I gave birth at 12 after being raped... pregnant Belfast girl of same age needs our support
A brave Scottish woman who was raped by her brother when she was 11 and gave birth to a little girl when she was just 12 has offered her support to the Belfast child who is currently coming to terms with the fact that she is pregnant.
Tressa Middleton (22) is already helping children from all over the UK who are suffering abuse after she published her own heartbreaking story in the book 'Tressa: The 12-Year-Old Mum'.
The trauma of her lost childhood and turbulent teenage years when she battled alcoholism and heroin addiction and had her baby taken from her has left its mark. Today, she is a fragile young adult trying to deal with post-traumatic stress syndrome.
The pain of losing her daughter, who was three-and-a-half when she was adopted, is with her every minute of every day, but despite her harrowing experience she has only positive advice for the 12-year-old Belfast child who is now also facing motherhood.
Last week the Belfast Telegraph revealed that police had arrested a 19-year-old man in the Lenadoon area of west Belfast in relation to a sexual offence, after it was discovered a 12-year-old girl was pregnant.
The man has since been released on bail pending further inquires.
If the local child carries her baby to full term it is believed she will be one of the youngest mothers ever in Northern Ireland.
The child's mum said this week that the family had been flooded with support since the news broke and said her little girl was being loved and cared for.
Sadly, Tressa did not have the support of a loving, functional family when she found herself pregnant.
Brought up in care, she was in a foster home when she had her baby, aged 12 years and four months. She only saw her heroin addict mum and alcoholic dad once a week.
Yet her memories of having her daughter Annie are all positive and she knows exactly how the little Belfast girl is feeling now that news of her pregnancy has been made public.
She says: "She will be a mess right now and I am sure she is feeling very scared. I would tell her to keep her chin up and don't worry about what other people say, just concentrate on the baby.
"I know how hard it is for her right now. The way people looked at me, I got quite down about it. I just hope she is all right.
"When I first found out I was pregnant it was quite horrifying, but I fell in love with the baby straight away. It was weird, but I was happy and I loved the baby to bits even though I knew she was my brother's child - but that was not my baby's fault."
Tressa's story is heartbreaking - the trauma of the rape took its toll as she tried to bravely get on with raising her baby on her own.
A victim of cruel circumstance, she endured a traumatic time as a young mum and after battling heroin addiction she has now turned her life around and with the help of a counsellor has begun the slow journey to healing.
Of the many traumas she has endured, the biggest has been the loss of her baby who she raised alone for three-and-a-half years.
Being separated from her daughter is a pain which she says is with her all day, every day. Her biggest fear now is that her child will grow up to judge her for the troubled teenage years which led to her adoption.
She said: "It is really hard not to be part of her life. My biggest fear is that something could happen to her and I wouldn't know about it.
"I don't have any rights to her and it really scares me to think that if she had an accident or hurt herself I wouldn't know about it.
"I have all the pictures she drew me on my walls and all her wee clothes. I've kept everything. I just want her to have a normal life and to be happy. I would love nothing more than to see her and I hope one day that she will come looking for me.
"I don't want to instigate contact, I want to leave it up to her and I hope and pray that she comes and asks me what happened, and that she doesn't think badly of me.
"I know it will be hard for her to find out that her uncle is her dad.
"People ask me would I have other kids, but I don't want to have another child in case she thinks I replaced her. I couldn't do that to her."
Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Tressa lives in fear of leaving her own home and suffers from severe anxiety when she does.
Her recovery is not helped by the fact that her brother Jason, who was sentenced to four years in jail in 2009 for raping her, has recently been released.
Tressa was taken into care at a very young age.
In 2005 at the age of 11, she was living back with her mother when she was raped by Jason, who was 16.
She said her brother took her to a building site, where he attacked her. She said: "We used to go there to play on our bikes. One minute he was absolutely fine and the next everything is different."
It was not long after the incident that her body started to change.
"It was my friend who said I might be pregnant. When it was confirmed and people in the street found out about it, they were really shocked and there was a lot of gossip and my family tried to keep me indoors. I was in my first year of high school and there was one boy at the school who called me names and bullied me because of it.
"He pushed me down a flight of stairs one day and I pushed him back. The headmaster saw me pushing him and didn't see him pushing me and I was expelled. I didn't go back to school again until I was 14.
"It was arranged that I would have a foster carer when I had the baby, and when she was born I spent all my time with her.
"I didn't mind that I wasn't able to go out with my friends. I preferred to be with my baby and she was a very good baby. She slept really well from the start."
Tressa kept the rape by her brother a secret. When she finally did tell her family after her brother again asked her for sex, it sparked a breakdown which lead her to start abusing alcohol and eventually losing her baby.
She says that even as she was persuaded to put Annie up for adoption, she didn't want to and had planned to fight it in court but was eventually persuaded to sign the papers in her daughter's best interests.
In what is one of the saddest parts of her story, she recalls the struggle of giving up three-year-old Annie: "I was at mum's one day and my brother came to the house and he was really drunk.
"He called me up the stairs and he asked to have sex with me and said he loved me not as a sister but as a girlfriend.
"I kind of went mental. I broke down and told my family what had happened. My aunt phoned the police and he was arrested the next day.
"After that, I couldn't look my daughter in the eye. Every time I looked at her it reminded me of what had happened and it was too hard. I became depressed and went out and got drunk and I just wasn't coping.
"My whole family disowned me and said I was lying. I just went off the rails. A DNA test was done which proved that Jason was the father. The welfare workers told me it would be better if Annie was put up for adoption. They asked if I wanted her to grow up with the Press knowing what had happened. I came off the drink and decided to go to court and fight for her.
"I was told that the court case would take years and in the meantime she would go from foster family to foster family and that the best thing was to let her be adopted.
"I signed the papers, thinking I would be allowed physical contact with her, but instead I was promised two letters a year from her adoptive parents."
Tressa was 16 and was left feeling lost and very alone. She left the care system and went to live with her alcoholic father and because he was drinking all of the time, she did too. After three months she left and went to live with her mum.
Her mum and her partner were heroin addicts and were taking drugs every day.
At first Tressa resisted but she said: "Everyone was doing it every day and it was always in my face and I ended up taking it too.
"Up until I was 18 I would shoplift every day to buy drugs. After we shoplifted I would be physically sick outside the shop because it just wasn't for me. It was not the kind of life I wanted."
She sought medical help and is still receiving medication to help cope with withdrawal from her addiction.
Her book, which she dedicated to her daughter, was published in June and since then she has been inundated with messages on Facebook from young girls suffering in silence from sexual abuse.
As she tries to get her life back on track she knows that her recovery will take time, but she hopes to one day be strong enough to work with abuse victims.
She also has plans to go to college to study photography.
She said: "I have post-traumatic stress and I am on anti-depressants for that.
"I am on medication for the heroin addiction and I have bad anxiety and paranoia when I go out, I can't cope with crowds and I am on medication for that, too.
"I just stay at home, because I get so anxious when I go out and I am seeing a counsellor, but I know it is going to take time.
"I have been surprised by the people who have contacted me through Facebook since my book came out. A lot of them are young girls who have been abused and who haven't talked to anybody about it and there are a lot of them who are just 11 and 12 years old.
"I have given them my number and the number of the rape helpline.
"I have had over 200 people contact me who have been abused and who told no one.
"I'm happy to talk to them and you can tell it helps them to talk to someone. I am finding it quite hard to deal with on top of what I've gone through myself, as it brings it all back, but at the same time I like helping them.
"When I am well enough I really want to do something that involves working with abuse victims, but I know I need to be 100% myself to be able to do that."
As she works at healing the great hurt inside her, Tressa cherishes the precious memories she has of her daughter.
A poignant dedication in her book sums up her feelings as she faces the future not knowing if she will ever see her little girl again: 'You are never far from my thoughts. You are the last person I think of when I go to sleep and the first person I think of when I wake up in the morning.
'You are the beating pulse of life. In the cupboard I still keep your clothes from when you were a wee baby.
'For now, I want you to know I love you and I always will.'