages she was blessed with six sons, but the full-time mum never stopped hoping.
“I have always loved babies,” she says. “I love the new born stage. People moan about having to get up in the night, but that time is so precious and so fleeting. I would probably have babies until I was 86 years old if I could!”
Karen, 45, from Dagenham, says: “I never had nice dresses and lovely shoes. I loved everything sparkly or pink, but we grew up in poverty so it was never indulged.”
“Mum and Dad had five children and lived in a two-bedroom house. We had love, but there was certainly no room for extravagance. I used to look at my friends and wish I had clothes like them. I guess that is why I wanted my own little girl.”
After marrying at 18, Karen fell pregnant at 21 and went on to have four sons with her then husband [who prefers to remain nameless]: Dean, 24, Jake, 20, Sam, 19, and Zack, 17.
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“We never planned how many children we wanted to have. I wanted a baby, so we had Dean. Then when things went wobbly with the marriage we had Jake as kind of a reconciliation baby. If I am totally honest Zack and Sam weren't really planned, they kind of just happened.”
“After Zack was born I knew the marriage was long dead. Long, long dead. I was 28, with four tiny children, living with a man I despised.
“Things had turned ugly. He hit me once and I forgave him, he hit me twice and I was out the door. He hit me when my baby was in my arms and that was enough for me.
“But having the four kids gave me the confidence to walk away.
“Financially it was scary, because I wasn't working, and my ex lost his job, so I had no child support,” she says. “But I loved the independence, making my own decisions, getting by with my little bit of money each week. It was all down to me, I felt proud of myself.
“I was not looking for anyone, I didn't need any more complications in my life. I was starting to doubt I'd ever have a daughter.”
Two years after her divorce was finalised, Karen met 42-year-old company director Simon Johns. “He loved my boys, but wanted his own child and didn't want to wait. So we started trying almost immediately. I was five months pregnant when we got married.
“I secretly dreamed that Max [now 14] would be a girl.
“We loved Max, but he was a horror. He didn't stop crying, he never slept and it was hard work. It took seven years to convince Simon to have another one.
“The passion had been reignited in me. I thought maybe the next baby could be a girl.”
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The desire for a daughter had become an obsession, and this time Karen was determined. “We went for a consultation for gender selection,” she says.
“The only sure-fire way of conceiving a girl is to create an embryo in a dish and implant that back into your womb, which is illegal in this country. We would have to fly to California at ovulation every month.
“Three lots of IVF would have cost about £21,000. I couldn't bear getting into all this debt and then miscarrying knowing it was a girl. I had already lost six babies. I get pregnant easily, so having IVF seemed wrong. I couldn't do it”
The couple resorted to other methods. “We tried some crazy old wives tales. I even made Simon wear tight underwear and have hot showers, as I read female sperm prefer a hotter environment.”
But in 2005, they had their second son, Jo. “When I found out we'd be having a boy I was gutted,” admits Karen. “I cried for three days. I thought it had to be a girl this time because of the odds. How many people have six sons in a row?”
As the recession hit, the couple decided that enough was enough. “Our income reduced by about fifty per cent. We were struggling. The last thing on our minds was having another baby.”
But at 41, Karen fell pregnant again. “When the test came back positive I couldn't stop shaking. Simon went white as a sheet. But there was no way I would have an abortion, there was no option.”
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A voice from the past
“My dad had died three years before and I felt a strong need to see a clairvoyant.
“She asked me: 'Who is Ruby'? I didn't know anybody called Ruby. She told me dad was sending me a baby, and said I had to call her Ruby because she'd be the jewel in my crown.
“I thought it was a load of old tosh.”
But at 13 weeks, Karen went to a private clinic, where the doctor told her there was a 93 per cent chance she would have a girl.
“I felt elated. I went straight to the shops and bought a hot pink pram. I bought every pink toy and pretty dress going – my sons laughed as I filled the nursery from floor to ceiling.”
Karen went into labour in November 2009. As Ruby was delivered the room went quiet.
“When they told me she had Down Syndrome I thought my life was over,” Karen says. “I lay there thinking what have I done? I didn't know a single thing about Down Syndrome. I am ashamed by how little I knew and the assumptions I made.
“Ruby got whisked off to special care because she had thick blood and feeding issues. We watched her fighting for her life, and everything else was put into perspective. I came home and did some research. We took a deep breath and thought, right, she needs us.”
A bundle of joy
Now two, Ruby is the little princess her mum always dreamed about.
Karen says: “She is absolutely stunning and is always the centre of the room. She is full of it and she's a big show off. She is my dream girl, she's got the pigtails.
“I worry that people might think that the boys weren't good enough, but I couldn't love those boys anymore. People have said I am selfish, and I take that on board.
“I felt guilty that I'd burdened the boys with a child with special needs. But Ruby has been the making of this family. She’s changed us all. We have become more open-minded, more tolerant, more understanding of the world of disability.
“If any one of my sons had been a girl, I might have stopped having children. But knowing Ruby has six older brothers gives me such comfort.”
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