It's a long story, and I won't tell it here, but it began in a Monte Carlo, during a spring snowstorm, on a drive home from Anchorage with a 3-day-old baby in a car seat beside me. I was 18. I was scared.
Except for the baby and the unseen angels, there was no one. I was alone. That was the beginning.
The following Facebook post was made by me earlier this year; It marked the end of the chapter of my life filled with fear, uncertainty, guilt. I'm glad it's over. This is my new story, and I'm sticking to it:
"From the time my child entered systems that judge and evaluate "normalcy", I have had people wave red flags in my face. I used to believe them. I believed, at one time or another, the following possibilities: Aspersers, Clinical Depression, Bi-polar Disorder, ADHD, ADD, and more. I just have to say that this wild child is doing fine... I stopped looking at him like he was a disorder, and he slipped into the perfect order of his own universe. If I had any advice to give young mothers with a disorderly child, it would be to not listen to the experts. Love your child in his/her uniqueness and know that all is well."
I have been down a hard road of growing up with baby. This journey is made even more difficult in rural Alaska, where the environment can be harsh in both climate and culture. I have made mistakes, went the wrong way, and self blamed. I am glad to now be sure of the wellness of my family and self, but I still remember the pain of the place from where I came.
Our families need all the help they can get in raising the next generation of Alaska kin -- especially those who were born to the rocky road.
Child Advocacy Centers seek to help those families who are stuck on some of the rockiest roads of life.
It may be considered bad advice to tell people to not listen to the experts, as I did on my cyber soap box, but I know how easy it is to get lost in systems where we (seemingly) have no control. Often, those institutions and advice givers that exist to help the children inadvertently create chaos and confusion in those who love the child the most.
So, as a family advocate, I do not offer advice, but I do lend an ear. And I lend experience about what worked for me, and what I see as possibility.
There is great possibility inherent in all families, regardless of where they now stand... or where they have been. I know for sure each family has the right to choose the path best for them.
I believe most parents have a dream for their children and family, and when they are focused on the dream, they can move forward. They don't need another person telling them what is wrong. It is more helpful to shine a spotlight on the wellness of where they are and where they want to be.
I believe in helping caregivers see their children as whole beings, not as statistics. I believe in the potential of our most unique children, the ones who were born different and those who became different through difficult circumstances.
I believe the road of possibility to be good, even when we drive through the snowstorms, trying to make it home.
We can get our babies safely home. This I know.
Chantelle Pence is a family advocate for the Copper River Basin Child Advocacy Center, a consultant (Copper River Consulting) and a writer. She lives in Chistochina with her husband and three sons.
By CHANTELLE PENCE