You can talk to Lucy Bloom about everything...
Why childbirth is not as bad as the movies make it seem. Or why the most harrowing part of being a CEO was dealing with an abusive board of directors. Or why there’s a sense of fakery in niceness. She’s smart, direct, and an unbelievable role model for women – no wonder she’s the first and only Australian to be listed in the world’s top 30 #socialceos. Her career highlights, all achieved while raising three children, are seemingly endless. A founding director and CEO of Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia (Australia). The recipient of a Kindness Award from the Wake Up Project. The creator of the world’s first childbirth education program for men, which is run in pubs all over Australia. And the author of Cheers to Childbirth and most recently, her memoir – Get the Girls Out: a memoir of love, loss and letting loose. Here, she speaks to us about her life journey, from a tragic motorbike accident when she was just 19, to career highs and lows to what mumhood looks like for her.
Go to thelucybloom.com
Tell me about your motorbike accident when you were 19?
I had a massive motorcycle accident in 1992, which changed the course of my life not long after it had just got started. It was during my first year out of high school when I was working in an advertising agency in Sydney, living in a little apartment with a friend and working in a cocktail bar on weekends. I was having the time of my life when I bought a motorcycle to complete the picture. What a goose I was. Sydney is not built for motorbike traffic at all. Everyone tried to talk me out of it but it thought I was invincible and I thought it would be fun.
On the way to work one Saturday night, a Gold Mercedes wiped me out on the approach to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I broke my leg really badly and would spend the next year having 14 reconstructive surgeries to avoid losing the limb altogether. There were a number of experimental graft surgeries which were a waste of time and trauma. In the end, my left leg saved my right leg with blood supply – my legs were grafted together like a mermaid, for a month. After that my right leg’s vascular system was stable enough to go it alone. Now I have epic scars which tell quite a story. To this day, my left foot subconsciously supports my right foot when I’m lying down. It’s like they’re mates.
Can you share your journey with the scar on your leg?
From the very beginning of my motorcycle accident saga at the tender age of 19, I was not so fond of my new scars. But as the surgeries progressed, infections took hold and the damage to my legs became much more gnarly, I downright hated the scarring I was left with. My legs were disfigured in shape, criss-crossed with long scars and patched together with grafts and hundreds of stitches. My scars became something I kept to myself because I was ashamed. I would only wear long pants and boots. No one saw my scars if I could avoid it at all. I even wore full leg swimmers to the beach.
Then something happened around the 20-year mark after my accident. I was approaching turning 40 and I suddenly realised I had no more fucks to give. It was that simple. I’d met someone special not long after my marriage ended that year, and he told me that he thought my scars were beautiful. Not just gnarly or epic, but beautiful. No one had ever told me I was beautiful before, let alone my scars, so it stopped me in my tracks and made me consider why I had hated my scars for so long. I stopped covering my legs, I started wearing shorts and didn’t feel ashamed of my scars ever again. His name was Rob and he’s since moved to Berlin but I will always have a soft spot for Rob for being so generous with his words when it came to me and my scars.
Then on a cold day in June 2019, I received an email from a photographer in London asking if I’d be available to sit for him in a photographic portrait series of subjects with interesting scars. So off I toddled to London from Sydney and went to Brock Elbank’s studio in south-west London for a nude shoot which wound up in the pages of Vogue Magazine. It took almost 25 years to go from shame to fame on the scar front. What was important was getting to a point in my life where I truly didn’t care what anyone might think of my war wounds. You can see those images and the rest of Brock’s magnificent collection here.
What prompted you to become a doula, after already having an established career in communications?
I bore easily and doing something out of the ordinary appealed to me so I trained as a doula in 2004. I’d also just had my first child and our doula inspired me to be that person who takes a couple on a journey from fear to confidence. Babies are often born in the middle of the night so I would often be back at my desk in the morning and no one would notice I’d been AWOL. It was in my work as a doula that I noticed that men are often left out of the preparation for birth so I fixed that situation later…
Can you share with us the inspiration behind joining Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia?
I was given a brilliant opportunity when Dr Catherine Hamlin asked me to be the CEO of a new charitable entity in Australia to fund her work in Ethiopia. I had the skills and was ready for a change of scene after 20 years as a creative director. I’d known Catherine for a number of years when she asked me to head up the charity and I didn’t need any thinking time before I said yes and took the leap. Together we raised $7M for her work including a midwifery school in Addis Ababa. Catherine died in March 2020. My only grief is that I will never work with another woman like her again.
You would have experienced some incredibly harrowing moments during this role. Is there anything that stood out for you?
To be honest, the most harrowing part of that job was dealing with an abusive board of directors. My board terrorised me for three solid years. I didn’t report to Catherine as she was based in Ethiopia and had to focus on her surgical work there. I loved her to bits but she was technically not my boss. I reported to a board of three volunteers who made my time as CEO unbearable. If you are on the board of directors for a charity and find yourself becoming dreadfully jealous of your CEO, or you are shouty at board meetings, give yourself an uppercut.
You stopped working as a doula after returning from a trip to Ethiopia. Can you explain this decision?
I had just returned from a particularly hard going trip to Ethiopia when I hung up my doula bag for good. Before I became CEO I had been travelling to Ethiopia for eight years. I would go each year and shoot a catalogue of beautiful images of staff, patients, the hospitals and the countryside. That particular trip took me to some of the regional obstetric fistula hospitals in Harar and Yirgalem where I saw some pretty difficult situations. What I recall most was the grace and gratitude with which the Ethiopian women faced their injuries, usually after the loss of their baby. I came home to Australia and attended a birth where a couple were rude to the midwife over how quickly she could get them an extra pillow. I think when you want to poke the birthing mother in the eye, you know your time as a doula has come to an end. I couldn’t support couples in this environment of privilege and choice when I was exposed to the difficulties of women elsewhere.
“ I couldn’t support couples in this environment of privilege and choice when I was exposed to the difficulties of women elsewhere ”
What do you wish that pregnant women knew about childbirth?
Childbirth is not as bad as the movies make it seem. It’s hard work but you are built to birth. I believe in you.
What about partners? Your gorgeous first book focused on partners in the birth process - is there a top tip you’d provide them with?
I’ve just republished that book for its tenth anniversary. Cheers to Childbirth is especially for men and prepares them for their role in the birth of their baby. I think my number one tip for the lads is to stay present, emotionally and physically. No phones, no talky talk, no other distractions at all. Just be there with your partner while she labours. You won’t die of boredom. Promise.
Tell us about the importance of friendships in your life. How do you foster them when you have such a busy, demanding life?
I have never maintained a huge circle of friends, just a special few. Those friends have been non-judgemental, solid, down to earth women who have been good at staying in touch and pointing out typos in my work! I am also a collector of good people so when I meet really solid humans, I collect them and stay in touch. It doesn’t have to be often.
Can you share with us what your new book - Get The Girls Out is all about?
Get the Girls Out is my memoir. I think this says it best:
Lucy’s open-hearted interest in the world has taken her from working as a farmhand on a cattle station to maternity hospitals in Ethiopia, from marshalling a cross-country carnival in northern Uganda to CEO briefings in the back of a tuk-tuk in Cambodia. Hers has been a life of fighting for the underdog only to find out that, sometimes, the underdog is actually her. Taking all dramatic life-turns, side-steps and face-plants in her stride, Lucy has rebuilt her life every time, with love and adventure at its heart, plus a side order of mischief.
In your book, you’ve said you hope that you inspire women to "do cool stuff, make plans, launch that business, pack your bags, shave your head, ride that horse, date that hottie, apply for that job, chuck that party – and, most of all, get your girls out, whatever that means for you.” While many of us understand the, "live each day like it’s your last,” message, it can be a challenge to make it happen in the grind of daily life. When did you realise that this was the way you wanted to live?
I don’t believe in that idea that you should live each day like it’s your last – if that were the case I would never pay my bills and I would be cuddling my kids right now instead of writing this for you! I think the general groove of my life is to HAVE A GO. Don’t hold back on life because you might fail, or because you worry what other people think. Just HAVE A RED HOT GO. I think I made a very clear decision on that when my kids were little and the grind of daily life was hard going. That’s when I started really having a go, to make life more interesting, adventurous and fun. Like doula training and trips to Ethiopia. Like writing books, starting new business concepts, like keynote speaking and sea kayaking. I don’t have the bandwidth to care what other people think of my choices and that is the key to having a go.
Do you think it’s more important to be brave than it is to be nice? How do you showcase this in your everyday life? How can we teach our daughters this same message?
There’s a place for politeness, for sure, but there is a sense of fakery in niceness. I’ve been willing to speak up even if it’s not the popular point of view and this is brave. I am the one pointing out the magazine cover crammed full of white women or the event with all-male speakers. The ‘nice’ thing to do would be to ignore the chronic lack of diversity or imbalance but the brave thing to do is say ‘Hey you! This needs some work.’ I don’t want to live in a world which is dominated by authoritative voices only coming from pretty, thin, white chicks. Or old white men for that matter. I want a rich and juicy, radical life which is enriched by a diversity of perspectives. You have to be brave to demand it. Nice doesn’t get heard.
What’s next for you?
I’ve just launched a podcast for the readers of Get the Girls Out and am adapting Cheers to Childbirth for an international readership. Babies are born the same way all over the world, it’s just the way hospitals manage the process which differs from one country to the next. And I have a new business idea that I am working on. It’s under wraps for now but let’s just say it’s inspired by all this isolation bizzo, panic buying and environmental concerns.