Lynn Mabey
Sun, October 27, 2013 at 17:43
Stephanie Hunt

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Life Choices

I’ve never spoken with a ‘Pro-Lifer’ before.  This thought occurs to me as I head off to meet Lynn Mabey.  We humans tend to surround ourselves with people who look at life through the same prism, our exposure to other views limited to the evening news or social media.  So I am a little unnerved by the thought of sitting across the table from a driving force in Pregnancy Help Australia (PHA), a national organisation with a publicly pro-life stance.

I needn’t have worried.  Lynn is not a placard carrying, fanatical activist.  Once the interview begins it is obvious that she is intelligent and determined, yet I can’t escape the sense that this warm, 50-something woman is motherly - the sort of woman you expect to see sizzling sausages at a fundraiser or running the school fete.

In many ways fetes and BBQs are where it all began for Lynn.  “Our family has always been community minded, getting involved with the school, the church and local clubs,” says Lynn. 

When she and her family moved to Coffs Harbour in 2001, Lynn was thinking a break from community work might be in order.  That is until a woman at church talked to the congregation about Pregnancy Care Coffs Harbour.  “It was a life changing experience,” says Lynn, recalling her introduction to pregnancy counselling.

The intimate nature of the work initially scared Lynn but ultimately drew her in.  Organising a fete is one thing, but reaching out directly to a pregnant woman in crisis was another thing altogether.  “Listening to them, walking the journey with them….” Lynn tries to find the words to describe the experience.  “It wasn’t just doing.  I had to step back and actually BE there for somebody else.

The charter of PHA of which Pregnancy Care Coffs Harbour is a member, is to provide services and referrals to women and families in order to support their choices in continuing their pregnancies. “There’s no point saying to a woman, ‘Go and have your baby because that’s the right thing to do but you’re on your own’,” Lynn explains.  “So we’re saying to women, ‘How can we help you?’”

Help comes in many forms – from information  and referrals to actually purchasing needed equipment such as car seats and cots.  And help is not restricted to those who choose to keep their babies.  “We say these are the procedures and this is what it will cost, but just remember to hang on to this number and if you do struggle afterwards feel free to call us and we will listen,” Lynn explains.

“There will always be women who terminate a pregnancy,” says Lynn pragmatically.  But she prays that by being at the other end of the phone she may change outcomes.  “I’ll say a prayer for the woman I’ve just spoken to that maybe something I’ve said might give her strength.

Lynn gets her own strength from her church, and the man she calls her rock, husband Bill.

As a practicing Catholic, faith played a big part in Lynn’s upbringing and she says it has defined her. It has provided her with a code of ethics, but also a way of life, a place in the world.  The Catholic community in Perth helped her father after they migrated from Burma when Lynn was 6 and communities throughout Australia have been there to provide a foundation for Lynn and her own family.

She married Bill in Perth in 1977 at the tender age of 19.   His work in tourism and National Parks took the family to the far reaches of Australia.  The kids, Sam and Beth, were born in Kununurra, WA in the ‘80s.  The family bought a guesthouse in Strahan, on the West Coast of Tasmania in the early 90’s, which Lynn managed.  When they moved to Jindabyne NSW Lynn was front office manager at the Lake Jindabyne Hotel before landing a job with National Parks.  With every move Lynn also volunteered her time to the local P&F and the Church, even doing a stint as a Sunday school teacher.

One can understand why she felt she deserved a break when Bill landed a job  with Tourism New South Wales in Coffs Harbour, and Lynn was able to transfer within National Parks.  But Lynn is an in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound sort of person.  Once she started volunteering with Pregnancy Care Coffs Harbour her involvement and commitment grew and by 2007 she was sitting on the board of PHA, the national body. 

When the Executive Officer of PHA resigned not long after Lynn joined the board, she agreed to take on that position, but she told them there was one catch.  “I didn’t want to move to Canberra,” she recalls.  “So I said,’How about we move the office to Coffs Harbour?’”  They agreed and Lynn resigned her board position, took a leave of absence from her National Parks job and established an office for PHA at the Busy Bee Centre in Toormina.

Well before Lynn set up the new office, pregnancy counselling had become a political football (see political timeline below).  In the early days of the Howard government, PHA received substantial funding as part of the push to reduce abortion rates.  When Tony Abbott, then health minister, moved to establish a government run pregnancy hotline. Conditions were imposed on the PHA Helpline and funding was approved yearly instead of 3 yearly. Three years after the Labor party was elected the funding dried up completely.

Sometimes government money is not a good thing for an organisation because it can constrain you,” says Lynn, who has a knack for looking on the bright side.  She has had to return to previous work, because PHA can no longer afford to pay her.  She and Bill have set up the PHA head office in their investment property, only charging nominal rent. Lynn continues to run the national body after hours.  Despite the personal sacrifice, she insists that the withdrawal of funding will only make PHA stronger.

“We couldn’t man our 1300 counselling line once the government helpline came in,” she explains.  “But now that we’re not government funded  the line is answered 24/7.”  The flexibility to operate as they please is fantastic, but Lynn does admit she misses the days when they knew the money was coming in to pay the bills.

The need for a regular source of income from PHA proved an inspiration for Lynn.  “You get one of those light bulb moments,” she says.  “I thought pregnancy – women – jewelry!”  She spoke to local silversmith Jeramie Carter about making the PHA logo into a pendant.  “Three weeks later he brought back this beautiful 3 dimensional silver pendant,” enthuses Lynn. 

The plan is to sell the pendant online as a keepsake for mothers and mothers-to-be (phapendant.com.au).  Lynn has shifted from fete organiser to not-for-profit administrator to entrepreneur, now investigating production options, planning distribution and marketing and setting her prices.

I’m impressed.  I admit to Lynn that she is not the fanatic I had expected.  “I think people who picket outside clinics give organisations like ours a bad rap because we’re not like that,” she retorts.  “I don’t have to go and beat a drum outside.  I try to make a difference in other non-confronting ways.” 

 

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After some thought, Lynn tells me that the most interesting person she knows is her brother-in-law and the Rector of St John’s Anglican Church, Ian Mabey.  She tells me that his journey from life on an orchard farm to becoming an Anglican priest only 11 years ago has had some interesting twists and turns.  Sounds like a good story!

Article originally appeared on The Most Interesting Person I Know (http://themostinterestingpersoniknow.net/).
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