Joanna is 27 and a single mum to her daughter, Mia, who is eight. She is originally from south London but moved to Wales 10 years ago. After a series of personal tragedies and a difficult start to motherhood, Joanna has had to dig deep to find her strength, as well as learning when to ask for and accept help.
A new life in Wales
My mum and stepdad separated when I was 14 and I left home two years after, having had enough of picking the pieces up for two parents who both had drug addictions. Once I left home all family dynamics fell apart, and my stepfather was diagnosed with renal failure.
My mother eventually moved to Wales to try and overcome her addictions. After a few months she had managed to stay clean, and I decided to come to Wales to visit her for the weekend. On my visit is when I met and fell in love with my daughter’s father. My life in Wales had started! My relationship with my mother went from strength to strength and she became my best friend.
Within a year of living in Wales my mum had managed to beat her addiction, and get her life in order. In that time I was lucky enough to get to see the real her, and develop a connection and friendship with her. But as quickly as that happened, it was all taken away. On Christmas Day 2003, my mother was murdered by her boyfriend while on holiday in India. Six weeks after my mum died, so did my stepdad. My whole world came crashing down around me.
Thinking about my brothers is what helped motivate me to get up every day. My youngest brother was safe with his incredible foster parents, but my other brother became lost in the prison system. I was 18 and felt very vulnerable, abandoned and scared. I went from being a teenage girl who thought she was a “grown up”, to all of a sudden realising that I felt way too young to be left alone in the big bad world.
Six weeks after my stepdad died I found out I was pregnant. I really didn’t feel mentally strong enough to cope with having a baby, but felt that this was a gift I was being given to help soothe the pain and heartache I felt. So I decided to go through with the pregnancy. Two months after finding out I was pregnant, my partner was sentenced to three years in prison, and would serve 18 months. I was alone once again.
Thankfully my partner’s parents were supportive and helpful, and were by my side throughout the whole pregnancy. After a labour of 30 hours I gave birth to a little girl weighing 9lb 130z. Big, healthy and bright with eyes that sparkled. I should have been smitten. But I felt nothing apart from resentment, guilt, anger and isolation. I thought there was something screwed up an abnormal with me – what woman doesn’t feel love instantly for their new baby?
Playing the role
I was ashamed and didn’t tell anyone how I was feeling in case Mia was taken away from me. Instead, I did what I’ve done my whole life and played the role. Looking after a baby was easy and I did everything by the book so that no one could say I wasn’t coping. After my partner was released when Mia was three months old, he became physically aggressive towards me. Our relationship had come to an end and I was officially a single parent, although I had felt like one for much longer.
My daughter’s father moved away with his new partner and her children. But my daughter is very close to her grandparents (her father’s parents) and sees them on a regular basis, despite the contact with her father being minimal and never consistent.
Asking for help
I knew something was really wrong when one day I felt like it would be easier to just step in front of a bus and end it all. It took for me to set out with Mia in the pouring rain, both of us crying, as I looked for a nice house to knock on the door and leave her there to realise I had to get help. That broke me; I just sat sobbing in the rain for what felt like a lifetime.
I opened up to my heath visitor who was amazing. She built up my confidence made me feel sure of myself. Mia was two and a half when I found myself looking at her and realising with an overwhelming feeling how much I loved her and that I couldn’t imagine life without her. Finally I felt that bond a mother is supposed to feel.
What makes me proud
Mia is now eight years old. She has the most amazing personality and warmest heart, with a loving and gentle nature. My proudest moments of motherhood are just seeing my daughter wake up every day and getting to see her compassion, sensitivity, kindness, honesty and determination – everything that makes her who she is.
That’s what makes me proud. Because of her I know that, despite how hard the battles life has thrown at us have been, not just at me, but my mother, father and people around me, they haven’t been fought in vain. I have gained the strength, confidence, determination and willpower to focus on raising a happy child and with the hope that one day, me and my daughter will have a friendship and bond like I had with my mum.
For detailed step-by-step advice on everything from benefits and tax credits to childcare and your wellbeing, find out more in our guide to separation.