“That was the first time when he hit me”: a story of survival and strength

woman smiling with mask on
By Cesilia Faustina
Photography by Cesilia Faustina

“That was the first time when he hit me, he got scared, he started apologizing and kissing me. The next day my cheeks were red,”

Abuse and hardships are not things to take lightly, unfortunately though, it is not something that is uncommon. Worldwide, almost one third (30 percent) of women who had been in a relationship reported they had experienced some form of physical or sexual violence by their intimate partner.

Violence, especially towards women, is still very common in society today, whether from partners or non-partners. It is an act that many women have to fear from, and probably, something many women still are facing or will face in their lives. Mia is one of these women.

Mia is a single mother and personal trainer from Indonesia who understands the situation all too well. She was no stranger when it came to having a hard life, and violence was only one of the things she had to worry about.

Getting married

Mia’s marriage to her husband came as no surprise, he was loving, caring and, according to Mia, “cared more” for her than she did him. He enjoyed her family and became a close friend to her siblings and mother.

This changed though when they moved to Singapore together. She stated her mother-in-law was not particularly happy about the wedding, however, they still went along with the marriage and as always, her husband seemed to put her ahead of her mother.

Unfortunately, her perfect marriage did not last long, especially when her mother-in-law constantly paid them non-stop visits.

woman wearing black in mask contemplating
Mia started seeing her ex-husband change when her mother-in-law got involved.

“When I got married, I had to move to Singapore with him, and between us, of course, we would fight sometimes, but he cares more for me. He knows I’m an easy-going person, I’m not high maintenance, then I guess his mother became jealous of us, seeing his son able to hold hands with me,” she said.

“She would say stuff like ‘That’s new, the fact that he can joke around with someone,’ I mean, that’s a normal thing for somebody.”

According to Mia, the hatred her mother-in-law conveyed rubbed off on her (then) husband, which eventually lead to a lot of judgement and mistreatment.

“I sent a text saying his mother was a bad person, it wasn’t for his eyes, I kept it for myself, but he opened my cell phone. Then he asked me who I was talking about and I said his mother,” she said.

“He said I was ungrateful, and I told the truth, that his mother was always acting terribly, and then he slapped me. That was the first time when he hit me, he got scared, he started apologizing and kissing me. The next day my cheeks were red.”

The abuse continued throughout the marriage, especially when her mother-in-law was involved. An act that endured even when she was diagnosed with cancer and pregnant with her ex’s child.

Being pregnant and surviving cancer

“It was 12 years ago. Ovarian cancer,”

Mia was diagnosed with ovarian cancer while she was pregnant with her child. One of the main reasons she and her husband moved to Singapore was so she could find proper treatment.

The doctor gave her three options: to have surgery on her ovaries, to remove her ovaries without chemotherapy (which would result in her child’s death) or to do chemotherapy. The safest option for her child at the time was to do chemotherapy, so she had no other choice.

“I just told the doctor, ‘just do whatever is best for me.’ I just gave in, and turns out, I had to do chemotherapy. That was not fun,” she said.

“I’ve gone to the doctor beforehand even before I was married, there was a tiny spot in my ovaries, but I took it for granted,” she added.

“So, my cancer was developing, and my foetus was developing, so I had a dilemma. I had to choose between losing my child and conducting the cancer operation.”

Chemotherapy was not easy for Mia, stating it was one of the hardest moments of her life. She would feel nauseous frequently and started losing her hair, which she took into her own hands by shaving her whole head.

“On the first day when I went to bed, I saw on my pillow I was starting to shed my hair. I told my ex to shave my hair, and he cried. I rather shave my hair than me crying seeing my hair fall out,” she said.

woman wearing a black shirt in a mask speaking
Mia said it was important to have your body checked and recognize the importance of health.

She stressed the importance of having your body checked and staying healthy. The trainer regretted not taking her diagnosis seriously when she first discovered the spot in her ovaries (which turned out to be a tumour), a lesson she wished to share with all women out there.

“I’ve gone to the doctor beforehand, even before I was married, there was a tiny spot in my ovaries, but I took it for granted. I didn’t know. When I was obese, I actually had problems with my hormones. In Indonesia, a lot of people are not aware about the health of their children,” she said.

Indonesia is known to still be a rather conservative country where sex education is not fully supported. It creates an atmosphere where many people are uncomfortable to talk about sex and gynaecology.

Fortunately, despite the hardships, Mia survived her cancer and eventually gave birth to a healthy baby boy.

Moving back to Jakarta

“When I was pregnant for 9 months, he once shoved me, when it comes to his mother, his attitude just changes. My brother saw it too. The second time, he slapped me, just because I was angry at his mom,”

Eventually, the couple moved back to Indonesia, where they planned to raise their son. From there, it seemed that Mia’s life was getting back on track. After chemotherapy, surely life would calm down a bit more. That was not the case though.

Mia’s mother-in-law continued to get involved in the couple’s marriage, and once she intervened, it just kept continuing; Mia had to constantly deal with the abuse.

“When his mom started visiting us a lot in Singapore, I started to feel bothered, and I know my medical treatment wasn’t cheap and I had insurance which I had claimed and gave to him, and he gave it to his parents, but they kept rubbing it in my face that they’re the one that paid for all my medical expenses,” she said.

“As time went on, I tried to hold it in, even though my in-law kept saying bad things about me. And then, me, as a woman, after giving birth, I needed my mom, because you know, I get mellow and uncomfortable, and I wanted to have my family around. Turns out my mother-in-law was not happy about that.”

Mia’s mother-in-law was not exactly delighted knowing her daughter-in-law and grandson were spending a lot of time at the other in-law’s house. Something she made obvious to her son.

As time passed, things became worst. Mia’s mother-in-law did not want Mia to spend time with her family, and eventually, neither did her husband.

hand of woman wearing a black shirt and pants
Mia explained that her mother-in-law and ex-husband tried to stop her from seeing her family.

“At first, my ex was alright, he didn’t have an issue, he would go to work and I would go to my mother’s place, all the work I needed to do at home was already done anyways,” she said.

“So, [my mother-in-law] was stirring things up with my ex, he started asking why I needed to go to my mother’s all the time.”

The mother of one was scared to live alone since she once had a bad experience of facing an earthquake while inside of her high-rise apartment. Eventually, her father-in-law did buy the couple a house, so Mia thought her worries would go away. Unfortunately, her new house was located far from the city centre, and most importantly, her family.

She said it was hard to get around in the new location, though she was grateful for it, it was still difficult to find help if ever she needed it. Her husband also refused to interact with her family when they would visit.

“My ex didn’t want my mom around; he would side with his mom and I with mine. So then, we started drifting apart. And then once he told me something just to hurt my feelings, that he purposely bought a house that was far away just so my family couldn’t visit me,” she said.

“If anything happened, I wouldn’t have been able to escape.”

The toxic environment created by her husband and mother-in-law eventually led to her divorce. Mia received custody of her son, however, that did not stop her ex-husband from causing a stir. He eventually stopped giving alimony and Mia, who was earning minimum wage at the time, finally gave in and gave him custody.

She is now only allowed to see her son during weekends.

“My son is not allowed to message me. If my ex finds out he’ll take his phone. Even that time he lied to me saying our son lost his phone, turns out my ex kept it for 3 months,” she said.

“I told him it’s ok if we’re not together or you can’t call me, as long as he knows that I love him and I know he loves me, that’s what matters,” she added.

“I don’t want to give my son any emotional baggage. If I told him he didn’t love me if we didn’t see each other, then that would be a burden on him. I want my son to be happy living his own life.”

Bringing passion into the next chapter

Despite the challenges life threw her way, Mia has managed through, still trying to be a kind and positive person. To this day, she still believed her ex-husband was a good person, or at least if he wasn’t influenced by his mother, he would maybe still have a chance. That of course, does not change how she feels about him now and would never consider getting back together with him.

“If I didn’t ask for a divorce, I would be in a very bad state right now. If her were able to act differently about the whole thing, I would have stayed with him, but I don’t think he’ll change. He even took my son too,” she said.

The whole ordeal at least brought Mia to find herself and be her own person again, leading her to a job she truly enjoys. Mia is now one of the best personal trainers in Jakarta with top-level certifications.

“Let me tell you how I ended up loving being a personal trainer. So, I was obese because apparently, I had hormone issues, not because of genetics or anything…because I used to be obese, I want other people to be healthy as well,” she said.

“A personal trainer is not only there to help make people skinny but to keep people healthy. So, since high school, I loved being a personal trainer, but my career was put on hold when I had to get married, you know, life.”

Mia actually did not study physical education when she was in college, but she has been immersed in the field since high school. She said she enjoyed learning about the subject, which even led her to gain a certification in physical therapy.

Her love to help people and spread awareness about health stems from her experiences. Being ignorant about her body when she was younger has made her regret some choices in life, including not seeking medical help when discovering her tumour.

“I’m really into rehabilitation or things that are related to helping people, like if somebody needs help with their muscles. I like helping them to be better,” she stated.

Her passion is not only limited to physical training though, she said she might even want to make her own bakery one day, as this tough individual apparently knows her way around the kitchen.

Mia seemed to be handling life pretty well now, she is healthy, grateful to be alive and she has a son that adores her. For sure, life may not have been fair to her, as life does, and she may have come out of everything with plenty of labels: cancer survivor, abuse survivor, single mom, but one thing she isn’t, is weak.

“We still have our family in our lives, and our family loves us, we matter, as long as you find your passion and what you want to do. God doesn’t just create people to be useless. We were created to help spread blessings and joy to other people, God needs us to spread joy,” she said.

woman wearing a black shirt taking off her mask and smiling
Mia was grateful to have come out of everything stronger.
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