real life

'I was married to a wealthy man and had two daughters at private schools. Now, I'm homeless.'

This post deals with domestic violence and post-natal depression and might be triggering for some readers.

My story of homelessness is an unusual one. It shows that you can still have money and be homeless. It shows that a home isn’t just a physical building, but a place where you can feel safe.

It shows how everyone, no matter how successful or how secure, is only one mental breakdown away from being on the street.

WATCH: Women and violence: the hidden numbers. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia

Let me set the scene.

I was married to a powerful and wealthy man. I had two beautiful children. I lived in a palace of a home that I had designed and decorated myself. I was fit and beautiful, going to Pilates three times a week and cycling every day. I hosted parties and was attending balls and charity events and social occasions. I was living a life that millions of people might envy.

Then it was all gone. Suddenly, I was homeless. My girls are in elite private schools. I have worked for 30 years. And yet I am homeless. No roof over my head.

I am a survivor of reproductive coercion. Reproductive coercion is when someone pressures a woman into a particular outcome for a pregnancy. It can be forcing a woman to keep a baby she doesn’t want, or in my case, forcing a woman to terminate a baby that she does want.

I separated from my husband. Then, before the divorce was finalised, before we had even told our children, I became pregnant with another man.

At first, I was overjoyed. Elated. I had experienced many issues with fertility so falling pregnant at this point in my life, to a man I loved, was a pure blessing. Yet the two men in my life, my ex-husband and my boyfriend, both put competing pressures on me, and I broke down.

My husband told me that it would be too much for the children to cope with. Not just a divorce but a new sibling to another man.

My boyfriend told me things had happened in the wrong order. First, the divorce needed to be finalised, then he could introduce me to his family, then marriage, kids, and so on. But not like this. How could he introduce his pregnant, out-of-wedlock, recently separated but not-yet-divorced girlfriend to his family? No.

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For the sake of my ex-husband, for my children, for my boyfriend and his mother and her family, I had to terminate this pregnancy and abort this child. They were all happy that I was pregnant. Just not right now. As soon as everything was done properly.

My mother pressured me as well. There was no one in my corner.

I went back and forth to the abortion clinic.

So the coercion began.

A series of psychological techniques, manipulations. It wasn’t like anyone put a gun to my head and marched me to an abortion clinic. It was all words, gestures and suggestions. Constant and continual. Unremitting; unrelenting and above all undermining me and my baby.

This is what we agreed to. It’s the right thing to do. I will then reintroduce you to my family. Think of the girls.

My husband stressed that I could not do this to the kids and the baby needed to wait. Just a bit. By now I was almost three months, though.

This kind of manipulation and aggression can destroy anyone’s psyche at the best of times but when a woman is pregnant, however, it’s a different story entirely. With a body awash with hormones, emotions become had more pronounced and more fragile. Everything was magnified by thousands.

Eventually, the stress with the hormones became too much and I had a mental breakdown.

I became extremely unwell. Manic, depressed, even psychotic at times.

Although I was growing a beautiful baby boy, I felt unsafe in the world and began to withdraw into a cocoon of self-protection. No doctors, no obstetricians, no physiatrists and no school pickups. No one really knew, just the men.

I kept delaying and refusing to go through with the abortion until I got to within a week of the cut-off date. I was hysterical. The baby was kicking but the dad would not touch it – to “protect” himself. He didn’t look my tummy at all. He wouldn’t introduce me to his family (because I had not moved out of my family home yet).

In fact, I was asked to give him space. Give him space when I was alone and falling apart and no one would do the abortion. I had to find a way to get it done so that I could undo the baby and then redo the baby in the right order and get better that way. So that’s what we agreed.

I snapped and in a manic rage demanded an abortion. I went to the abortion clinic in Melbourne, but a panel there decided I was too unwell to make the decision. This did not deter my husband and boyfriend. They still had their hooks in me.

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Under my ex-husband’s instruction, I bought first-class tickets for the dad and economy for me (he had a bad back at the time). Destination: Detroit. The plan was (I told the clinic) to have this little abortion and then pop back to Melbourne and go back to IVF so that we could do it in the RIGHT ORDER. This way I would get support for the baby. As if one can just press a rewind button and become magically unpregnant.

Pregnancy decisions should unequivocally belong to the pregnant person and be informed and supported but not dictated by medical advisors and loved ones.

The termination procedure was indescribably traumatic for me because of what I was going through.

Whatever mania and depression I had up until then, the extraordinary trauma of the termination procedure left me a completely shattered human being. But I had done it. The thing my husband and boyfriend had, just at the last minute, wanted so desperately for me to do.

Listen to Mamamia’s daily news podcast, The Quicky. In today’s episode, we discuss coercive control. Post continues below.

My nightmare was only just beginning.

I came back to Australia and couldn’t move. Feed my children or even stand. I was drowned in sweat and stopped eating. Employees from my law firm were feeding my kids.

I wanted my baby. Desperately, so much so that I began to live in two parallel worlds. One where I am still pregnant expecting in three months and two, where it’s the here and now. I had been expecting and my body physically and psychologically just couldn’t get out of that zone. I got post-natal depression.

Shortly after my husband got back from holidays, he changed the locks of the family home. It was due to a bad nanny but also that it would damage the kids to see me like this. I was banned from the family home until “I got better.”

Barely able to comprehend I ran to my boyfriend’s home, and he tried to support me but couldn’t understand. I fell in love with a bright, vivacious woman, he said. I didn’t sign up to be your nurse while you battle post-natal depression. He said that I was no longer the product he purchased. Without any understanding from anyone, there was nothing to polish the sharp edges over grief.

My mind went beyond blank, beyond numb. I was alone. Alone in a way I had never ever imagined. Locked out of my home. Shunned by my boyfriend. Recovering from the most traumatic abortion, during post-pregnancy-induced psychosis. Where was I to go? What was I to do? I had no parents to turn to.

What friends could I impose on? The two people who had pressured me into this abortion right at the last minute had now both turned their backs on me, at the very moment that I was at my lowest and most vulnerable.

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My boyfriend wanted me out. He couldn’t cope. It would have been very hard for anyone to cope and he couldn’t cope.

My world, shattering over and over every single second. I recall reading about a woman who’d called herself beyond suicidal – a state that was so apathetic, she couldn’t even muster the energy to think about ending her own life.

So, too for me, grief and love mirror one another and my love for my girls and that little boy is overbearing. I know in every cell of my body that my baby is missing. Every cell. I ached. Debilitating.

I had money in my bank account. I was not completely broke. But to go to a hotel room? Or a serviced apartment? Totally alone.

With no family, no children, no comfort, no anything? I was in severe trauma. I was completely psychologically broken. I could barely make myself a cup of tea.

I couldn’t go and find a place and go to inspections or go to auctions or book hotel rooms or Air BnB’s. I needed to be in recovery, being looked after. I didn’t have the psychological energy to do anything.

I haven’t seen one of my daughters in almost two years. The other a mere handful of times, always quick and rushed. Without the love and the care and the feeling of being looked after, as part of a family, and a community no place is a home, and without a home, you just cannot recover.

This strange movie that is apparently now called life is me. I have always been a colourful happy fun-loving person. My colours were now muted with beige.

Losing a baby and never fully grieving it for it will change a person. Not about around your children during that time will dull you to the point where you can barely feel anything at all other than the constant hum of fear; a rumble of terror.

Being a victim of reproductive coercion is to be a bearer of the unbearable. It tests the limits of my pain tolerance.

I am no longer even a human being and wait for the day when my heart starts beating again.

Feature image: Getty.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

If you think you or someone you know may be suffering from depression, contact PANDA – Post and Antenatal Depression Association. You can find their website here or call their helpline – 1300 726 306.

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