Réka is 22, and is preparing to take her high school final exam. As a 14-year-old she was raped and became a mother while she herself was still a child. She has been raising her daughter in state asylum, and they are just about to start their independent life.
How did you end up here?
I have been a resident at the Children’s Village for seven years. Previously, I lived with my mother, who had romantic relationships with a high turnover. There was always a lot of quarrelling, even physical fighting; the neighbours often called the police on us, who would frequently come to our house during the late night hours. After a while this all became daily occurrence. One of my mother’s partners was an alcoholic; he spent all our money on drinks, and did whatever he wanted. We children only went to school when we felt like it, as a 12 or 13-year-old I certainly took advantage of such a situation. I skipped school, and I failed my classes, so I had to repeat a grade. The authorities charged my mother and her partner with endangering of minors. My biological father died when I was nine, and he was also an alcoholic. He would not have been able to keep us either, even if he had survived, we would eventually have been taken into custody.
How was your first day here?
I sort of expected all this to happen. I was fifteen, and I was fairly clear about how it would end. The police came more and more often, and Child Protective Services often asked how I would feel about being taken from my mother. The day they came for us they had police with them. The person from CPS tried to calm each of us down and explain what was going to happen, but nobody was listening to her. Everyone was very upset. The entire time my mother thought that they were just making empty threats; she could not believe that they would take us from her. There was yelling and we cried saying that we did not want to go. The police told us to pack our things.
What did you pack for yourself?
Nothing. That was the last thing on my mind at the time.
How did you handle being removed from your family?
I was keenly aware that my home was not a great place to be, but I had clung to my mother for the previous 15 years, and I also had no idea where I was being taken. My mother was raised in a children’s asylum, and everything I knew about such places, I knew from her stories. We were quite panicked about being put into such a facility. But when we arrived here, we felt more at ease. I was allowed to stay with my siblings, which was very significant for me. In the beginning I did run away back home a number of times, but then I felt bad to have abandoned my siblings and I came back after a few days. I needed a good six months to really come to terms with this new situation and recognize that the authorities had made the right decision. Up until that point, all I saw was that they had taken me from my mother.
What helped you accept the situation?
I have a six-year-old daughter. When I became a mother I started re-evaluating things. I started feeling that if it’s better for a child to be here, without their mother, then that’s where they should be.
You were basically a child yourself when you gave birth.
I was fourteen when I got pregnant, so I was already expecting when I was brought here. Getting pregnant was not something that I willingly participated in; it all happened against my will.
As a child, you became a victim of rape, this must be very difficult to deal with. Did you ever think of terminating the pregnancy?
I was very upset, I cried a lot, and I did consider not keeping it, because I was not sure I could handle bringing up a child. Many ask why I kept the baby, her father being such a man. I’m of the opinion that I would have gone through all this even if I hadn’t got pregnant, or if I had had an abortion. This child makes up for all the bad stuff. If this happens to a young girl, that leaves a permanent mark, it did leave one in me too. But I have learned to talk about it, without bursting into tears all the time. It took me a long time to get here, to be able to even think about it. It’s a horrible thing, but it is where my daughter came from. I do not associate her with who her father is. That man does not exist in our lives; his genes do not make him her father. She is mine alone, and nobody else’s. I never regretted for a moment that I kept her.
How was it to give birth at fifteen?
People tried to talk to me about pregnancy and birth, but I didn’t want to hear any of it. I didn’t want to know what was going to happen to me, so I would not be afraid of it either. I did know how pregnancy works, since I have many siblings, but I knew nothing of childbirth. I laboured alone, and I gave birth in a few hours. I was looking forward to meeting this baby as much as anyone else would. I did not feel ashamed to be stared at because of my age. I liked being pregnant, but I could not truly enjoy it with all the court proceedings and our move here. I was often worried if I was going to be a good mother. It was hard, because we did not have any rules at home, and there were no child-rearing practices to speak of. But I can now see that my child is happy, and she loves and respects me. So I can’t be so bad of a mother after all.
How did the people around you respond to your pregnancy?
When I moved in here pregnant, many people suggested that I give the baby up for adoption. They asked me again when she was only a few weeks old. At the hospital they have talked about taking her into custody, but I insisted on her staying with me. They said that if I kept her they would stand behind me and support me. So the baby and I were together from the first moment on. Nobody interferes with my ways of raising her. They gave us our own room, with a crib nicely decorated. It did not feel like an asylum, more like a home; everyone welcomed her and I did not feel that she missed out on anything.
How is your relationship with your mother?
At first, my mom visited me frequently, then a bit less over time; after the first year she was only coming every two or three months. I think that was the point when she accepted the situation and stopped fighting for us. My mother is not a bad person, she just spent her childhood in the asylum from the time she was eight, and she was never able to get over that experience, to get stability. When my siblings and I moved here there was much anger and sadness between her and us, and it took a while till these things became more clear. Right now I just accept the way she is. It is still good to know that she tried to hold on to us, even if things did not work out. Of course, everyone needs someone special in his or her lives. Sometimes a foster parent can be a good substitute, but there are still things one would expect to get from their own parents. We had a foster mother here, we called her ‘Mami’; she was like a mother to us, but she still could not give everything we wished for. The children long to live in a real family. I often hear children talk about what it would be like if their mums and dads were here, or what it would be like if their mums did not drink and they could go home with them.
You will soon be moving out. What are your plans?
I am taking my high school final exams soon and I will be moving out in the fall. I am moving in with my boyfriend. We’ve been together for two years, and he also has a young daughter whom he’s been raising on his own. It was difficult to build up a relationship, because it was important for me to find a man who accepted my situation, my child, my history, and where I currently live. I have applied for a job at a local factory. I also would like to complete some other course, so that I could work with people. Once I visited an assisted living facility and it sparked my interest. That would seem like a useful thing to do, like a profession. A lot of people condemn those places, but I would love to work there. But the truth is, one needs to make ends meet, so I said to myself, I would stay at the factory for now. It’s a good enough start. If I have a job, I am allowed to be my daughter’s legal guardian. And that is something that I was anxious about, what would happen if I couldn’t take her with me. But this way, I have no worries.
What does your daughter know about her father?
She was three when she came home from kindergarten one day and asked me who her daddy was. I told her that she could not see him because he had done something bad. It was hard to say that because I did not want her to hate him. It was hard to say that she had a daddy who loved both of us, because that was a lie. I have made mistakes by saying that to her for a while, but later I realized that I could not lie to her any longer. She kept on asking when she could see him, and she was waiting for him to come. I still cannot tell her the whole truth, but she will be asking more and more. There is no right way to do this, as she will develop some antipathy towards her father, whether I like it or not. There is no way to do this well, just maybe do our best to cause the least harm to the child. One has to find the right moment, when one can approach the subject seriously, and can talk about it in a way that she understands. What I tell her now will not be enough when she’s twelve; she will want to understand the situation better.
What are your dreams for yourself?
There was a time when I was making plans, but then I realised that everything would happen differently in the end. I would like to find a job that I like, or one that I at least don’t hate. I don’t know if moving in with my boyfriend will work out or not, at this point, I don’t want to get my hopes up about anything. I definitely don’t plan to have another baby in the near future, as I am just now starting work, and my daughter, being an only child, never had to share my love with anyone. I would like to have more children, but only later, when she is old enough to understand that she won’t have any less of me because of that. My only hurt is that I was never allowed to truly enjoy the experience of my pregnancy. I often see expectant women who are happy about being so and enjoy their pregnancies. I would love to be able to enjoy a pregnancy one day.
Translated by Orsolya Menges
Reviewed by Jessica Mazey Holland