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Keeping My Promise; Loving My Self

March 6, 2012

Keeping My Promise; Loving My Self

Telling my 10- and 13-year-old daughters that I was HIV-positive was one of the hardest things that I've ever done. It was 1990 -- before antiretroviral medications -- and people thought that HIV was a death sentence.

Until then I had done a poor job of taking care of myself: I was in a 12-step program for drugs and alcohol, I had low self-esteem and even after being diagnosed still didn't like using condoms. So the next hardest thing after telling my daughters my status was living like I really believed what I'd promised: that I would take care of myself so I'd live.

Even though I hadn't gotten pregnant in 10 years of unprotected sex, in October 1993 I conceived. Not much was known about mother-to-child HIV transmission back then. The few people I told in my support group warned that my baby would live in the intensive care unit or perhaps die. One doctor recommended that I terminate the pregnancy. A therapist suggested that I create a pros and cons list, which led me to the same conclusion that the doctor had reached. But after losing a newborn son earlier in life, I knew that my pregnancy was a blessing from God. I worried that it wouldn't happen again. I wanted to have my child.

I was offered the chance to participate in a double-blind clinical study about preventing mother-to-child transmission. Some of us took a placebo; others received the then-only antiviral medication: AZT. I had taken AZT when I was newly diagnosed, but I didn't like the side effects and stopped. But while I was afraid of both the medication and the unknown, I wasn't afraid to love myself by taking care of myself. And by doing so, not only was I fulfilling my promise to my daughters, I stopped needing others to validate my baby's life or my own.

To participate in the clinical trial, I would drive for an hour each way, often through the blinding upstate New York snow. Yet I never missed an appointment. I took advantage of all the information and tests, and my doctors educated me about everything I needed to know, from conception through delivery. Shortly before delivery the doctor disclosed that I was taking AZT, yet my pregnancy had gone perfectly and I hadn't had any side effects. My daughter was born without HIV. She is now 17 years old.

It turns out that I was one of the final participants in the study that proved that mother to child transmission can be reduced if you:

  • Know your status, and;
  • Go to the doctor so that you can make informed decisions about treatment for yourself and the baby.

And participating helped me prove that I could care for and love myself -- a choice that now helps many other women have healthy, HIV-negative children.

Del'Rosa Winston is the Bridge Leadership Program associate for SisterLove, a reproductive justice organization in Atlanta that focuses on HIV/AIDS.

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This article was provided by Black AIDS Institute. Visit Black AIDS Institute's website to find out more about their activities and publications.
See Also
What Did You Expect While You Were Expecting?
HIV/AIDS Resource Center for Women
Other Issues

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