I was always really popular at school and really social, and I think in some ways that was great as there was always heaps of friends. But at the same time it was really difficult always being like the centre of attention. People always talking about me, wanting to know what I was doing, and talking about me behind my back as well. I think that was something that I really struggled with. And I went through puberty quite young so like I struggled with that at school. Being different, and feeling so different from my peers and friends.
It’s like that saying, you know, ‘You can be in a room full of people and be completely alone’. It was really like that, being the centre of attention, with attention from boys as well. At times I can remember feeling like there was a lot of pressure to sort of keep that standard and that expectation of being cool and being ‘that girl’.
I really struggled with intermediate. I naturally gravitate towards older people so in Year 7, I made friends with all the Year 8s. So come time for me to be in Year 8 all my friends had left, and I didn’t want to be anywhere near the other people, so I felt really isolated. And like, in between Year 7 and Year 8 my parents separated, and that was really really difficult.
I stopped eating. I can remember being taken into the principal’s office and being forced to drink a milo. It was a really hard time and, you know, my way of coping with sort of everything that was going on was to come home and get into bed because I was so cold and just read. So I read for hours and hours and hours and refused to eat dinner and I’d just stay in bed from the time I got home until bedtime. I know I read the Harry Potter series at least seven or eight times. Escaping to another world of fiction was my escape. It was better than what was going on in my in life at the time.
I think I was angry at my dad. I can remember him coming to say goodbye and I was angry and pissed off. I just remember feeling angry that he left, like, ‘How could he do that’, you know?
I withdrew from my mum. And any conversations we had would result in doors being slammed and screaming and yelling matches and just not very good or nice communication. And I think that was probably really exhausting for mum. There was only so much she could do because she was busy with the other three kids. So I think I was left to my own devices a little bit.
I was admitted to Marinoto and started some counselling there. I was struggling with depression, anxiety around fighting between mum and dad, and a dislike of myself and how my body had changed so fast from being like, what I felt was like normal and being just a kid, to actually being like a woman and having hips and boobs and all those things. And I think on one level I liked it because I knew I was attractive, but on the other hand, you know, you don’t know how to deal with those things and I had this sort of self-loathing, and self-hatred going on.
I started writing a lot, writing poems. So that really helped. And I sort of came out of that dark phase on my own, I think. I also met a guy, my first boyfriend, and that was a distraction, and it got me out of bed. It got me going and doing stuff and being a bit more social.
I went to Mt Albert Grammar. I had a couple of friends that were going as well. It was important to me to stay close to those friends that I had, and obviously just wanting to go with them. But there were three boys to every girl at MAGs. And then there were all these older boys who were like, ‘Oh fresh meat. Fresh girls, type thing’. And you really started to feel like in the first few weeks of being there, even walking around you felt like you were being looked at, sort of graded. Our classes were separate so that was good. But then because they kept us so separated at lunch times and morning teas, you can just imagine, it was like mayhem. But Year 9 was probably the best year I’d had in a few years. Things didn’t really start to change until Year 10. I started to wag school a little bit. I’d go into St Lukes or not get off at the right stop and head straight into Britomart and go to town for the day.
Very quickly it became cool to be that sort of sexy, opinionated bad girl that would get up to no good. So I think that sort of led me down another path. My mum wasn’t very impressed. She was annoyed that she’d have to pick me up from school because I’d missed the train being in detention.
There was a fair bit of communication between my parents and my Dean, what they could do about it. Not a lot because I’ve always been very, ‘This is what I wanna do and I’m going to do it and you’re not going to stop me’. So if I wanted to catch the train in, I would catch the train in and go to town for the day, and later on, you know, go a bit further, go to South or East Auckland or go to the beach, Mission Bay.
Even though I really enjoyed english and I did really well in my english classes, living and experimenting and exploring became better than school, and I felt I was learning more about the world than what I was at school. And I’ve always hated feeling like I’m part of the machine. Part of just one of the many, the same dress code, no make up, no dying your hair. I always wanted to sort of push that a little bit and be a little bit different.
So I finished Year 10, and I started Year 11. My parents were back together which was great. But it was very much the same behaviour from me, and just more of it. Like I never got into drugs, I never started smoking. But my friends would bring alcohol to school and we’d go wag for the day and have a few drinks or like go and party on Friday nights at friends’ houses. And I think that was all really hidden from the parents, like mine included, so I don’t think they knew what we got up to a lot of the time.
That just became even more of my reality. The like not eating properly, bad self-image, seeking sexual attention from places I probably shouldn’t. It led me down a really really dark path.
On one of those nights I stayed at a girlfriend’s house. We planned to go out drinking, and her parents didn’t know, we went to like a friend of a friend of a friend’s party and I actually ended up getting assaulted by two guys.
That was one of the worst days of my life. Not the party and the being assaulted. It was the going home and facing my parents. After that my way of coping with everything was that it happened to that girl that was at that party and that girl’s not me.
I met my daughters’ dad not long after that. And I think I was just so low in my life, and just so depressed and hating myself more than ever, and out of control at school and at home. We met through Bebo, which was a social platform before Facebook was around. That says it all. I was 14, 15. He was a friend of a friend and he requested to be friends with me. He thought that I looked good and I thought that he looked good and we arranged to meet at Britomart because he was out South and I was out West so it was sort of halfway and we went out to McDonald’s. We had our first date. We just started seeing each other from that, it just took off. He’s 28 now and I’m 24 so he’s four years older. I naturally gravitate towards older people. Even now I still do. And he was that bit older, but not like too old, because obviously I was a really young teenager.
I had caught the train out to South Auckland cause that’s where my boyfriend lived. I was literally sitting there covering my mouth and trying not to vomit in front of the other passengers. When I got there I was telling him and he suggested we do a pregnancy test.
I rang my mum and I told her over the phone. She told me to just stay the night there and that she didn’t want to see me. Then after that I came home and we had a really sort of blunt conversation about life and how hard it was for her being a young mum and the realities and the changes to my body that I was going to face. Then like the rules at the house if I was going to stay at home and be pregnant, this was what I was going to have to comply with. Although they were really unhappy and disappointed at first, it became a really positive thing. It definitely rebuilt my relationship with my mum. My dad loves kids and he was really excited to be a ‘dida’, although disappointed and probably a bit ashamed.
My relationship with the girls’ dad was really off and on during that pregnancy. I can remember being five months pregnant, so I was still living at home, but I would go and visit him at his house. He thought that I had been flirting with his friends. Which I wasn’t, five months pregnant, fat and everything. But he thought that I was and we were in his bedroom and that was the first time he hit me. I wasn’t expecting it. Didn’t know why. Didn’t know how to react to it. Didn’t know anything about domestic violence. Didn’t know there was such a thing called domestic violence. Didn’t know what a healthy relationship was or unhealthy or whether I had deserved that.
From there it sort of just scaled out of control. And I think by the time that I learnt what domestic violence was I think I was already too in that cycle. Like, I was already too far in that I couldn’t get out.
So Saskia was born and it was great for a week and then he left and then he’d come back a week later and then I wouldn’t see him for a month and that sort of just became normal. I just kept parenting. I was breastfeeding and I was still living at home so I had really really good support around me and I kept reading my parenting books and mum became my best friend. And everything that we had had in the past sort of evaporated and we got really close and she was my rock and taught me everything and would sit up with me at night and help me breastfeed her.
I was 16. I thought that we were going to live happily ever after. I can remember feeling determined that we were going to live happily ever after. My sort of take on happily ever was being a really great parent and raising a beautiful, intelligent, child that would succeed in life. It wasn’t so much based around my relationship with him, it was the happily ever after for me and my child and he was just in it at the time.
I felt like I failed at everything else and I’m naturally just a really driven, determined person. I wanted to prove everybody wrong. My wider family was horrified and thought that I’d failed and I’d be just another statistic. I was determined to be the success story. To be the teen mum that survived and actually thrived and did really well being the best mum I could be, being the best parent I could be and raising a really healthy, beautiful child.
He started to tell me that if we had another baby and could be a proper family that the violence would stop and that we’d live happily every after and that he’d be a better dad and all those things and I stupidly believed him. I don’t know if I really believed him or if I just didn’t see another option. Having another baby with him was easier than leaving. So I did. I fell pregnant again with Vera.
Around that time CYFS got involved because I had called the police so many times, and they said, ‘If you stay with him, we’ll take your kids away. If you get a protection order and a lawyer we’ll support you and help you’. So I did. I applied for a protection order.
Right now my biggest struggle is feeling like I’ve lived a lifetime already. I feel so much older than I am and because of that, right now I feel so lost. I don’t know what direction my life is going in. There’s lots of windows and lots of things that I could do, but I don’t know. I just feel like I really am such a good mum now and the kids are doing so well and so well at their dancing, but I just feel so – empty is not the right word, but it’s sort of like – black.
Separate to being a mum and separate to the kids in my day-to-day reality, I don’t know what else there is in my life. I guess I’d like to think that I am capable of going back to Uni and studying some more, either going to do law or something in community development, but I don’t know. I know that I’m extremely driven, and I know that I want to change the world and I want to have a positive impact on NZ and I think I can do that and I think I’ve started doing that already. But I feel like I need someone else to help me get to the next chapter of my life, whatever that may be.
I’m on the benefit at the moment which is not something I want to be on. I get $470 per week in sole parent benefit support and my rent is $520 per week so right now that’s my day-to-day, week-to-week worry. That’s the biggest struggle I’ve got in my life. The stress and anxiety of financially surviving and being able to stay in this house and keep feeding and looking after the girls and making sure I’ve got enough in their lunchbox and enough to feed them after dancing every day.
I’m frustrated with myself because I feel like I’m not able to provide as much as I should for them. Without family support I just wouldn’t survive, we’d probably be homeless by now. Or we’d be in a room at a family’s house, we wouldn’t have this house. But it really is just like week-to-week right now and that’s really hard. Like financial stress is a huge factor in so many people’s lives and it weighs on my mind daily.
I’m terrified about what the house prices will be in a year or two or whether my landlord will come around and say I’m putting the rent up, because if he does I won’t be able to afford it. And the realities of owning my own home – unless I meet some lovely well-off man, or suddenly inherit – I’ll never own a home.
I’m lucky if I’ve got $20 left in my bank account at the end of the week or if I can like add $5 to my savings. It’s really hard knowing we’re not improving our life at all, not working towards anything. We’re just living today. That’s all it is.
We live in Oratia, we have rural outlooks, the house has been completely renovated. This is the standard of living that I need my kids to know. This needs to be their normal. Any less is not good enough, because I had such a wonderful childhood. This, at the very least, is what they deserve. It’s not about materialistic things. It’s not about the best shoes and clothing, but this life and the people that are in it, going to school, the people in our school environment, and the people in their day-to-day lives. That needs to be their normal. So even though there’s zero in the bank, at least they’ve had a really nice dinner and when they’re playing on the deck they’re looking at cows and trees and the Waitakere Ranges and this is their expectation in life. Hopefully this is what they’ll grow up to see as the expectation for their lives, and their kids’ lives as well.