Life

Mum who left school with no GCSEs and fell pregnant at 18 now studying midwifery at 47 and says ‘nothing’s out of reach’

Carol Grech says ‘nothing is out of reach’ (Collect/PA Real Life)
Carol Grech says ‘nothing is out of reach’ (Collect/PA Real Life) Carol Grech says ‘nothing is out of reach’ (Collect/PA Real Life)

A woman who left school with no qualifications and fell pregnant with her first child at 18 before having six children from three relationships, with one of the fathers dying unexpectedly, now feels “nothing is out of reach” as she studies to become a midwife in her late 40s after winning awards for her baby massage business concept.

Carol Grech, 47, who lives in Bolton, grew up on a council estate as the eldest of five girls, where she said her family “didn’t have much” but she had a “lovely childhood”.

In her teenage years, she said she was “a bright girl who was ready to learn” but felt her opportunities were “limited”, and given that she attended a “poor performing school” and had dyslexia, which had not yet been diagnosed, she left with no GCSEs.

Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s.
Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s. Carol when she was around five years old (Collect/PA Real Life) (PA Real Life)

Carol then qualified as a hairdresser and fell pregnant at 18, but decided to leave her partner – who she does not want to name – while eight months pregnant with their second child, because of his drug addiction as she realised she could not “save him from himself”.

She then met her first husband – who she also does not want to name – when she was 20, going on to have three more children.

It was during this marriage that her partner from her previous relationship died unexpectedly on New Year’s Eve following a night out.

Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s.
Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s. Carol with her youngest son (Collect/PA Real Life) (PA Real Life)

A few months later, aged 30, with five children and “not a penny to her name”, she left her husband, but has since gone on to retake her GCSEs, remarry and have another child, and is now studying midwifery at the University of Bolton.

While studying, she has been working on a start-up business called Baby Blossoms, centring around baby massage classes, to build “connection and support” among women – and she wants to share the advice that “if you face an obstacle or a challenge, just keep moving forward”.

She said: “Nothing is out of your reach, everything is open to you, you’ve just got to work hard, be kind – they’re the two things you’ll only ever need in life.

Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s.
Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s. Carol is studying at the University of Bolton and said she is ‘loving it’ (Collect/PA Real Life) (PA Real Life)

“You will have opportunities in times when you’re challenged or things don’t go your way… you’ve just got to believe in yourself and take the next step.”

Carol said she experienced the “effects of poverty and social deprivation” while growing up on a council estate, but her parents did their utmost to protect her.

After leaving school with no GCSEs, which she attributed to her “classroom environment” and then undiagnosed dyslexia, she met her first partner while working as a hairdresser.

Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s.
Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s. Carol highlights her notes to help with her dyslexia (Collect/PA Real Life) (PA Real Life)

Carol described herself as “a vulnerable girl” at the time, and she did not realise she was pregnant, aged 18, until a friend pointed out her bump one summer’s afternoon.

“Along my council estate street, everybody knew everybody’s business, and I was the only girl at that time who was having a baby, and it was very isolating.”

She said she had support from her parents and an “amazing” midwife called Lillian, and she quickly fell pregnant with her second child – but her partner’s drug addiction gradually started to have a detrimental effect on their relationship.

Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s.
Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s. Carol during training (Collect/PA Real Life) (PA Real Life)

“Addiction is such a destructive thing to go through,” she said.

“I remember sitting there, thinking ‘Why doesn’t he love us enough to stop this? Why aren’t we enough?’ And it’s an unfair question to put to someone who has an addiction because it’s an illness, and you’re battling with something that’s bigger than you.”

Carol left the relationship when she was 19 and heavily pregnant with her second child. She met her first husband one year later, with whom she had three more children.

It was during this relationship that her first partner died unexpectedly after a night out.

Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s.
Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s. Carol started her degree in her 40s (Collect/PA Real Life) (PA Real Life)

“It took me a long time to get over it,” she said.

“I’m at peace with it now, but because I was so young and because I had the huge responsibility of these children, I didn’t have time to dwell… I just thought ‘These children have only got me, so I need to step up and give them what they need’.”

Carol said she had “always wanted to be a midwife”, and so she decided to retake her English and maths GCSEs and complete an Access to Teaching course.

Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s.
Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s. Carol said she had ‘always wanted to be a midwife’ (Collect/PA Real Life) (PA Real Life)

At the age of 30, she left her husband, with just “the clothes on (her) back and (her) five children”, and went on to complete a foundation degree in public health.

“I had absolutely nothing when I left, but I had this vision and this motivation that we’re going to have a good life, and I’m going to make sure we do,” she said.

With the support of the charities Bolton at Home and Fortalice, Carol was able to build a new life for herself and her children, and she met her second husband and “soulmate”, who she does not want to name, and the couple have now been married for 16 years.

Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s.
Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s. Carol on the day she left her job in paediatrics (Collect/PA Real Life) (PA Real Life)

She worked as an NHS health trainer for five years and then spent the following decade working as an assistant practitioner in paediatrics before deciding she was “ready for change”.

Aged 45, she began her nursing and midwifery degree at the University of Bolton – and now she is “absolutely flying and loving it”.

She said the university has been extremely influential in her ability to return to and remain in further education.

Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s.
Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s. The University of Bolton (Collect/PA Real Life) (PA Real Life)

“Honestly, the experience of going to university, the experience of learning a skill that I never thought I’d do, I’m just so grateful,” she said.

“That’s the biggest, strongest word I can use – gratitude.”

Carol believes she has had “a guardian angel looking out for (her)” throughout her life, as she has been offered opportunities when she least expected them.

Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s.
Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s. While studying, Carol has been working on a start-up business called Baby Blossoms (Collect/PA Real Life) (PA Real Life)

During her first year at university, an email “popped into (her) inbox”, asking whether students had a business idea – and after sending in her pitch, she won £1,000 in funding.

Despite having “no business experience whatsoever”, Carol said she knew that more needed to be done to support women after birth, and so the concept for Baby Blossoms was born.

Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s.
Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s. Carol celebrating with her son after winning £1,000 in funding for her business (Collect/PA Real Life) (PA Real Life)

She has since won a further £4,500 for the business, along with several awards, including Student Midwife Most Likely to Change the World and Outstanding Woman in Midwifery for Business.

“I never thought ‘I’m going to run my own business’,” she said.

“I just knew that I’m going to come into midwifery to connect with women and families.

Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s.
Mother studying to become a midwife in her 40s. Carol took this picture on her first day at university (Collect/PA Real Life) (PA Real Life)

“I want to inspire them, give them the tools they need to get them to where they want to be, and remind them that they can do it.”

Baby Blossoms, which is yet to officially launch, centres around baby massage classes, and Carol said the sessions will act as a doorway for new mothers and vulnerable women to access additional support services around topics such as bereavement, drug or alcohol addiction, or domestic abuse.