Let's Talk About Having Babies -- Before and After HIV/AIDS
September 19, 2012
Angela Davey: I want to piggyback on something Rusti said. In reflecting on what was different between my two pregnancies that I could attribute to being positive: With my second pregnancy, I was more engaged in my health care, more proactive. I was dealing with my HIV diagnosis just as a person dealing with it, going through the various stages of education, denial, family disclosure, do you start cocktails or not -- the journey we all go through. But then, when you compound it with pregnancy ... I really noticed that I had to step up my engagement and take control of my health care for good outcomes.
As far as support while I was pregnant: I was in a different country to begin with, so my experience was probably very different. I was in Mexico. I lived outside of Puebla, southwest of Mexico City. We were struggling just to get medication for Lilly's father, since Mexico's health system is very different than here, especially in regards to getting HIV meds.
It took a while for us to be able, financially, to move back up closer to the border where I could access health care. But I was real fortunate in the sense that, through the University of California-San Diego, I went to, as I said, a women's clinic that was specifically for HIV-positive women. The staff there made me feel that I was doing everything I could do. They were there to help support me in that, to have a good outcome.
But as far as community and family, I didn't have much of that kind of support. I was living in Mexico where there was no law to protect you on HIV disclosure. My daughter's father mentioned our HIV status to our landlord and they promptly kicked us out. There were a lot of life stressors. I had also had a history of chemical dependency. Looking at those cofactors that came into play in my history, as far as mental health and risky behavior, each one of those took on even more significant meaning, and had another layer to it, due to the fact that there was now another human being involved. That weighed heavily on my shoulders, wondering if she was going to be OK.
I didn't gain weight with her; I lost weight. She was premature. And then, after she was born, 9/11 occurred, and the borders closed. I was on the Mexico side, and I was locked out of the States for eight months. Luckily, I had her AZT for six weeks. But I didn't have medication for myself. I didn't have any follow-up care after that until I was able to return to the States. That was pretty stressful -- not having that test to confirm that she was HIV negative, and not having that medical support.
But I did have the six weeks of AZT, and she is negative for HIV and hep C. And since then, I've also become negative with hep C.
Shana Cozad: Excellent!
Angela Davey: Yeah. It's been a journey. It's very draining, you know?
Shana Cozad: Excellent answer. Jessica, how about you? Were you able to garner the different kinds of support networks that you needed?
Jessica Mardis: I was very fortunate. Like I alluded to earlier, my doctor and his staff -- everybody at Coastal Family Health Center in Gulfport, Miss., where I was living at the time -- they began to know me over the years through my treatment. My doctor taught me to believe in myself and get educated, learn everything that I could. That helped me make the decision to keep my son, and continue to hope that he would be OK. And he was.
Unfortunately, my son's dad passed away in 2005. That made things really hard. He was 2 when his dad died. But I held strong. As the other ladies have alluded to, as far as substance abuse: After testing positive, I did turn to cocaine, but after my son's father died, I didn't. I didn't go back. I kept strong for my son. We've just held on together. And he's healthy and happy.
I had a good support network. I had friends. I became part of a support group right around the time that John got sick. That helped me a lot. Going through the pregnancy, I was very lucky to have his dad with me. He was really good. He was there the whole time we had to give our son AZT -- and I don't know about the other ladies' babies, but mine, he learned real quick how to spit it out. Very nasty medicine.
Rusti Miller-Hill: It doesn't taste good!
Shana Cozad: Mm-hmm!
Jessica Mardis: Yeah. Because, you know, we tasted it! We had to go through the whole training process before you leave the hospital, where they show you how to do everything. But I'm so grateful for that time that I had with his father. It's bittersweet. Kind of like what Rusti was talking about: With all the ups and downs, life can be so hard, and full of stuff we have to go through. But I'm grateful.
Rusti Miller-Hill: It's all part of the journey.
Jessica Mardis: It is part of the journey.
Rusti Miller-Hill: I was just thinking, when you talked about the six weeks of AZT for the baby after giving birth. I am a Protestant, and my husband's family is Seventh Day Adventist. Many Seventh Day Adventists choose not to use prescription drugs. So, it was really, really hard to teach each family how to administer the medication, and why it was important that it was given correctly, on time, the right dosage, every day. For me, it just solidified that HIV lived in our house. I am the only person in my family that's positive. My husband is negative, and married me knowing that I was positive. Sometimes, it can be the big elephant in the room. Nobody wants to say it, but we know that it's there.
I think having to deal with our son being on the medication really made everybody come closer. We were two families that were joined together by me and my husband. While we had all been cordial before, the reality of it was that they were on one side and my family was on the other side. But having Brandon made them see beyond that. It brought us together as a unit. They came together and rallied to support us, knowing all the facts. Because through the medical team that we had, we had every question answered. We had to sit down with our families and talk to them about the possibilities: the fact that I received an AIDS diagnosis during the pregnancy, and that the reality of my dying might have seemed more imminent at the time. It really brought us together, as a unit.
Whatever differences or dislikes that might have existed seemed to just fall away. Because, once he was born, they understood that this was real, that we needed them in order to survive. Because I went back to work six weeks after he was born, like many working moms. I didn't take the six months off. After my six-week checkup, I said, "Look, I need to go back to work. I'm getting stir crazy here in the house!" And they all pitched in. My mother-in-law said, "You can bring him over during the week, and I'll watch him." And my mom said, "Well, if you need somebody on the weekends just to get some time away, I'll watch him." Everybody understood their role and that's what made it so much more appealing.