Stacey Currie, 29, Carrum Downs, Vic
Looking at my friend's house, I couldn't believe how beautiful it was. 'Mum and dad have their own business,' she said.
I was eight years old and lived in a small house with my dad Lionel, now 56, who worked casual jobs. My mum didn't live with us and although Dad was fantastic and supportive, we often got by on very little.
I had never thought about my career before, but I decided then that I'd be a successful businesswoman one day. 'You can do anything,' Dad said. 'You just have to put your mind to it.'
But seven years later, when I was 15, life took an unexpected turn. My tummy was sore and I was throwing up, so Dad toOk me to our GP. 'She's pregnant,' the doctor frowned. 'I know you're young, but you'll have to have the baby,' Dad said.
I was relieved Dad wanted me to keep the child but I still felt petrified. My dreams of being a businesswoman now seemed very far away.
My boyfriend Pete* stuck by me and I kept going to school. On December 22, 1994, my son Josh was born. Starting back at school the next year, I took Josh along with me to class.
After finishing year 10, I found a job in a coffee shop. Pete and I got a place together but making ends meet was hard.
I started a business course at TAFE, but two years later I fell pregnant again. 'How are we going to cope?' Pete asked.
I was still only 19 when I gave birth to Tahlia in March 1998 and the cracks were starting to show. When Tahlia was four months old, Pete and I split. 'I'm too young for all this,' he said.
I agreed that it was a lot of responsibility for two teenagers but, with Pete gone, I felt my dreams were slipping even further out of reach.
Thankfully, Dad helped me look after the kids as I studied and worked long hours but I still couldn't afford to pay rent on my own. Not wanting to burden Dad, I turned to my friends. 'Could I stay with you for a week?' I asked them.
Making up beds on lounge-room floors for my children, one night I broke down in tears. 'I'm homeless and broke, with two lives relying on me,' I sobbed.
My confidence hit rock bottom. I thought I'd never be a businesswoman – just a sad and lonely single mum.
One night, Dad looked after the kids while I went out with friends. Still only 20, I thought no guys would be interested in a mum of two. But then a young, handsome man started chatting to me. 'I've got two children,' I blurted out, thinking it would end our conversation.
'That's cool,' he said.
Joe* was a charmer and it didn't take long before I was head over heels in love with him. 'You and the kids can live with me,' he offered just weeks into our relationship.
I thought I was lucky to have someone take on my kids. Joe was like a saviour. But a few months later, he started to change. He'd come home from work furious, flying off the handle for no reason. 'Who've you been talking to?' he'd rage. 'I don't know why I ever bothered with you.'
The verbal abuse eroded my self-confidence even more. I felt worthless, like I should be grateful to Joe for taking us in. After all, no-one else would have me, would they?
Then, when I thought things couldn't get worse, the abuse turned physical. Joe would lash out and hit me, sometimes in front of the kids. 'It's okay, Mummy's all right,' I'd soothe after Joe had stormed out.
By now I felt so worthless, like I deserved the beatings. I didn't know how the bright-eyed eight year old who wanted to own a business had become the woman I saw in the mirror.
When Joe suggested having a child of our own, I agreed, hoping it would please him.
I gave birth to Jack in May 2000, when I was 21. But with a newborn in the house, things only got worse. As Jack grew, the cycle of violence continued.
I never saw myself as a victim, I felt too responsible for what was happening. Then one day, I saw an ad for domestic-violence counselling. There was a photo of a woman with a black eye and two young kids. Hang on, that's my life, my children's lives, I thought, shocked. I called the number.
'This is not something you can fix, or live through,' my counsellor Donna said.
As the weeks passed, I kept seeing the counsellor in secret and my confidence grew. I knew I could make it on my own. I'm worth more than this, I thought. My children deserve better.
'Write down your goals, make them real,' Donna encouraged.
In September 2005, after almost five years, I left Joe and took the kids. It was scary, but I kept on repeating Donna's affirmations and dismissed all the negative thoughts.
Thankfully, I still had friends and one day I was talking to Dave, 37. 'I've got a sign-writing business, it's not doing great,' he said. An idea came to me. 'Let me run it,' I said confidently. 'If I haven't turned it around in six months, sack me.'
Dave agreed, so I set about being the best manager I could. I called motivational experts and networked with other professional women.
Six months later, the business was thriving. Signs 'n' Banners became a finalist in the local Business Achiever awards.
With my confidence on a high, I kept going to women-in-business meetings. It was challenging because the women were amazing. It was hard for me to relate to them and I felt intimidated by their success. 'There's not much out there to help young, vulnerable mums,' I told Dave. 'I wish someone had encouraged me earlier.'
I wanted to inspire those women who'd given up on their dreams – just as I had once. 'I could start a website,' I said.
'Great idea,' Dave agreed.
After months of hard work, I sat down with web designers Sally and Jason, who offered to do the site for free. My site, www.empoweringyoungmums.com.au was finally launched in November 2007, attracting legions of visitors.
Today, I run a highly successful business with Signs 'n' Banners, I'm involved in my children's schools and I'm training to be a motivational speaker. Dave is such a great guy. We fell in love and had baby Toby in June.
I once felt so low, but now I'm on top of the world. It's never too late to turn your life around. If the website gets that message through to just one young mum who's considering giving up, it will all be worth it.
Visit Stacey's very own business at Empowering Young Mums.
*Names have been changed.
White Ribbon Day
November 25 is White Ribbon Day, which aims to raise awareness and stop violence against women. Buying and wearing a white ribbon means you believe that violence against women is unacceptable. From 40 to 57 per cent of Australian women will suffer physical or sexual violence at the hands of a man, and a 2006 survey showed over 440,000 women were victims the previous year.
For more details, visit www.whiteribbonday.org.au.
Have you experienced domestic violence? Did you take destiny into your own hands or know someone who has? Let us know by commenting below.