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Born With HIV, Diagnosed at 17: A Young Mom Shares Her Story

An Interview With Lolisa Gibson -- Part of the Series This Positive Life

May 1, 2011

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Now did you and your mom talk about it at all around that time? You both got this diagnosis basically around the same time.

We really didn't talk about it. She told me not to tell anyone, so for three years we just lived like that, just me and her and the doctors. So I went to school researching information about HIV on the computer. I'd print out everything I read and bring it home to her and she would read it. If someone would come, she would hide it under the mattress. And that's how we lived for a long time. She went with me to my doctor's appointments for just a month and then I decided I could go by myself. We just lived like that for a while.

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So I started educating the people about it because some of the statistics that I found out, like one of the main age groups is 13-24. That was everyone in my circle, so I was like, OK, this is unacceptable. We need to know about this. We never talked about this before. So that's what made me want to get more involved, educate more people about it.

So at the time that you started to educate people about it, were you still not open about your own HIV status? You knew you had this knowledge because you yourself had HIV, but you didn't tell anybody else?

Right.

How was that? How were people responding now that you were starting to talk about HIV with your friends?

I just came out of the blue and just started to talk about it. And people were like, "OK," and they would listen, but halfway listen, I guess. Like, "OK, when are we going to the mall?" Like they would listen, and I could only push it so far down their throat. But no one really asked me, "Why are you talking about this all of a sudden?" I would get a random person, like, "What? You got it? You keep talking about it." And I would just say, "Oh no, my aunt died from it last year." I would just always use that as my escape to get out of the other question part. But my aunt did die from it, but I didn't care when she died from it.

Was she not somebody --

I was close to my aunt, but when we knew she was sick, we knew she was going to die. I knew she had HIV, but I didn't know what HIV was. So at the time, I just didn't care. I had other things I was worried about besides HIV. I felt bad for her. But at the same, I remember my mom was like, "Well she did things that she shouldn't have done and now she's paying for it." But that was just my ignorance and being selfish.

I hear you. So now you're talking to your friends about HIV. You're getting into the end of the first couple of years, what were the first things that you did to actually come to terms with the fact that you had HIV?

"One of the first things that I did was I told my social worker that I wanted to get more involved, because I thought I was the only one in the world with it. And when I read on the internet that I wasn't, then I just wanted to meet more people that I could talk to, that could relate to what I was going through."

One of the first things that I did was I told my social worker that I wanted to get more involved, because I thought I was the only one in the world with it. And when I read on the internet that I wasn't, then I just wanted to meet more people that I could talk to, that could relate to what I was going through. Because, my mom, I could only talk to her for so much. So they introduced me to other girls that came to the clinic that were born with it, that have been going there since birth. So I was 17.

Most of these girls were like 14, 15. They were younger than me, but they had been there forever, so they kind of knew what was going on but they didn't really understand. They were still young. So no one sat down, just like no one sat down with me and explained it, no one sat down with them and explained it. So I was the one to sit down with them and tell them, "Well, this is what this means. This is why you have to take your blood. This is why you have to take the medicine," and stuff like that. After a while, the girls just started taking their medicine. The doctors were praising me, like, "What did you say to them? We've been with these kids since they were 2. They never took their medicine. Now they're taking it, undetectable."

So after I realized I could reach them, I just wanted to reach more people. I started volunteering at different AIDS services organizations in Delaware. I still wasn't telling that many people I had it, just like a handful of people probably knew, people I worked with mostly.

So just folks who also worked in the HIV field?

Yeah, so still no one in my family knew.

Well, sounds like you were a natural peer educator. That's amazing.

I always wanted to be a social worker. So I just tweaked it a little bit, I guess.

Exactly. You're basically like a volunteer social worker. But when did you start to tell people that were outside of the HIV circle that you were positive?

This was 2007, World AIDS Day. One of the girls that I met at the clinic, she was like 15, but she went to a special school in Delaware where they have a special school for kids who go through K-12, kids that have different illnesses, so they can't be in regular school. Some of them had cancer. Some of them had HIV. They all had different things, but she wanted to talk for World AIDS Day about HIV. She wanted me to talk with her, but I was like, "No, I can't do that. I have to ask my mom." But I was like 19 at the time and I had my own apartment and everything.

She was like, "You say you're grown. You still have to ask your mom." At this time, I was working at an AIDS service organization fulltime, doing HIV testing, needle exchange, everything, but I still had to ask my mom if I could do that. I asked my mom. She said no. But I realized it was something that I did want to do and I couldn't be telling this little girl no. Because she was small. I'm small, but she was way smaller than me, but her voice was so big and so loud.

I was like, "OK, I got to do it." So I did it and that was the first time I ever told anybody outside of the HIV community that I was positive. Actually, a social worker and a nurse from our clinic came to watch us. But it was really good. The kids, they were a lot younger than me, but they all listened. Their parents were there too, so they listened. They asked questions. And it was great. After I did that, I was happy. I was like, "OK, I could do this."

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This article was provided by TheBody.com.

See Also
More Personal Accounts of Women With HIV/AIDS


Reader Comments:

Comment by: Dee Sun., Aug. 17, 2014 at 3:18 pm EDT
Your story will make me feel stronger nd stronger im impressed its not the end of the world. To all who r living wth hiv live life to the fullest.
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Comment by: naina kamal said (kenya) Fri., Dec. 6, 2013 at 6:48 am EST
sorry
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Comment by: Nozibulelo (Queenstown South Africa) Sat., Nov. 16, 2013 at 12:24 am EST
I like you people the way you are positive and strong
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Comment by: shirley (south africa) Wed., Sep. 25, 2013 at 4:18 am EDT
your story brings tears to my eyes because am also living with the virus and its hard everyday for me to think that when i tested i did not have the virus but all in the name of love i have it now
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Comment by: Joseph k (Isiolo county kenya) Tue., Jul. 23, 2013 at 3:57 pm EDT
I really appreciate this information .
I tested positive one month ago. I still believe I will go strong.
What can you advice me to do as I have not started to take the ARVs, although I' am confident very strong.
Please I need your advice.
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Comment by: Katia (Angola, Luanda) Fri., Jun. 21, 2013 at 12:22 pm EDT
Well done Lolisa, you are doing a very brave job taking care of you and others, I pray to God that he helps you always to keep up strong and may You and your family always grow strong in love and faith, you are a beautiful strong women, very strong! can't wait to read your book.
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Comment by: Daino (Nairobi) Sat., Jan. 5, 2013 at 3:30 am EST
This is just simply inspiring! I have even book marked this page! Thank you Lolisa!
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Comment by: doctor Vilakazi (Gauteng) Tue., Jan. 10, 2012 at 2:47 am EST
i am proud of Girl..keep it up...ur are my inspiration.
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Comment by: David (Ohio) Thu., Aug. 18, 2011 at 3:52 pm EDT
Your story is very encouraging. I am in a similar boat but contracted it in a blood transfer as an infant. I discovered it though years later while just starting a marriage. I would like to hear more storied of mixed status relationships. After my divorce in 2007 I have very little confidence in starting a relationship.
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Comment by: Joyce McDonald (Brooklyn, New York) Tue., Aug. 16, 2011 at 12:42 pm EDT
You are a couragous young women. Thank you for sharing your testimony with the world. May God continue to shine his light on you and through you. I would love to be able to correspond with you. joyce-mac@live.com
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Comment by: Tina M (Charlotte N,C) Thu., Jun. 23, 2011 at 8:34 pm EDT
I am sick to but i live with it and we can make it went we try. I find out went i were in jail in 1982 so i be for 23 year and live my life.
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Comment by: Mike (San Francisco, CA) Wed., Jun. 22, 2011 at 3:54 am EDT
She is pretty!
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Comment by: TIANNA (FLORIDA) Tue., Jun. 7, 2011 at 9:08 pm EDT
HOW DID U GET THROUGH THE TUFF TIME ACCEPTING THAT YOU HAD AIDS AND THAT THERE IS NO CURE FOR IT WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO BE THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE
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Comment by: Anonymous Tue., Jun. 7, 2011 at 8:42 pm EDT
be strong,strong and stronger,you will be ok with God help.God been so good to me,i love him is my father.
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Comment by: Wanjiku (nairobi) Fri., Jun. 3, 2011 at 7:27 am EDT
Am very touched by your story and your courage....Keep it up gal
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Comment by: lil homie (renton,wa) Thu., May. 26, 2011 at 2:42 pm EDT
hey we are impressed with your story.... what i thought was sad was that your mom could of at least checked herself before she had you. she could of tooken so you wouldnt get hiv/aids
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