When I was going through the Family Court, I didn’t just tap into my inner-lawyer, I ended up changing careers and becoming an actual lawyer.
Law was actually something I’d being thinking of before then. I initially considered it whilst doing my Arts Degree at Monash, but then I got into a graduate position at a major bank. I had supported myself through my Arts Degree by working three days a week as a teller, so that gave me banking experience, but I what I really, really wanted was to become a journalist, which I eventually became.
Since the pandemic, after several periods of managing Sienna’s remote learning, while at the same time studying myself, I have now completed my Master of Laws degree, and have recently commenced practical legal training. I plan on being admitted as a solicitor in the middle of this year
I have been a single mother all of Sienna’s life: working and studying, while raising a child by myself.
My relationship with Sienna’s father ended well before Sienna was born.
At the time I was working full time as a journalist for a news outlet, which I loved, but it was often a juggle with my role as the sole parent of a young child.
It was very challenging at times both financially and also when my toddler would get sick and I’d receive the call to come and collect her from child care. Sometimes this would happen just as I was on a news deadline.
At my work, women were only given six weeks paid maternity leave at that time.
I had accrued annual leave, so I planned to take 12 weeks off to have the baby. When I applied for maternity leave, I was told that most women took the whole year off. However, I could not afford to do that when they only paid for six weeks. Going back to work three months after having a baby as a single mum was very challenging.
As it turned out, Sienna arrived a week late, so I had only 11 weeks with her before I had to return to work.
I remember I was committed to breastfeeding for as long as I could. I used to rush out of the office and make a mad dash to the childcare centre to feed her. Every single day.
As you can imagine, I was exhausted.
I loved journalism, but I had fears about job security, and so I started to think about alternative careers.
When I went through the Family Court with Legal Aid I got a taste of the legal process and court system, and I spent a lot of time researching relevant law, just because it was so important. My and my daughter’s future depended on us getting this right.
But it was when I started representing myself that my interest in the law really took off, especially when I would be talking to the Family Contact Centres and they would just assume I was the solicitor, not the actual client!
So I started studying law. In some ways, I found studying easier than working full-time, because my time was a little more flexible, but it has still been a long time with some tough moments.
A couple of years ago I contracted flu, which led to pneumonia, and I ended up in hospital. I had the extra expenses of medication, which, when you’re on a tight budget, means something has to go.
Eventually, due to being unwell for so long, I had to contact Centrelink for financial assistance. I was gutted when, on top of everything else I was going through, they told me I had to undergo third party verification.
The third party requirement has been stopped now, due largely to the public outcry, but it involved single mothers having to ask someone other than family to complete a statement – under the threat of jail for providing misleading information – that I was really a single mother.
It was extremely difficult being a single mum during the lockdowns in Melbourne. I was home-schooling and trying to study, with no support, carrying the entire load myself – then we were identified as a primary close contact for a COVID positive person and had to isolate at home for two weeks.
We live in a two-bedroom apartment with a dog and although family lovingly dropped meals off – and my auntie did each day – I really expected the Health Department to offer some assistance. It was not the experience I had been seeing on the news when apartment buildings were in lockdown. We had rubbish we needed removing but we weren’t allowed in the stairwell; supermarkets won’t deliver upstairs, but I wasn’t allowed down to collect them.
It was a nightmare.
Personally, I am proud of myself and what I’ve achieved as a single mother, but I am especially proud to have shown Sienna that you can create your own path in life. Single mothers teach their daughters strength and resilience and make the best role models.