Here, Cherie, tells the story in her own words.
G￼rowing up, I was a tomboy and loved playing with my three younger brothers.
Our childhood seemed idyllic: camping, fishing and going to the movies.
But there was one major thing wrong with it – my stepfather David Schandorff.
He’d married my mum Norma when she was pregnant with me. And from the age of four or five, while Mum worked as a waitress in the evenings, he’d sneak into my room and abuse me.
‘It would upset your mother if she knew,’ he warned me.
When I did try to say no, David hit me. Terrified, I kept his sickening secret.
It happened a few times a week until it just became normal.
Then, when I was 13, I felt a strange flutter in my belly. It was as if something was kicking me – like a baby! I panicked.
Petrified, I was in total denial and didn’t say anything to anyone, praying it would disappear. I didn’t gain much weight, but still I wore baggy clothes.
Then one morning I felt a terrible cramp. Later, when I was unable to hide the pain, Mum took me to hospital.
As soon as the nurse saw what I’d been hiding, she realised at once that I was pregnant.
Not once did anyone ask me who the father was.
After a 10-hour labour, my little girl was placed on my stomach. Her cheeks were rosy and she had bright red hair. She’s gorgeous, I thought in awe. Gazing down, I didn’t see him, I just saw her and I felt happy. But then she was whisked away, and just a week later, she was adopted.
Back at school, Mum and a social worker came to speak to me.
‘How do you think this happened?’ the lady asked gently.
Bursting into tears, I managed to say it was David. Thankfully, Mum believed me.
The police arrested David and in August 1983 he pleaded guilty to second-degree intrafamilial sexual abuse and was sentenced to just 90 days in jail.
Afterwards, I struggled. I felt dirty and guilty. And my daughter was always at the back of my mind.
Every year on her birthday, I wondered what she’d be like.
As I got older, relationships failed, but I was blessed with my kids, Derek, Kiley and Jacob.
I did think about contacting my little girl, but how could I tell her she’d been conceived through rape?
I didn’t want to ruin her life in the way that I felt mine had been destroyed. So I didn’t do anything.
Then one day, in December 2010, I got a phone call from my brother.
Someone who worked for the local authority was looking for me.
Calling the number, she asked if I’d had a baby on February 28, 1983. ‘Yes,’ I stuttered. Was this my daughter trying to find me?
The social worker confirmed it was and I burst into tears, asking her if my daughter knew the circumstances of her birth.
Thankfully, her adoptive parents had been very straight with her and she knew everything. I couldn’t believe it when I received a letter from her.
Heidi was 27, working as a legal assistant and she lived 160 kilometres away. When I saw the photo she’d sent, I was blown away. She looks just like me, I wept.
After exchanging more letters, we met face to face with a social worker present.
There, we fell into each other’s arms, sobbing.
Heidi brought the greatest gift – a photo album, then she took me through all the years I’d missed out on.
There were pictures of her as a little girl, all the way through to her wedding day and the birth of her own children, Lauralei, now 16, and Sam, 11.
I was so pleased her life had turned out so well and been filled with so much love.
She understood that I hadn’t wanted to give her up and never held any grudge against me for what happened.
She didn’t ask much about David and said she had no interest in making him part of her life.
But she welcomed me with open arms and invited me to her birthday party a few weeks later, where she introduced me to all her friends and family as her mum.
‘I’ve got two mums,’ she explained, as my heart burst.
Six months later she was maid of honour when I married my partner Tim, and now we’re closer than ever, talking all the time.
She and her adoptive family include me at Christmas and birthdays and I’m delighted to share Heidi with them.
In November 2015, I got the news that David had died, aged 65. To help me heal, I had chosen to forgive him.
I couldn’t have got where I am today without forgiveness. I want my story to be one of hope and understanding - that despite how difficult life can be, there is always a future. Now I’m trying to make up as much as possible for the lost years without Heidi.
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