Leading up to Christmas, I want to share with you FIVE GIFTS of LIFE. These are five real stories of local women who fell pregnant young, outside of their plans, and made good anyway. Each Friday between now and Christmas, I’ll publish another. First was Rachel. Second was Stacey. Third was Lucy. Fourth was Carly. Here’s the fifth and final, Anna:
Life began badly for Anna.
“I was awakened to things no child should when I was between the ages of five and eight, so that played a huge part in being promiscuous from a really early age,” she shares.
Anna was sexually abused by her stepfather.
“That changed the course of my life because I was always seeking guys’ approval.”
This tall, confident woman is sitting on the floor, toys scattered around her as she spills the facts of her life like vomit into her lap. She knows her story is shocking to hear, but she shares it all the same because from where she stands now, there is light.
Four-year-old Olive walks into the room holding the remains of a cupcake in her hands. She has obviously licked the pink icing off first and then gobbled the cake down to the patty pan, buttery crumbs spreading like confetti onto her dress, hands and the floor.
“I’m a cheeky monkey,” she giggles, and her mum joins in, smiles stretching easily across their faces.
“Go and get another one then,” Anna tells her, “Quickly, before I change my mind!”
Isla, nearly two, totters behind her sister and their happy chatter fades. Anna rolls her eyes and laughs.
It’s hard to comprehend that this is the same Anna who was once a drug addict and dealer. That the father of her girls once had such a firm grip on her heart that she would have done anything to salvage their relationship. That drugs drove her to self-harm, to pick at her skin follicles like they were splinters needing to be extracted. That she began smoking, drinking and having sex from just 12 years old and taking drugs from 14.
Anna is 24 now but she has a self-awareness, a presence and a strength that bleeds well beyond her years. The kind that wisdom takes root in.
Anna fell pregnant at 19, during a time when her life was fueled and funded by drug addiction and dealing alongside boyfriend of two years, Damon.
“We were high-functioning drug addicts and alcoholics. Basically, we would work full time to fuel our habits. It was a really destructive, toxic relationship because of the drugs involved – we were always high and then coming down, which meant we fought a lot. We were slowly killing each other.”
Anna runs her hands through her long hair, remembering the mashup of feelings when she first discovered she was pregnant.
“I was really excited! I would walk past the nappy section at the supermarket and think Aargh! This is my life now! What the heck!”
Despite her age and addictions, Anna never entertained the thought of ending the pregnancy. She thanks her mum for this who, for a short stint in her childhood, took her along to church where values were instilled in her in such a way that they stuck through to adulthood.
“Not all of them of course – I was addicted to drugs and sex don’t forget!” she laughs.
With a baby on board, Anna started making some tough lifestyle changes. She stopped taking hard drugs like speed and ecstasy and limited her drug use to a joint or two of a night to get to sleep. She soon cut drugs out altogether.
“I was trying to make better choices because I wanted us to be a little family. In retrospect though, Damon was struggling to change. That caused a lot of issues in our relationship.”
It was excruciatingly hard and she didn’t always win the daily, hourly or even minute-by-minute battles to stay sober for the sake of Olive who was making her presence known more with every passing day.
“I drank to cope, I smoked dope to cope,” she says levelly.
“It’s hard to say it. I think the only reason I can admit to it is because I know that wasn’t me on the inside.”
Anna was dealing with a sour soup of withdrawals, pregnancy hormones and a yearning for a new level of emotional intimacy with her boyfriend who kept failing her. He slept with other women. He treated her badly. He missed Olive’s birth.
Due to high blood pressure, Anna had a scheduled induction and Olive arrived after a quick, five-hour labour. This new mother’s elation at meeting her beautiful, pink-skinned, needy daughter was muddled with anger and disappointment that the ‘happy family’ picture she’d been painting in her mind had been slashed and was now hanging in shreds.
“I was angry at Damon. I didn’t want to see him because I was hurt and upset. It was typical of him, but I always hoped and I always forgave him,” Anna says.
“I was so young and I hadn’t worked out that often expectations don’t get met.”
Anna’s mum helped her through the early days of Olive’s life, of feeding and nappy changes, sleepless nights and soothing baby blues. She was a great practical help but the limitless nature of her support allowed Anna to slip backwards into bad habits.
“My mum enabled me to continue partying and keep up that lifestyle. She didn’t see it that way, and I know she didn’t intend it, but that’s the way it was.”
Anna was still on-again, off-again with Damon and, even when she acknowledged the negative effects this was having on Olive and moved into her own house, she couldn’t stay away.
“We used to get back together for sex basically. It was a love-hate relationship.”
All this time – from when Anna was seven months pregnant – she had been linked with Babymum Australia. Founder and director Noelene Booth kept tabs on her, offering help and a listening ear even while her attendance at the various mums get-togethers and play dates was sporadic at best.
It was after a big drug and alcohol bender at Damon’s house one weekend that she was picked up and taken to the Babymum cottage. Anna and Damon had been coming down off a drug high and were in the midst of an ugly scrap. Anna was in such a rage, she literally snapped her phone in half. Little did she know that this abrasive situation would lead to a major turning point in her life.
At the Babymum cottage, while Olive was being minded by the volunteers, Anna decided to run downtown to buy a new phone. On her way, she tripped and landed heavily on her knee, dislocating it. She sat on the footpath and just sobbed.
“There was no possible way I could’ve been any angrier, I was still furious with Damon. But then I was in so much pain and my anger turned to sadness and I bawled my eyes out. I sat there for ages and just cried.”
Anna eventually limped back to Babymum, but she didn’t want to go to hospital.
“I’d been on ice and I’d picked my legs heaps. I saw my hair follicles and thought they were pimples or ingrown hairs, so my legs were picked all over,” she says.
“I didn’t want to show anybody.”
Anna agreed to a few days of drug rehabilitation at one of the volunteers’ house. Tracey’s home was a place where she could disappear and focus on detoxing before her drug use caused injury, not only to herself, but to people around her.
Meanwhile, the Babymum team prayed.
“In hindsight, God’s grace was upon me the whole time because, other than sleeplessness, it was so easy not having drugs,” Anna says.
She began to seek God as a way of overcoming the stranglehold of addiction and, in her words, He “miraculously” came to the party.
“There was this push-pull thing in my mind for three days; I love God and I want to pray, but I like my lifestyle and I don’t want to give that up,” she explains.
“Then I just woke up one day free from wanting to do drugs. It wasn’t even in my thought process anymore. It was a spiritual battle and God had won, because I didn’t even have to make a decision.
“It’s hard to explain… It was like those images of the angel on one side and the devil on the other, that’s what it was like in my mind.”
From this mountaintop experience with God, Anna found herself endowed with the strength to change – from small things like drinking less coffee to big things like quitting drugs. She moved through life with a renewed enthusiasm and perspective. It was good to be alive – good to be a mum and to hear from God and walk with Him daily.
But she still missed Damon.
It took another slide into old habits, another angry confrontation and heart-wrenching realisation that her decisions affected another baby growing inside her, for Anna to finally sever her past from her future.
“I couldn’t have it both ways. I had to change my life and follow God or choose a path of destruction that leads to death,” she says.
“It was so clear-cut. I wanted to get back to how amazing my life was when I was living right with God, so I made that decision.”
Letting Damon go was heartbreaking. She watched through new eyes as he begged her to play happy families again, even started going to church with her and made a commitment before cheating on her when she was six months pregnant with Isla. Her response was different this time, the results less devastating somehow.
She turned to God in the heartbreak, leaning into his comfort. Before, she sought comfort in drink, drugs and men but she found God’s solace to be deep, residing and completely trustworthy.
This is the story you see when you meet Anna. Etched into her eyes as she watches her girls play, written on her palms as she strokes Isla’s hair, covering her mouth as she whispers into Olive’s ear is a story of redemption. God used Olive and Isla to retrieve Anna from the precipice of addiction and now she cannot imagine a brighter life without them.
*All names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.
Are you facing an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy?
Before making a decision, why not check out some of these sites where you’ll find information, understanding and support.
Babymum Australia: for mothers under the age of 21.
Not Born Yet: for women grappling with a tough decision.