* In April, VIHA released a report showing that Port Alberni has the highest number of teen moms per capita in B.C. In a multi-part series, the News examines who some of the teen moms are, how they are supported and how there is more to them than just a number.
A former teen mother’s life has come full circle now that she is working with new teen moms in Port Alberni.
Rhonda VanAdrichem, 40, is a third year child and youth care student at Vancouver Island University. VanAdrichem is doing her practicum at VAST where she works with teen moms every Tuesday.
The practicum is fitting because VanAdrichem gave birth to her son Dustin in 1990 when she was a then 15-year-old Grade 9 student at EJ Dunn.
“I look at the moms I work with and I realized how young I was when I gave birth,” said the married mother of three. “I cried when I got this opportunity because my goal was to support teen moms somehow and now I’d realized it.”
VanAdrichem describes herself as quiet and painfully shy as a teen, she said. “I had one friend, I never went out to parties. And I didn’t like going to school.”
She dated her boyfriend for one year and then like most teen relationships they split up.
The pair had been intimate but she never thought about pregnancy. “I threw caution to the wind. Like other teens I thought I was invincible and that these thing happen to other people,” she said.
She went to the doctor for tests and found out she was three months pregnant. She told her parents immediately. “My mother was disappointed and my late dad was quietly supportive, saying if I needed anything that he’d be there.”
VanAdrichem stayed in school for two more months until summer break. “No one knew but my best friend,” she said.
Getting an abortion never entered her mind, she said. “I never thought about that or adoption, not for a minute. I was going to be a mother and that was that.”
She gave birth to her son Dustin in January. She stayed at her parents home and tended to her new boy.
VanAdrichem tried correspondence courses and VAST but chose to work instead. “My parents were fantastic grandparents but I didn’t want to depend on them for babysitting and for them to financially support us,” she said.
In retrospect, VanAdrichem is struck by the lack of services that were available for teen moms. But VIHA worker Esther Pace coaxed her into attending a fledgling teen mother group.
“I didn’t want to go at first but I did and I’m glad I did. My best friend then was Brenda Kraneveldt and she’s still my best friend today,” she said. “I went for four years. It helped to just have a place to share and unload.”
VanAdrichem and other girls in the program were canvassed by VIHA about a the idea of a daycare specifically for teen moms in Alberni but the idea never advanced.
“The public backlash was horrible,”she said.
Dustin, 24, lives on his own today. He works in the construction industry and has a life of his own. He remains close with his mother as well as his grandmother. His biological father is deceased and was never part of his life, VanAdrichem said.
Instead, he was raised by VanAdrichem’s husband Martin who she first met in her late teens after she became a mother. “He’s been our rock for support and he’s my hero,” she said.
After Dustin grew up VanAdrichem returned to school. She obtained her human service worker diploma from North Island College at age 36. Now, she’s got one more year left before she achieves her BA in Child and Youth Care from VIU.
“I never lost sight of my goal which was to work with youth. Working with them now has brought me full circle in my life,” she said.
After school, VanAdrichem wants to advocate for an independent dedicated youth centre, open five days a week, with programs for young parents. She also wants to advocate for better teen pregnancy outreach at West Coast General Hospital.
“Teen pregnancy is no different now than it has been for decades. The difference now is there are services and you don’t have to hide” she said.