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Tale of courage at every turn

Posted: 9am 30 Jul 2022

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 and her determination to build a future for herself and her daughter has forced her to do just that.

The Warner resident is sharing her story in the book aptly titled Living a Brave Life, which will be launched at Eatons Hill on August 6.

It’s a story that’s taken two and a half years to write but is more than 27 years in the making. It started when she learned she was pregnant in Year 12, aged 16.

Melissa grew up in what she describes as a dysfunctional family environment in Townsville, enduring her parents’ explosive relationship.

“Words like domestic violence weren’t used in the 80s and the 90s. I didn’t know what domestic violence was. I knew what I was living in wasn’t normal compared to some other families, but I didn’t have a name for it,” she recalls.

“I knew something wasn’t quite right. We went to a safe house in the middle of the night. There was always this underlying tension with my parents.”

They separated when she was about 12 years old, and she struggled not having a close relationship with her father.

“I met a guy and he showed me all the wrong kind of attention,” she says.

“It was in the April of Year 12 when I found out I was pregnant. It was a major shock.”

Melissa 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. It wasn’t until I realised that things were spiralling out of control that I knew I really needed to make some changes.

“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’.”

Leap of faith

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?

“I’m so glad I didn’t drop out of uni because it’s really what set up mine and my daughter’s future to graduate university, get a job and be able to provide for her.

“I had three beautiful friends who were amazing supports throughout my four years at university and I’m still friends with them today. I don’t think I would have gotten through it without their support.”

Brilliant career begins

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.

“I was the third person in 10 years who had been offered a graduate position, straight out of university into emergency,” she says.

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 has been working in for the past 19 years at Redcliffe Hospital.

Birth of A Brave Life

During her work as a midwife, Melissa has seen countless teenage and young mothers in hospital struggling to cobble together newborn baby essentials, complete education or imagine a bright future.

It reminded her of the time she felt her life was spiralling out of control and of an act of kindness that stuck with her.

“I remember one day, a friend of mine turned up at the house and she had a basket. In it were cloth nappies, baby wash and wipes and a lot of handmade stuff, but it was all brand new,” she recalls.

“I just remember being so blown away. I don’t know to this day who that organisation was or where they had come from, but my friend said she received it from an organisation that supports young mothers.

|“In the back of my mind, that always stuck with me … the generosity that someone who didn’t know me or know anything about me … they weren’t judging me, there was none of that stigma attached … just gave me something.”|

So, Melissa started buying newborn essentials and creating packs which she gave to organisations supporting young women in 2015.

When others learned what she was doing, they wanted to donate goods and money and suggested she set up a not-for-profit organisation. Her charity, A Brave Life, was born.

“I never set out to start a charity. I feel like my life … I’ve landed in these things. It’s just happened because maybe I’ve just been passionate about something or I’ve wanted to change things,” Melissa says.

The charity now gives 800-1000 baby bundles to new mothers each year across South East Queensland and beyond.

The book: Living a Brave Life

In another monumental first, Melissa decided to write a book about her experience in a bid to help other young women in the Moreton Bay Region but also those beyond the region’s boundaries.

It followed a decision to go to a workshop to learn about writing and publishing, after which she completed a writing mentorship and connected with a publishing company.

“The book is divided into two parts. The first part is an autobiography of my life journey. Part two is more interactive, so a young woman can pick it up and identify what are her dreams, strengths, does she have good boundaries in her relationships, what does a healthy relationship look like and what does living a brave life mean for you?,” Melissa explains.

“The process was difficult, when you’re writing about your story. It was emotionally challenging.

“It was kind of like reliving some of the trauma I’ve gone through,” she says.

So, what does Breanna think about the book?

|“She’s very proud of me. She’s amazing and so resilient. When I look at her, I think ‘the poor kid she didn’t ask to be born to a teenage mother’,” Melissa says.|

“I’ve always just wanted to make sure she had what she needed and do the best for her.

“Brianna is big inspiration for writing the book, Brianna is a qualified behavioural science counsellor, so she has done a lot of work in trauma awareness and works with young people in drug and alcohol counselling. She’s amazing.”

Mother and daughter have worked together on the personal development component of the book and Breanna is actively involved in A Brave Life, tutoring young women to help them achieve their education goals.

Living a Brave Life will be launched during a celebration at Eatons Hill on August 6 and will be available from the website for $25 soon after.

All money raised will be dedicated to continuing the work the team does at A Brave Life.

Melissa with her daughter Breanna.

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