I fell pregnant at 16 (22 years ago) and gave birth to a beautiful boy called Damien. I was a ‘good girl, from a good Catholic family.’ This sort of thing didn’t happen to ‘good girls’! My father literally screamed out in the middle of the main road ‘My 16 year old daughter has had sex and now she is pregnant!’ and my mum, although supportive, became very sick from shock.
At the same time, I was so ashamed of myself. As my stomach grew, I wanted to wear a sign that said ‘I promise, I want to contribute to society!’ although I didn't have that opportunity.
Throughout my pregnancy, I received many disgusted looks and discouraging comments such as ‘babies having babies’. It was hurtful. I desperately searched for support and inspiration from others who had been in my situation but found none. A poignant and lonely memory for me was my first visit to Centrelink,, I was given a scrappy brochure for a teen mums group. The brochure looked like it had been photocopied a thousand times, had the time crossed out and generally looked unkempt. For me, desperately looking for a source of nurture, value and compassion – this was the polar opposite. I wondered how I would survive this.
I felt like I had no-where and no-one to turn to until I saw my Year 10 Co-ordinator – I was scared he would react like everyone else. But he didn’t. The words he said changed my life. “Bernadette, the journey might be different now but the destination can stay the same.”
I promised myself three things –1. That I would be a good mother; 2. Complete my education; and 3. Write a book to help and encourage others in my situation.
And I have fulfilled those three promises – and still have so much to achieve!
In 2009 I wrote the book ‘Brave Little Bear” (Brave as a Bear is the meaning of my name, Bernadette) which is the story of my own teenage pregnancy. It details my experience of being a teenage mother to qualifying as a Registered Nurse and ultimately to becoming the Barnardos Australian Mother of the Year.
I married my husband Steve in 2000 and we have two more children now.
After the launch of my book, I would receive emails from many young women, men and families facing teenage/unplanned pregnancy in Australia asking where they could find secondary schooling opportunities and support where they lived. This was in fact why I wrote the book and started Brave Foundation. These were the missing links that I searched for at 16 but couldn’t find.
Brave Foundation builds up the village of acceptance and support around every person facing teenage pregnancy and parenthood so they have the opportunity, with time, to grow a happy, healthy, skilled family, with healthy children. This is done by providing resources, referral and education opportunities to those facing teenage pregnancy and parenthood. We are independent of the choice and exist to serve after the fact. We are the first national awareness campaign addressing teenage pregnancy and parenthood of this kind and have recently mutually linked with Beyond Blue.
In 2016, the Brave journey is 10 years on, although in so many ways it feels like we are just at the beginning.