I think like most women in the western world, I’ve been having a lot of thoughts about being a woman lately. There are many thoughts percolating around my head, not sure quite how to express themselves, but today I had an interesting conversation with a friend about the value of community. My friend Sarah* and I are both in the same position- we work for ourselves, lead very busy lives and often feel we don’t have enough time to see our friends. We are both passionate about our work in the community and dedicated to helping other people. Despite this, for different reasons, we sometimes feel isolated from our friends and family and I think I may have identified why.
I think perhaps, in this modern day, we are expected to ‘fit in’ socialising that revolves around relaxation and when we are busy, we don’t feel that we can justify relaxation time. As enjoyable as time with friends is, there is work to be done. It got me thinking about past communities of women and how we made time for each other. Together for harvests, laundry, tasks, childminding, pickling and bottling, sewing, household tasks. We would function together, not just fun together. That’s not to say there wasn’t fun, but it was sharing our productive times, not just our free time. I don’t really think it’s reasonable to share our free time on a regular basis, because lets face it- how many of us find ourselves thinking, ” i feel thoroughly resourced and adequate and ready to deal with each of my tasks in an orderly sequence, with scheduled and reliable downtime in which I am mentally and physically replenished and prepared to share and engage with friends’. I think I had those thoughts in my 20’s as a uni student, but certainly not since. One of my favourite tasks in an earlier job I had, working in the food sector, was getting together with colleagues and picking the leaves off the basil bushes to make pesto. As we worked, we laughed and joked. The work required no brain power and minimal skill, but had to be done, leaving us with mental space to enjoy each other’s company. It always reminded me of the way Italian women would work together, bottling tomatoes, making the pesto and it smacked of community and incidental sharing of information.
Rosie * another of my friends, and I have been trying to think of a way to re-start communities of women because as single parents, we often feel socially isolated and let’s be frank, we sometimes need a hand! For me, sometimes even just having another adult to talk to while I cook helps me, gets me out of my head and recharges me. People often say to me, “Why don’t you call and ask for help, I’d help you?” The most painful thing for me is when I do ask but I hit a wall of “Sorry, I would but I can’t, I’m too busy”. I don’t ask unless I’m desperate, and when I ask and get all ‘no’s’ it makes me feel even more vulnerable, isolated and alone It is better sometimes to not ask than to feel that. But asking for help can also feel intimidating, and to be perfectly honest, sometimes feels intrusive. You’re inviting someone into your space to do something that feels like your work and you feel like you had better have something by far more important to do while they are helping you, to justify taking up their time. What’s worse, is if you are then expected to reciprocate, to make time you probably don’t have to step outside your own frantic routine to help them too. Don’t get me wrong, I ask for help- but I only ask when I’m desperate because running my life is so frantic that I often have little time to reciprocate at a time that is useful for my friends. I’d much rather we could work side by side productively together in a mutually beneficial way. That would be so supportive.
I don’t mind giving and I never offer unless I mean it. When I see a friend really struggling or sick, I always make a point of offering help by saying “please take this help with no expectation of reciprocation because I know you just need help when you need help’. Regardless, single mums tend to be some of the most resilient people I know and rarely ask for help. The result? We get bloody lonely and burned out and no one really knows about it.
So what is the answer? Rosie and I have been trying to work this out for over a year and maybe today I had a good idea, I’d like your thoughts. We need to function together as friends, not just socialise with our friends. We need to find things we can do together, things that need to be done, not just for relaxation. I’d love it if a friend brought over their mountain of laundry to fold/iron while I did mine. (not that I know what an iron looks like, I’ll fold, he/she irons). What if we got together on a Sunday afternoon to cook the weeks meals? What if she helped me garden this week and I helped her next week? What if we took the dogs for a walk together or cleaned each others houses or fixed the broken (insert broken household fixture) together? What if our standard was functioning together, we had fun while we were at it, so then maybe, just maybe there might be more time in our day to go out for that coffee/drink/lunch/dinner etc?
My beautiful, caring, kind friend Rosie who has spent the last year dreaming with me about how to bring women together never expected recently to find herself being a domestic violence survivor. She never expected him to turn on her like that. She never thought she’d have to cope with all the challenges of being a working single mum who now lived in fear, as well. Battling court systems and manipulation by her ex- years after the relationship had dissolved. I’ll admit, I didn’t see that coming for her either. Further proof that it can happen to anyone.
During our discussions about communities of women, we had said how hard it can be to reach out to other women for help because sometimes that can be so time consuming- explaining to someone what to do, finding the reciprocal time, learning the ropes and establishing trust with the kids so that we can help out with them and can be of actual use to another woman. Our lives are so separated that creating integrated systems is time expensive. Yet how supported is Rosie now? How can I lean in to help now? We never did find a way through that conundrum of how to integrate our community of single mums better and now, with my hands full to bursting, I reach out as much as I can but I’m literally not there for her. I’m here, offering support but I’m not there, and there is where I need to be when she needs me, wordlessly, without question knowing how to step in and get functional. Not waiting for her to find the strength, on top of everything else to ask, not feeling like I’m adding to her debt cup. Just two women, functioning together. I should be walking into her house and loading a few dishes into the dishwasher after having unpacked in, because on our Sunday cooking afternoons, I learned my way around the house. And as she struggles to make sense of the latest event and her child walks in needing a cuddle and a snack, I should know how to make that snack and where to find it while mum has an uninterrupted moment to hold and soothe her child. Of course, from our gardening Saturdays, she would also know that I’m going to need help with the (insert seasonal job here) next week and her kids would feel comfortable at my place and we could debrief over events and fresh air the following week so I wasn’t left ‘out of pocket’ in my caring cup either. Does that make sense? What do you think?
I’d like to be there more with my friends to know about these things as they are building, I’d like to be making up the spare room when I know she’s going to need it in a few hours. I’d like her to feel like my home is hers and she and her animals will be safe, should crisis come.
Actually, over the years my house has been refuge to a lot of people. Friends when they are ill, friends and family in between leases and when building their dream home, itinerant friends who pass through. I’ve had stray animals, doggy daycare, foster animals and friends kids when they needed a day’s care- but this does not happen nearly enough for my liking. I’m not there for my friends in crisis that I don’t even know about because I’m spending all my days fending off my own personal crises. If I don’t work, cook, clean, maintain home, health etc then I’ll be in the poo, too. So I’m suggesting we find a way to function together when we are at our busiest and not just wait until we are burned out, desperate, sick or most rarely- free – before we see our friends. I’d love to know what you think. Am I anywhere near the mark?
*names changed to protect identity.
Trigger warning- Child loss, stillbirth, death and domestic violence
Lucy’s 5th birthday was on the 4th June 2018. Its a day of reflection and ritual for me. I bake Lucy a cake from the 1978 edition, Women’s Weekly Children’s cookbook. I love all the comments people make about my cakes- so many happy memories from peoples own childhood or child’s delight. And that is precisely why I do it. My cakes are crappy and the kind of thing you’d see posted on Instagram as a ‘fail’. But that’s how kids like them, I say. Their own mother/carer made them with love and attention and I think kids are really good at seeing intention. I believe in staying authentic. I could buy a cake cheaper that looked better, but these ones are made with love that is plain for anyone to see. Even if this year’s bunny was unintentionally a bit offensive, what with the unfortunate candle placement on what looked like the bunny’s nappy (but was actually where I ran out of icing). There was no time for making whiskers and the ears didn’t fit on the plate, so I made them floppy. My son and his friend who saw the cake thought it was perfect and that’s good enough for me! 4 year olds’ don’t lie. (Unless it’s about space voyages and volcano exploration, in which case, don’t trust a word they say, just enjoy the story.)
Another ritual I maintain is to listen to Sufjan Stevens and to think, remember and cry. This is the most important part of the day for me. I don’t think everyone understands that for me, to sit with the pain of losing Lucy is to sit with Lucy. I met her in my deep pain, I said goodbye in pain and the fire of that pain brought me into motherhood and into running Lucy’s Project. It is such an ironic thing really, that the pain soothes me and expands my thinking. Each year I have deep realisations about her birth and I wanted to share this years with you.
I never really talk about ‘stillbirth’ in a political, awareness raising way. I have complicated views on whether parents need one more thing to fear during that terrifying, exciting, magical time that is pregnancy. Do we need to be more aware and fearful of all the many things that could go wrong? It just isn’t a cause that calls me personally, despite being a cause that affected me more than even the link between domestic violence and animal abuse. I’m so grateful to the stillbirth organisations that supported me during the early weeks and I recognise their important work, but it isn’t a cause I can take under wing. Or do I?
I have frequently claimed and very publicly acknowledged that it was a group of dynamic, yet frustrated women working with the Northern Rivers Community Legal Centre, Animal Law and Education Project (ALEP) who inspired me in those dark days between when she died and when she was finally born. They were desperately trying to get support for their project recognising the link between animal and human victims of domestic violence and the cause spoke to me because it helped people understand that we don’t have to choose which cause is more important, human or animal- that we can’t have peace in the family as long as some lives matter more than others. We can’t protect innocent adult and child victims if we don’t also protect the animal lives that bind them to their family. I realised during those 5 days of stalling labour that this cause spoke to my situation too- that Lucy’s precious name, her legacy, could raise awareness of the innocent women, children and animals and make the world a more beautiful place. It had never occurred to me that her name means ‘light’, but shine a light on a cause in the dark, she did. As soon as I named Lucy’s Project- during labour- contractions increased and she was born shortly after. Lucy’s Project gave me, personally , the strength to let go of the precious child within me and to have the courage to say goodbye, knowing somehow she would live on.
What I haven’t spoken about as much is the thoughts that lead to that realisation, the process. From that horrific moment when they told me, ‘there’s no heartbeat’ and I calmly asked them how they were going to start it again, in that cold sterile room where they told me I would have to give birth to my now deceased baby, my midwife sat by my side, touching my hand even when I couldn’t feel it. I know by the time she finally went home, days later, she would have been exhausted beyond belief. I was put in a private room just for grieving mothers, away from the other birthing mothers, I was visited by social workers, I was tended to so well. There was no shame, prejudice or judgement. Although I was in the most incredible emotional pain, I felt so fortunate. I thought of the women around the world for whom stillbirth is a thing to be ashamed of, could in some cases spell the end of the marriage, calling her cursed. I thought of the women victimised because of the loss of her child. I thought of the mothers expected to deny the child had ever been born, to get on with it, to never speak of it again. Curtains raised and the ‘ensuing tissues’ removed quietly and disposed of. Go home, pretend it never happened, have another child. I felt my modern, white privilege intensely at that moment. Sitting with this for days, that complex feeling of the most unfair loss coupled with the sense of good fortune that I was supported, lead me ultimately to the cause.
No shame, no stigma in the suffering that women endure. Be that domestic violence, stillbirth, miscarriage, menstrual cycles, incontinence, mental health, divorce, c-sections, bottle feeding, epidurals, infertility, choosing not to be a mother- and on and on. No shame. Zero tolerance for stigmatising the experiences of women. I think this comes from a very deep part of me. I will never be silent or ashamed about the experiences I’ve had and I won’t let any woman around me be shamed about hers. Domestic violence is NEVER the victim/ survivors fault and there is no shame but for the shame in not standing up for our sisters when they can’t stand up for themselves.
I speak openly about my baby and in doing so, have heard the stories of so many, many women who were never able to speak of their children again. I feel so grateful for my privilege allowing me to provide a safe space to talk with them about their babies, to talk about death, to talk about the life they had. I have seen women in their 60’s break down talking about their babies, having never been given a safe space to talk about them before (!). They tell me of the rituals they have always held in private, the hard days of remembering but not admitting. I have never ever heard the mother of a stillborn child tell me she stopped caring, loving or missing her baby. We never, ever forget, not for one minute a day. I’m so grateful for my living child and hope to add to my family. But Lucy was my first born, will always be my eldest child and when people ask me how many children I have, she will always be counted.
I am not a stillbirth activist but I have never let the media censor the fact that Lucy was stillborn. I realised this year, that other essential link in why Lucy chose me to run Lucy’s Project. Why she revealed this cause to me- because I will never let a woman be stigmatised by her suffering and loss. If you love your animals, I will use my strength and privilege and wave your flag when you don’t have the strength to raise your own arm. I dream that because of Lucy’s life and death that women, children and animals will be spared death and stigma. I know we have already saved lives and that she did not die in vain but I know we can do so much more.
Thanks for supporting this cause. Please keep speaking up about the link. From the darkness into the light, Lucy’s Project- safe families, paws and all.
N.B I acknowledge the male victims of DV, both victims of male violence and female on male violence, but also recognise that women represent the majority of victims survivors. That said, boys/ intersex/transgender people, I’ll fight your fight too because the enemy here is violence, not gender.
In memory of Lucy Stanton- Ludvik, 4th June 2013. Adored by her parents and family, always in our hearts, forever in our mind. Light on earth, even in death.
Thank you to Heartfelt for this photo.
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SO excited for this years conference. Are you still keen to present? Spaces filling fast. Please email me at email@example.com for more information on criteria for speakers in the 2018 conference.
Save the date! 222nd-23rd September, Melbourne- Lucy’s Project Practical Perspectives Conference.
This year we are focussing on building the movement, turning knowledge into action and building the sector. Abstracts now being accepted firstname.lastname@example.org
There is so much I want to tell you all about, that is currently happening in the movement and I hope that through this blog- as I slowly and painfully work out how to use this function- that I’ll be able to keep you all in the loop.
Watch this space!
Posted on January 27, 2016
Campaign creates something positive in lost daughter’s name
Article by Leah White on The Northern Star, 9th Oct 2014 7:03 AM
ANNA Ludvik’s reason for starting Lucy’s Project is a personal one.
Not long before the birth of her first child, Lucy, Ms Ludvik was told her daughter had died suddenly in her womb.
Ms Ludvik said Lucy’s Project, which was born on the same day as stillborn Lucy, gave her daughter’s life meaning and turned her name into something that effected positive change.
The project aims to raise awareness and funds for further research into the use of animals in domestic violence and develop early intervention programs.
Ms Ludvik said pets are often used in domestic violence by the perpetrator as a “means of demonstrating the kind of abuse that is awaiting the victim” if the victim doesn’t do what they say.
Domestic violence and animals:
- 53% of women who experienced domestic violence reported the deliberate injury or killing of their companion animal (Gullone, 1994).
- 19% of women who experienced domestic violence reported that their children had abused a pet.
- 88% of families receiving services for child abuse had also abused their pets (Davidson, 1988).
- 96% of animal abusers had also abused children (Humane Society, 2002).
- Children exposed to domestic violence are three times more likely to engage in acts of animal abuse than their peers (Baldry 2005 and Currie 2006).
They are also used as a way to keep the victim of domestic abuse at home.
“Often a victim is afraid to leave the house because they’re afraid of what will happen to the animals,” Ms Ludvik said.
“Sometimes for a woman that has been victimised for a long time the only source of comfort is the pet, and so the perpetrator knows how completely central to that woman’s wellbeing the animal is.
“So a lot of women won’t leave the house until they’ve managed to secure a safe shelter for their pets.”
The abusive behaviour can also be passed on to children, perpetuating the cycle of abuse.
“When the children are witnessing that, it can actually cause psychological harm to the child and can result in behavioural issues to the child and those children themselves can go on and act out the abuse that they’ve seen in the house towards animals or towards others,” Ms Ludvik said.
So far, the organisation has raised more than $1000 for the Lismore-based Animal Rights and Rescue Group through the Lucy’s First Birthday Appeal. Read More