I met the radiant Hannah at her romantic early century villa in New Plymouth where she and her husband are eagerly awaiting their first child. I really got the sense that creating a beautiful loving home for their daughter was first priority for Hannah. I am also renovating an old house in Whangarei, and I fell in love with their gorgeous home, with exposed walls revealing the old kauri boards and a feast of vintage wallpaper. Melisa was with me to do Hannah's hair and makeup, and we spent most of our time chasing cats and patting dogs. We listened to Hannah's life in foster care and how her decisions shaped her life, and how fate eventually brought her to where she is now.
Here is Hannah's story:
When I was three years old, my parents had gone to Thailand and they left me with some people from their church. Their 16 year old boy sexually abused me during this time. My parents got back and obviously no one said anything, but I started drawing pictures of monsters under my bed, so even at that young age, there was evidence of what happened to me.
The parents of the child actually came to my family and told mum and dad what their 16 year old son had done. He may have confessed, but I'm not sure. It's kind of a really grey area. My father was a police officer at the time. From what I can tell, he really spat the dummy, he was not happy. I'm not sure what exactly happened but there was a bit of a cover up about it. I was really taboo. I think my dad had actually threatened to kill this boy. I'm not sure of the finer details of what had happened, but it was really stressful and hard to cope with for the entire family. It was really messy and really awful. I don't think there was any accountability or anything from the boy.
We got counselling and stuff like that, as children. Later they did a review to see what was happening and they kind of informed me that maybe the rape wasn't such an issue for me anymore, it might have been the entire family environment. I thought the whole reason my family was falling apart was because of what happened to me.
I don't particularly remember all of that earlier stuff. But it was a bit of a catalyst for the changes in me through my life. At five years old my parents had split up, it was really hard on our entire family. It's a little hard to look back and see where things started going wrong, and when exactly it was that I started viewing myself as defective. I kind of felt I had broken my family up. Now that I'm older, I have worked through things and I know that I'm okay, it wasn't my fault. I'm more than just the things that have happened to me. It wasn't until probably about five years ago when I met my husband and I actually started to put some healing in place.
At eleven, I went into foster care, because things were really difficult at home. I never ended up staying at a placement for longer that 3 months, never at a school longer than two years. I didn't have healthy relationships. I was a very lost teenager really. I was looking for validation and love and acceptance from some inappropriate places.
I feel it's all connected. Like, I don't necessarily mean that early incident set me up for that life, but it was definitely a catalyst for the path we went down as a family. When I was in Foster care, there was a night where a friend who had passed away, she had hung herself. We were all drinking and upset. Another incident happened and I felt like I put myself in a situation where I was too vulnerable to that. The people I was hanging out with and the influences in my life weren't necessarily positive. That incident as a teenager really affected me quite substantially. I no longer trusted in other people, but I was still searching for acceptance and love and family and all those things, which I think is pretty normal for people that have been abused as a child.
After that, my new relationships were not overly positive. I was in an abusive relationship for a year, and then when I left him I fell in with another awful person. I moved my life to Australia. I sold everything. I had started again, I had been there for a month when I got mauled by a dog. I wasn't covered and I had to move back to New Zealand. Because it happened in Australia it wasn't covered here either. I went on the sickness benefit.
I started to develop really serious self esteem issues. I hadn't had any fruitful relationships in my entire life. And then I met my husband. He was just this calm, loving, kind, human. He was really respectful. He grew up with a really amazing family that had amazing values and it was everything I had been missing in my life. I was a real polar opposite to him. I was really inconsistent and out drinking and out doing all of these things, you know? To try and feel included and accepted and valued and worthy.
He swept me off my feet. Now we are married and having this first child, having an amazing life with just wonderful humans around us. It took a while to be in a place where I could be happy again. I reached out to a psychologist, to discuss the sexual abuse and how that had affected me and my relationships, and it was really good.
I actually started to manage some of those feelings. When I was a teenager, I was just trying to survive really. The psychologist ended up having a huge impact on me, and it was really valuable. I realise I can't blame my entire shitty childhood on that one incident at three years old, but I think it has contributed to how I formed attachments and trust with people, and how I viewed myself. The sexual abuse when I was a teenager, I felt really responsible for that, because I felt that I put myself in that situation. I was drunk and it was my fault. It actually took me a while to develop the attitude that just because you are there, it doesn't give people the right to do that to you, and you shouldn't have to feel embarrassed.
Im training to be a social worker now, and I'm working with youth. Also, as part of my role I get external supervision, so I meet with a social worker once a month, and she is just amazing. I talk to her about my challenges and she's always listening, its just amazing.
I’m expecting my first child, and at the first scan they said it was a boy. I was really relieved, because I just had in my head that he was going to be just like my husband, and really amazing and I was going to have this amazing relationship with this little boy. We found out later it was a girl and I was heartbroken. I didn't want her to be anything like me. I just initially thought there was no way I was going to cope.
I talked about it to my supervisor and she said, well that’s really defective thinking, because you are actually amazing, there’s no way you would let that happen to your little girl. You aren't the things that have happened to you, and if she does turn out like you, well she's going to be amazing too. In moments of panic I go back to that thinking, and it's really hard to shift.
It’s really amazing that I now have the space from my old life that has allowed me to have that healing. And actually having a healthy relationship has given me a safe space to do that work for my own healing. I feel really blessed that we are able to role model that kind of relationship for our daughter. My husband understands that how he treats me and how he treats her is how she is going to grow up expecting men to treat her. We are determined to show her how loved she is, and show her that she can expect to be loved like that from the other people in her life.