Who am I? Who are we now? In the beginning…
I’ve been doing some soul searching lately. How can I help people understand what Lucy’s Project is all about? I keep coming back to this idea of a blog and using a few more words to really help people understand and maybe, just maybe I need to show a little more of me and who I am.
I live my life like an open book, I don’t believe in secrets, my own that is (I’ll keep yours. Your story is yours and gossip bores me). I think secrets destroy, create shame and can create a stigma. That said, I’m massively camera shy and very protective of my son’s virtual footprint. I want him to make his own, if and when he chooses to, not to grow up and for the world to already have an idea who he is, according to me. Like I said, everyone should be able to tell their own story and in so many ways, that’s what Lucy’s Project sets out to enable. I’ve included a photo of my son and I, because who I am is largely defined by who my children are and probably the only label I actually enjoy, is that of ‘mother’.
Lucy is my first born child. She was still born at 39 weeks. She was quiet in utero, I went to hospital. There was no heartbeat. At 39 weeks you expect to bring the baby home, kicking and screaming, any minute now. In fact, you’re asking at every twinge, is this it? Oh gawd, I’m ready now.. c’mon baby… But nothing can make you ready to give birth to your first child and say goodbye. It took five days of induction until she was ready to make her entrance, or maybe until my body was willing to let go of a part of my own soul, my flesh and blood knowing I’d never see her again. I was pretty broken during these days. Her father had decided he didn’t want to be my partner anymore quite early in the pregnancy and I’d had a confusing, long and painful time coming to terms with my big fear of being a single mum. A beloved ex boyfriend had swept in, all knight in shining armour style to help me through- and then dumped me painfully two weeks before she died. I’d just finished my law degree and heavily pregnant, of course I wasn’t going to get a job. I’d been terrified of what lay ahead when I was pregnant, of course having no idea what actually lay ahead. My heart was pretty messed up. Then she died in utero. How do you pick up all those pieces at once? How do you find the strength to go on? It was during one extremely painful, intrusive internal exam, three days into the induction, doctors crying as they hurt me, that I had an epiphany of sorts.
I’d been working on the Animal Law and Education Project (ALEP) through the Northern Rivers Community Legal Centre for about 5 years at this stage and we had run some pretty awesome campaigns and events. One that I thought was fascinating, important and misunderstood was one mooted by a group of extraordinary women. The needs of animals in situations of domestic violence. Ive been a lifelong, passionate advocate for animals but this project struck me as important on so many levels. Animals are part of our families and yet we haven’t addressed their needs in instances of family violence. We were looking for ways to fund this project, how can we gain momentum? We thought we were the only ones interested in the field.
There I was, pain tearing through my body and suddenly an roar overtook me, a deep guttural strength. I wasn’t going to let my daughter go without influencing the world, making something beautiful in her beautiful name. Lucy’s Project was born, three days before Lucy herself. I knew that Lucy’s Project offered an opportunity to protect vulnerable women, children and animals. My beautiful girl would do something enormous. It had to be big.
I knew nothing about domestic violence. Sadly, like too many women I have been in violent relationships but I’d never really engaged with any services and I can’t say I knew all that much about it. Animals, that’s my thing. And kids. Nonetheless, it was the idea that Lucy would create change, or rather, that I would, in her name, that pushed me through her long labour and birth, saying goodbye, standing up to give my daughters eulogy and the long, solitary months that lay ahead.
I asked attendees at her funeral to donate money instead of flowers. I overheard some pretty painful discussions at the funeral. People thinking I was making up the issue. A highly experienced family lawyer saying she’d never heard of such a thing as animal victims of violence. It only strengthened my resolve to raise awareness.
I had a lot to learn because I knew… well, nothing. So I decided as a starting point, that I’d listen rather than speak. I put out the feelers, are there any other people aware of and interested in this field? Well, people started coming out of the woodwork, all over the country. They had all felt as we had, in our small country town. Like we were the only ones. It was the most common thing I heard, we all felt alone. The one thing I now hear most commonly is that everyone has a story of animals affected by DV but they’d never recognised it until.. now. A secret in plain sight.
We needed a network. So I set about creating one. I advertised for a conference in Byron Bay which we held 18 months after Lucy’s Bday. By that time, we had already raised money for a shelter, established a working group, set up an incorporated association, a website… off we went! A network was born! At the conference, with contingents from around Australia, I heard that people wanted to learn more, how to advance the movement, so ..
12 months later, we held an international conference, inviting leaders in the field from across the globe. As a result of this second conference, I know quite a few organisations have received grants, advanced projects, new shelters for animals and humans have been built. We have spoken at conferences, events, seminars, in the media- TV, radio and print. I have been commended in parliament, Rosie Batty has endorsed us, projects have been fueled, born, enouraged. The strength of networks, information sharing and resourcing!
I was made aware that we need more than an annual conference, we need to work continually, in state teams to tackle local projects and strengthen the network. So this year we focussed on that and now have a team in most states of the country, with ongoing contact with international organisations. Next year, we need another national conference, so we will have one! Where? I’m working on it!
So anyway, I’m conscious that this post is getting a bit long. I wanted to make the point in this post that Lucy’s Project genesis wasn’t of a highly experienced professional in the field and that I’m learning, responding and growing with the movement. That Lucy’s Project grows and responds to demand, need and the energy of our members. We focus on raising awareness that animals are victims of domestic violence too. I know that we can protect human adults and children by addressing the needs of our companion animals. For every woman sleeping rough with her animal tonight because she can’t find safe shelter, this is for you! For every animal with broken bones and a bruised spirit, this is for you! For every child who witnesses their beloved animal friend beaten, this is for you! For every woman and child who dies because they can’t find safe refuge with their animal this is for you.
In her beautiful name, I will grow on. Will you join us?