International Women’s Day: Courage at every turn

Published 11:00am 6 March 2023

International Women’s Day: Courage at every turn
Words by Kylie Knight

Living a brave life wasn’t something Melissa Redsell intended to do but her courage in dealing with the challenges of being a teenage mum forced her to do just that, and her efforts in supporting young mothers through her charity A Brave Life have been recognised on the national stage.

Melissa was named Queensland Australian of the Year in the Local Hero Category in November and went on to represent her state at the national awards ceremony, in Canberra, on January 25, in the lead-up to Australia Day.

While she didn’t win the national award, Melissa says it gave her a platform to advocate for young mothers who are often on the receiving end of prejudice, judgment, poverty, domestic violence and low expectations.

“For us, it’s great to be able to be out there raising that awareness and letting people know we are here in the community, that we are here to support young mums who are facing domestic violence and homelessness,” she says.

Melissa is the founder of A Brave Life, a charity which provides practical and emotional support to vulnerable young mothers. It is based at Murrumba Downs.

“Winning this (state) award … I work in a field with so much stigma and judgement so for me, this award is a way to break that stigma and judgement down,” she says.

“It will really give a voice to those who aren’t heard in the community. If they are seen, they are judged … we still have a long way to go in terms of judgement of vulnerable teenage mothers.”

International Women’s Day: Courage at every turn
Melissa Redsell wit her daughter Breeanna.

Speaking from experience

Her work is the continuation of her own journey - overcoming obstacles and defying low expectations after learning she was pregnant in Year 12.

“I look back to where I’ve come from … I was the Townsville girl, I was the least likely to succeed in my grade because I was pregnant,” she says.

“I really was living a brave life.”

The Warner resident started A Brave Life in 2015, but the journey to that point started when her daughter Breeanna was a baby and she received a basket of newborn essentials from an organisation that supported young mothers.

It was an act of kindness that stayed with her and she did the same for young mums she encountered working as a midwife more than 20 years later.

The bags of new essential items she put together became known as Baby Bundles and A Brave Life was born.

Melissa has never forgotten the challenges she faced as a teenage mother and the moment she decided to build a future for herself and her daughter.

She graduated high school seven months’ pregnant and moved out of home with friends when her daughter Breanna was six weeks old.

“I was out on my own, had friends there … I really struggled trying to adjust to being 17 and being somebody’s mother but still wanting to be a teenager at the same time,” she recalls.

“My life was pretty out of control until Breanna was probably 10 months’ old. I call it the lightbulb moment. For me, it was just looking at my daughter one day – she’s got the most beautiful big, brown eyes – she was looking at me and I knew things were out of control and I thought ‘what can I do that’s really going to benefit her future and mine’.”

International Women’s Day: Courage at every turn
A young Melissa Redsell with her daughter Breeanna.

Making a change

Melissa phoned James Cook University and asked an admissions officer what course she could enrol in with the OP score she achieved at high school and was told nursing was an option.

“Without any idea of what nurses actually did, I said ‘sign me up’,” she recalls.

“I think I was more determined to make a change because a lot of people had said, ‘you’ve ruined your life, your life is now over’ and I knew that I didn’t want to be another statistic. I wanted to show people that I was more than what they were saying I was or what my current circumstances were.”

So, she enrolled when Breanna was about 12 months old and met the challenges of ‘studying’ for the first time head-on.

“I failed first-year science, not once but twice. I didn’t have anyone tutoring or guiding me. I was the first on my family to ever go to university on both sides, which is amazing considering I was the teenage mother,” she says.

“Again, that was a pivotal moment because I had a choice to make there and then – fail and drop out or (accept) it’s OK to fail and repeat the first-year science and then do less subjects in the second year.

“That’s what I did. It took me four years to do a three-year degree, but I got there and I always say to the young women I work with it’s not a race. We all fail at things and we have a choice, do we let that failure define us?”

Melissa completed her last nursing placement in a hospital emergency department in Townville and loved it. She impressed her supervisors and was offered a rare graduate position.

She worked there until she and her husband Jaymes moved to Brisbane in 2000 where she continued to work in emergency.

An interest in midwifery was always in the back of her mind and, soon after the birth of her second child, she started a midwifery degree.

It’s a field she worked in for 19 years before she decided to commit to A Brave Life full time in October last year.

The decision followed the charity’s move from Brendale to better-suited premises at Murrumba Downs in September.

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