Being a mother is a full time job. But for Debbie Fifield, it is literally so. She is a registered full-time carer for her 13 year old son Ryan who has a rare disorder. When she is not looking after him, and managing her son’s twin sister’s teenage tantrums, she volunteers for Beach within Reach. She says she is forced to go to One Direction’s gigs with her daughter but I think she secretly loves them nonetheless…
Debbie Fifield in talks with beachwalkmuse…
What brought you to Margate?
Originally from Birmingham, I lived in London for a while as an adult. My parents brought a guest house in Margate when I was 15. So we came here because of that and then when I was 17, I moved away to London to work. The biggest change that came to me then was when I was 20 and I was running an off license. There was an armed robbery and I was quite badly injured in the armed robbery and I decided I didn’t want to be here anymore.
So I went abroad to work for a while and then when I came back to England I started working for EuroStar. Enjoyed my work and a few years later got offered a very good redundancy package. So I left that and went on to running a pub and then fell pregnant a few months later. I stopped working, as when I fell pregnant we found out that Ryan was going to have problems. I split up with the children’s father when they were 10 months old and then we came out here, since my parents were still down here. And we’ve been down here ever since, just caring for the kids.
Tell us about your children and how has motherhood changed your life?
I have two children, Ryan and Sophie who are 13 years old twins. Ryan has severe disabilities and Sophie doesn’t. Ryan has what is called the mono syndrome, which is a rare disorder which stands for obesity, mental disorder and ocular abnormalities. Because of Ryan, I had to give up my job as I am registered as his full time carer. Ryan doesn’t burn out much energy during the day as he is wheelchair bound which means he stays up a lot during the night leaving me very exhausted during the day. But I do get some time to catch up on my sleep whilst he is in school. Having said that those are the only few hours when I can get some chores done because once he is home, there is no time for anything else.
How is life at the moment?
We’ve had a big life changing thing this year. We have been waiting for seven years for the house to be adapted and also have a house that was right for Ryan. Three years ago we moved into a council home and only in August they came to make the changes. It has been a long wait but now I finally have a bathroom which is right for Ryan. We now have an accessible bathroom, kitchen and garden which also makes my life easier as he has help himself to a lot of things now. So life is good at the moment.
Has this experience of motherhood changed you as a person?
Yes, I am definitely not selfish at all as I used to be. I used to live in London, living well beyond my means and generally living a great life. But now, I put the kids first. I have stopped smoking, I don’t drink – all of the things I did as a single person before I was a mother, I have stopped them all.
It must be very difficult for Sophie to not feel left out? What can you do as a mother ?
Sophie has always felt that way. I would say she must have been about three when she said you love Ryan more than you love me because you spend all your time with him. As a mother you feel guilty all the time. Everytime she comes home, if she’d had a row with something, had fallen out with something or had a bad day in general, it makes you wonder whether it is because you haven’t spend enough time with her. It is common with children whose siblings are disable to find it difficult to adjust to the fact that they have a sibling who needs more of your parents attention.
So I send Ryan away to respite. I get 29 nights a year to myself and that’s when I do something with Sophie whether it is taking her to a gig or holiday away etc.
How did you get involved with Beach within Reach…
Beach within reach started about 7 years ago. But the people who were associated with it due to personal circumstances couldn’t be involved anymore. And four years ago I was approached (as I have been involved with the Wheelchair charity in the past). And that is how I got involved with the charity.
How does it all work?
Initially it was Pfizers and a lot of charities that helped fun raise the wheelchairs for the Thanet area. And the wheelchairs stay in the storage a lot throughout the year although we’d like them used all the time. And during the summer times, there is a bay inspector on the beach, then the wheelchairs go out to the bay inspectors and then they are free of charge for anybody who has ability impairment (adult or a child) who want to access the beach.
How many of such chairs are available at a time?
There are about 16 of them. During any season we have about 10 of them out during the summer.We have a couple in Margate, couple in Broadstairs and other bays. We also have couple in Westbrook and so on. And then people can simply go along and ask the bay inspector who can then make the wheelchairs available.
Who funds them?
Because we don’t charge anybody for using them, we depend hugely on fundraising. Some of it , we do it ourselves and we also have our big fundraising event which is in May. At the moment Thanet classic cars – we are their sponsored charity of the year. And the Broadstairs Mayor Rosalind Binks – she has just raise over £600 for us at one of her quiz nights. And Thanet Farmers Market also had us as their charity at the beginning of the year. So we do depend a lot on people and companies generosity.
You are incredibly busy and have your hands full. What do you do to unwind?
I walk. I love walking – I used to walk a lot with my friend but she’s just moved.
If you were given a choice to work? What would you like to do as a job?
Everybody alway say that I am very good at organising but I think that is because I worked so long for EuroStar organising people’s travel around Europe. And actually that is something I am having to think about it because Ryan has been offered a place in a school where he is supposed to board during the week. So from September I have to work but only during term time. So obviously, the only job where I can work would be in a school. But I have no experience in that, so I don’t know where to find a job.
If you had a choice of gaining a skill instantly, what would that be?
It will have to be something to do with languages and travel. I used to travel a lot and a skill that could take traveling would be one I’d like to have.
What have you learned from your mother about parenthood? How has that effected your relationship with your children?
I have learnt to not to be like my mum. My relationship with my mother isn’t a good one, and has never been a close one. She wasn’t the one who would hug and say I love you. So I try to be as loving and positively expressive to my children. I try to always try to hug and kiss, the only thing is Sophie being a typical 13 year old doesn’t want to hold hands walking down the street or when she wants a cuddle, it will have to be on her terms; whereas Ryan, he is always happy to have a cuddle because he is still like a little boy and always will be.
Lastly, how would you like to spend your Mother’s Day?
My ideal mother’s day would doing what my children enjoy doing.
Debbie is organising a sponsored walk on Sunday, May 11th for Beach within Reach. It is a 6 mile sponsored walk starting at the Lighthouse Bar in Margate on the Harbour Arm, we walk to Westgate Bay cafe and then walk back again. Normally takes 2 hours at the most. So if somebody would like to either sponsor somebody who is walking or participate in the walk, please get in touch with us.
Debbie can be contacted through
Or simply visit the website on : beachwithinreach.org.uk