Shivering in the dead of night, curled up in her ‘bed’, the cold cement floor of a public toilet block, this was a typical night for six-month-pregnant *Melissa. It was a far cry from her old life, as a suburban mum of two, in a well-paid government job. Warning, this story contains mentions of domestic violence and drug use.
From the outside looking in, at the start of my marriage, life was good. I had a great job, lots of friends, and a loving husband. But it wasn’t long until the cracks started to show.
I soon realised I was married to a violent man who was a paranoid schizophrenic and drug user. My life became a living hell, there were nights he’d lock the kids and I out, and we’d walk the streets, I’d be pushing my youngest in a pram. I know it sounds crazy but at that point, I still loved my husband very much. He was in rehab and getting the support he needed, but I had no-one. I knew I’d reached breaking point. I stopped ringing people, I got tired of them preaching at me.
Eventually, we separated. He asked to have the kids for the holidays, and never brought them back. There were no orders in place, I had no idea that there should have been. Looking back, I was so naive. I had a breakdown, and I was living with my parents for a while. I ended up making some bad choices.
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Life was one big party
Not that I was having any fun…I was smoking ice, and drinking too much alcohol. I began self-harming to escape the emotional pain, it took away that edge and gave me a sense of relief. I was beginning to doubt my own reality.
I was involved with gangs, that was a very dangerous and terrifying time for me. Then I discovered I was pregnant. What chance did my baby have? One day I cut my arms so bad, I wasn’t trying to kill myself, it was a cry for help. Then I was released from hospital, and put into emergency housing, but that ran out.
I found myself on the streets
I had no other choice. I’d sleep in the concrete structural recess in the side of big buildings. You know where they keep things like big fire hoses? That became my home. At times I wouldn’t shower for two weeks – I felt disgusting. I missed my kids, and I was worried about this tiny baby inside me. I’d sleep with something over my face at night so no one could see me. I felt so ashamed.
It was like I was invisible
I didn’t exist to anyone, people would walk past me all the time. But people did see me. One time it was freezing cold and raining. I dozed off and woke up after someone had tucked a warm box of food underneath me. That happened more than once. There were so many kind people who did things like that which helped me and my unborn baby survive. I never put my hand out for food – I wanted to hide away from the world because was deeply ashamed of who I had become. I had nothing, just the clothes on my back.
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At first, I tried to hide my baby bump, but after a while, I couldn’t. I slept on park benches, and in railway stations. One night I slept in a toilet block under the sink. I threw a water bottle in front of the sensor so the door stayed locked and I felt safe.
Sometimes I’d wish that…. you know the time when you close your eyes and right before you drift off to sleep – I’d wish that would last forever, but then I’d wake up.
I was underweight and I started to get really sick
I’d been on the streets for almost six months – with a few nights here and there in emergency accommodation. I was seven months pregnant and worried about my baby. It was all that I was thinking about. I hadn’t been to a single antenatal appointment. I was so fearful that something was wrong.
One day I walked past the Salvation Army and went inside to ask for help. I rediscovered my faith; they saved my life. It was from there that my journey just took off. I delivered a beautiful baby girl; my daughter shouldn’t have survived – but she did. She is my little miracle. She’s smart, and now a few years on, she hits all the milestones.
I accessed my superannuation early and got my own place
Then I went after my kids. I had to prove that I wasn’t this crazy person my ex had actually had almost made me believe I was. He told me he’d take everything, including my dignity. And he did.
Julia Roberts (mom to twins Hazel and Phinnaeus): “I try to call my mother, Betty, with more regularity because I think, What if Hazel didn’t call me for two weeks? I’m able to see her mothering now from a different vantage point.”
I had to be strong and remind myself that wasn’t the person I was, it was who I’d become. I’ve turned my life around completely, I’m working, and studying, and now I have sole custody of my beautiful kids.
If you need help contact: www.salvationarmy.org.au
If you or someone you know needs help you can contact Lifeline 13 11 14 or White Ribbon 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).