Bernadette is no stranger to adversity. From the death of her father at a young age, to the potentially life-altering effects of a teenager pregnancy, she has never lost hope or direction for a great tomorrow.
In consistency with Bernadette's life story of transitioning from one circumstance to another, comes her message of equipping others with the realisation that nothing is impossible, regardless of the size of the opposing giant.
Today a happily married mother of three (and Registered Nurse), Bernadette has been speaking professionally since 2006 to thousands of people nationwide, about her story of courage and design for a great future. Bernie's transparency shines through as she visually unwraps her own life journey of 'being positioned for transition' to varied groups. She delights in adapting her enthusiastic message to meet individual client needs, from teenagers to the senior in our communities, and ever age group in between.
In 2009, amongst some 3,000 nominations Bernie was awarded the '2009 Barnardos Australian Mother of the Year' in which her teenage son nominated her. Alongside this title, Bernadette has received further accolades since her emerging role in the public eye:
2006 Author of published book 'Brave Little Bear: the inspiration story of a teenage mother'
2008 Finalist Australian of the Year
2009 Barnados Tasmanian Mother of the Year
2009 Barnados Mother of the Year
2009 Founding Director of Brave Foundation, a Not for Profit Registered Charity. Brave Foundation mission is to provide educational opportunities and scholarships for young women facing unplanned pregnancy.
2010 Featured in 'Who's who of Australian Women', which compiles Australia's most influential women.
2010 Ranked first in nation wide web poll 'Australia's most Confident Woman'.
All of these accolades hold a special importance to Bernie, it is her strong commitment to helping others walk out a life by design that she is most passionate about in her role as a professional speaker. Bernie ahs featured in all forms of print, radio and television media national wide and specialises in speaking at women's conferences, educational and health conferences, community conferences and secondary schools in addition to her key-note speaking, Bernie offers full day workshops or 'reflection days' exploring her messages further.
Question: What inspired the Brave Foundation?
Bernadette Black: I wrote Brave Little Bear which was released in 2006 and rereleased for a second reprint in 2010 and after the book was released and we got it into a lot of the secondary schools and clinics in Australia, I was surprised about the demand for the book. I had a lot of emails coming through to us about girls and women of all ages who were in the experience of unplanned or teenage pregnancy; I even had emails from boyfriends and dads about a young girl who had fallen pregnant and wanted to finish her education. As the workload continued to grow, we realised there wasn't anything to provide young girls with information as to where they could get support, in this area, in Australia. That's why we knew we had to create a not-for-profit organisation and we began the Brave Foundation, that was about three years ago.
Question: What work does the Brave Foundation do?
Bernadette Black: At the moment it is quite tough because of funding. Our main role is to research what organisations exist in Australia for a young girl or young dad to be able to finish their education, if they are a teenager who has fallen pregnant.
Then we also have phone calls, emails and Facebook messages from girls themselves asking anything from 'What do I do?' to 'How do I do a pregnancy test?' It is very important that someone is there to take them through step-by-step to tell them what to do and of course to initiate that support in their area of Australia. During contact with one of the girls, I will find out where she lives and then provide advice on where she can finish her education, where she can receive counseling and support and where she can find emergency accommodation, if need be. The main priority is to provide the support straight away and then as she is able to continue with her education.
Question: At the end of your pregnancy you made a pact that you would write a book. Why did you believe it was important to write Brave Little Bear: The Inspirational Story of a Teenage Mother?
Bernadette Black: I went to a young mothers group when I was pregnant which was at The Mercy Hospital for Women in Melbourne and in the group was a variety of girls and guys including myself, one girl was totally homeless, a guy was going to raise the baby alone and other Mums in horrendous circumstances. Even though my Dad was angry and my Mum was quite sick because of the shock, I knew I had a pillow to put my head on at the end of the day, I knew it would be okay but some of the other girls and guys didn't have that. As our tummies grew we were judged by people in society who believed we'd wasted our life and saying 'babies having babies' - a lot of teenaged parents have this familiar story.
I remember thinking 'Can I do it?' and I asked the nurses "Is there a book or pamphlet to tell us that we are going to be okay, that we can at least be good mothers and maybe finish our education?" and she said there was absolutely nothing and lead me onto an inspiration book. At that time, I really just wanted to read about someone who had lived, breathed and survived it. I knew that if I was finding it hard and I had support, how on earth would the other guys and girls be finding it okay?
I sat down and wrote three promises at the end of my pregnancy, one of which was to write a book or even a pamphlet - just something to help other people and it ended up being the book, Brave Little Bear.
Question: Your story is inspirational, could you talk about what motivates you to provide the message that "nothing is impossible, regardless of the size of the opposing giant"?
Bernadette Black: It has been very interesting because I am a registered nurse and I actually haven't worked as a nurse for a year and a half because I have become a professional speaker. I am working with the program, The Gift of a Teenage Life which is presented throughout Secondary Schools, Australia wide.
When I found out I was pregnant, I needed to talk to someone who wasn't my Mum or Dad and I spoke to my year 10 coordinator and I told him what happened, even though I was embarrassed, I thought he might be able to help me. He blew me away, he looked at me and said "Bernadette the journey will be different but the destination can stay the same" and I was thinking "What! Why aren't you yelling at me?" and for me to hear, at the time, that someone could hear through the situation and actually remember who I was, meant everything.
I talk at a lot of different environments now; when I am at schools I say "I hope there is not a teenage pregnancy because a gift of a teenage life is where it's at, but you need to know that if something as drastic as my story happens to you, it will be okay". It's a privilege to talk to people about something I am so passionate about. I see my talking as an extension of nursing in some ways because it is caring and looking after people, in a different way.
Question: What advise do you give teenagers who are pregnant?
Bernadette Black: If I receive a message that says "I think I might be pregnant" I often ask the girl if she has done a pregnancy test and explain where to go to get a test. Then we talk about choosing someone to talk the situation through with whether it is a Mum, Dad, Aunty, Uncle or a teacher. At the same time I will find out where in their area she can go for support structures depending on what she needs. I will inform her of the places surrounding her which can help her including showing her how to take a pregnancy test.
Usually our correspondence will only last two or three emails and then sometimes we will receive an email a year later with how their contact with the Brave Foundation made them realise they could still have a great future as a young Mum.
It is fantastic that we can communicate via the Internet because making a phone call can be quite challenging although it is still quite confronting to send an email or Facebook message.
Question: Overall your journey has been quite positive; do you hope to reduce teenager pregnancy?
Bernadette Black: Yes, during the talks that I do as a part of A Gift of a Teenage Life I often say "my biggest hope is that you don't have to experience something as drastic as a teenage pregnancy but if something like that does happen, you need to know you'll be okay".
A Gift of a Teenage Life has worked on the decision making process of teenagers which is linked with their values and the people that they hang around. A Gift of a Teenage Life questions people as to how they make their decisions which helps with teenage pregnancy and other risk taking decisions.
I also believe A Gift of a Teenage Life will see a difference in the generational teenage pregnancy rate because often a young Mum will be born to a young Mum and there is a high incident rate of this Australia wide as well as off the cuff pregnancies. If one of the girls is in that cycle and has a teen Mum and realises they will be okay and can finish their education then that will hopefully decrease the generational teenage pregnancy rates.
I am from Tasmania and I did the most speaking last year and in that year we saw a reduction of 20% in teenage pregnancies; Tasmania has the highest teenage pregnancy rate, in Australia - this shows that the program is actually working.
Question: Can you talk about how you felt when you were award Barnados Mother of the Year?
Bernadette Black: It was incredible! I was sitting with the other Mums from different states and we were all saying "I don't deserve it, listen to what you've done!" When I won the Barnados Mother of the Year for the state and then for Australia I remember being so overwhelmed and not just because I had won Mother of the Year but what it was that affected me so much was that my 16 year old boy nominated me for Barnados Mother of the Year because he thinks I am an okay Mum! It was great that my teenager believed that I'd done an okay job of being his Mum, being nominated was certainly the most amazingly part of Barnados Mother of the Year. The nomination came from my three children, but my 16 year old son orchestrated the whole thing.
Interview by Brooke Hunter