A woman reunited with her school crush through a Facebook message after years apart went on to have a whirlwind romance with him – buying a house after two weeks and having three babies in just nine months.
When Rachael Kirkwood, 34, first spotted her now husband, Paddy, 35, in the corridors of the secondary school they both attended in Manchester, she fell head over heels.
Overcome with shyness, she never plucked up the courage to speak to him, instead admiring him from afar and sending anonymous Valentine’s Day cards every February 14th.
In time, they both left school and began their adult lives, with Rachael even living in New Zealand for two years, and having a son, Oliver, now seven.
But then, in April 2015, she sent Paddy, who also has a son from a previous relationship, a message after stumbling upon his Facebook profile.
After meeting for a first date around a week later, things moved fast, with the pair buying a house together after two weeks, getting engaged in July, marrying in December and having three babies in nine months.
Speaking out in defense of whirlwind romances, Rachael said: “People thought it was way too fast and told me it wouldn’t last, but I was sure we were meant to be together.
“I believe in love at first sight. I loved Paddy as soon as I saw him back at school, and still felt the same after years apart. If something feels right, you have to go for it.”
When Rachael first saw Paddy, who was in the year above her at secondary school, she fancied him right away, but was too shy to speak.
Eventually leaving school and joining the adult world, she put him to the back of her mind.
But then, a chance comment on Facebook in April 2015 threw the couple back together.
She recalled: “I saw his profile pop up as he’d commented on a mutual friend’s post, so I had a look through his photos and plucked up the courage to message him. I said, ‘You haven’t changed a bit.’”
She added: “I wasn’t even sure if he’d remember me, given that we’d never spoken. But he replied right away saying, ‘Neither have you.’”
From there, Paddy and Rachael began to speak every day over Facebook, swapping tales about life, love, and everything in between.
After a week, he asked the question she’d longed to hear ever since she was a teenager – ‘Want to go on a date?’
“We’d arranged something for the following week, but in the end, we couldn’t wait. I ended up texting him a few days later when I was on a night out in Manchester city centre to see if he wanted to come and join me,” said Rachael.
“He did, and as soon as I saw him, it was like we’d known each other forever. Which we had, I suppose.”
The spark between them clear to see, Paddy and Rachael spent virtually every day together from then onwards.
Then, two weeks later, he mentioned he was house-hunting, and suggested she join him for a viewing of a property near to where she was then living.
She recalled: “He asked me what I thought of the place, and I told him I loved it. Then he turned to me and said, ‘I don’t want to get it unless you move in too.’
“I thought, ‘Is he mad?’ It had only been two weeks. But part of me just knew it was right.”
So, though her family and friends thought she was “nuts,” Rachael agreed, and the couple jetted off to Madrid the following week to celebrate.
There, under the Spanish sun, they discovered the offer they’d put in had been accepted, meaning they returned to the UK to start their new life together.
And just six weeks after that, in early July, Paddy had another important question for Rachael.
“He proposed to me in Paris. It was like something from a fairytale,” she said. “People thought it was way too fast and told me it wouldn’t last, but I was sure we were meant to be together.”
Shortly before their trip to Paris, Rachael had discovered she was pregnant, meaning she had gone from single to engaged and expecting within just three months.
She was delighted but, sadly, things weren’t meant to be.
At around 12 weeks, she raced to hospital after feeling dizzy, where a scan revealed she was experiencing a molar pregnancy.
The condition occurs when a lump of abnormal cells, rather than a healthy fetus, grows inside the womb.
In some cases, when the cells do not go away on their own, they can lead to a condition called persistent trophoblastic disease (PTD), which the NHS says is similar to cancer, if untreated.
That meant that – heartbreakingly – Rachael’s ‘baby’ had to be removed.
She said: “I couldn’t take it in. I had never even heard of a molar pregnancy.”
Looking back, Rachael said she would never have got through the ordeal without Paddy, who she married that December in Paris, in front of 60 loved ones.
“We hired a boat afterwards and sailed down the Seine, past the Eiffel Tower. The way we saw it, we wanted to be together, so there was no point in waiting – even though we hadn’t even been together a year,” she recalled. “When you know, you know.”
In the wake of the molar pregnancy, Rachael feared the same thing could happen again and she would never be able to start the family with Paddy that they both so desperately wanted.
But then, in early 2016 – a month after their wedding – two little blue lines, later followed by reassuring scans, changed all that, and the pair’s daughter Mollie, now two, was born that September.
Paddy and Rachael then began to have that chat all new parents do, idly daydreaming about whether they would have another.
But that daydream became a reality much sooner than they expected, when Rachael fell pregnant just six weeks after having Mollie – with identical twins.
“We couldn’t believe it. We were basically doubling the size of the family,” she said. “At first, I was terrified about how we’d cope, but Paddy said it was like winning the lottery. I knew then that we’d get through it together.”
The babies, Niall and Luke, were born early in June 2017, meaning Rachael had given birth three times in nine months – and the children will all be in the same school year, when the time comes.
“It was hard work having three tiny babies. The twins had colic, so would cry a lot, then Mollie would wake up wanting a feed. Even getting out the house for five minutes took rigorous planning,” she said. “We got a nanny to come and help two times a week, which was amazing. Plus Paddy was fantastic.”
Incredibly, despite the fact she was taking the contraceptive pill, Rachael soon added to her brood once again, with baby Orla, who was born in November 2018.
Life for the Kirkwoods now is hectic but happy, with six children in the house when Paddy’s other son comes round on the weekends – and Rachael’s own fairytale romance has even inspired her to set up a charity called Wish For A Wedding, which helps provide weddings to couples dealing with a terminal illness.
Given that she’s been through so many different types of pregnancies, she also wants to help others, and so has set up a blog called MumToBe.com, where she shares advice and candid posts, especially aimed at those who may feel isolated as they don’t have many friends with children.
Now, as they’ve just celebrated their third wedding anniversary, Rachael says she’s proved the cynics, who told her that her whirlwind romance would never last, well and truly wrong.
She said: “I know we aren’t conventional, but I wouldn’t change the way we did things for the world. Paddy and I are like teenagers together, still as in love now as we were on day one.
“I’ve never met anyone like him, and know that, given all we’ve been through and not been broken, I’ll be with him forever.
“To anyone out there doubting whirlwind romances, I’d say this – If something feels right, go for it.”
For more information on Rachael, visit www.wishforawedding.co.uk or www.mumtobe.com or follow @the_kirkwood_triplets on Instagram