By Rae Lewis-Thornton
August 15, 2012
This piece originally appeared in Rae's blog, Diva Living With AIDS.
I always wanted children -- well, not quite children, a child, a little girl -- but AIDS took that away from me. It was a hard decision to not have children but I made it. Having such a rocky entrance into this world and an even rockier childhood I had some very clear ideas about how children should be brought into this world. My bottom line: Bring children into the world when your circumstances permit. I wasn't really opposed to being a single parent, but if I was struggling to put food on the table, well then my circumstances didn't permit. I've been a one-woman show since I was a senior in high school, when I got put out for being 15 minutes late for curfew, 12:15. Mama said, "Go back where you just came from bitch," and I've been putting bread on my table ever since.
So children, single and struggling I didn't think was a bright idea and then when I had a husband, HIV treatment and care wasn't what it is today. There was more of a risk of infecting a child back in the early days; a whopping 30% and that was 30 too many. Now things have changed and it's about a 2% chance that the child will be infected if a woman takes a very specific antiretroviral treatment in the first trimester. This is why HIV testing for pregnant women is so critical.
So my not having children is a clear and definite effect of having contracted HIV. It's a loss I mourned years ago and filled in other ways. Many don't know but I took in a teenager I met when I first started speaking and helped to raise her with her grandmother. She was a handful but now grown up, married and raising a child of her own. There were a host of other young ladies met while speaking who were in and out of my house and living with me at periods of time and they are in and out of my life too, all grown up and doing their thing.
I'm grateful that my home could be a safe place, it clearly takes a village. But truly my dogs have really filled a void.
First was Imani, my first born was loving, attentive but she was playful. So she divided her time between me and her rubber duckies and balls. Then Imani had a baby, Nambi, who was often called little Rae. Diva dog for sure. She didn't play, she didn't sit on the floor and she couldn't be bothered with most people other than me and Toi, the young lady I helped to raise.
I had Imani for 12 years and she so taught me how to live outside of myself. She had some kind of lung disease and there would be nights when she and I would sit on the toilet with a hot shower running so she could get the steam. Lawd, watching her die almost killed me. After I put her under I cried for days, weeks and months. There would be days I would be getting ready for a speaking engagement and tears would just start to flow.
But I still had Nambi, little Rae as my close friends called her, and she was my shadow. If I went there in the house, so did she. She never left my side, NEVER. She was Imani's baby from her one and only litter and she was my constant companion. Imani played and Nambi lay on the pillow over me.
But when she was 12 years old, like her mother Imani, her health started to take a turn. I drove down to the University of Illinois' state-of-the-art animal hospital so they could fix my baby girl up, like I had done with her mother, but they told me her time was near and that I should put her under.
I cried all the way home, me her and Sophie. I had gotten Sophie two weeks prior. It had taken me a whopping 3 years to get a new baby after Imani's death.
We were a sight to see: Me tears flowing the entire 2-1/2 hour ride back home, Sophie full of life, and Nambi looking up at me like mommie, "Why did you bring this hyper-ass child into our lives in my old age. I can't take it; can I please die in peace?"
I got back to Chicago and nursed my baby. I had put one baby to sleep and I didn't think I could do it again. I knew it would kill me too, I just couldn't. It was madness in my bed. Me, Nambi and Sophie. Sophie is bigger than Nambi and she would lay across Nambi and look into her face like, "When we gonna play?" And Nambi would growl through her sickness, "If you don't get off me bitch, you better."
I didn't go anywhere for about two weeks. I just couldn't leave my baby and I couldn't put her to sleep. I just couldn't and then slowly she started to bounce back. She was my little miracle. You can read more on her here. It was the second Blog post I ever wrote.
She lived another four years. I had her for 16 years. The vet thinks bringing the puppy into her life made the difference. And it gave me more time. Time to let her go and time for Sophie to steal my heart.
For sure this is Sophie's world and I'm just her mom. Since Nambi's death a tad over two years ago, it's just me and her. She is for sure the queen of this castle. She just waited Nambi out; but for sure she had been waiting to be an only child.
Lawddd, this girl since day one has been a handful. When she was six months old, she knocked down my eight-foot Christmas tree with ALL my $100 ornaments I had been collecting for over 10 years. There's never a dull moment with Sophie -- NEVER!
She's the happiest baby in the world. She is a little socialite. I call her walks the Sophie Lewis-Thornton Social Hour. She speaks to every person and every dog no matter how big or small.
She has this way of making me LIVE! Taking me out of myself, out of my shit, my chaos, my mind and my illness. Some days when I'm in this bed stuck in the darkness, she insists that we get up out of this bed and go to the living room and sit on the sofa and look out the picture window.
She has this way, this wonderful way of taking me out of the darkness of this disease.
So it's 7:00 am and I'm up with her. I've been up since 4:00 am. She woke me up, something is wrong. She's whining and clinging and breathing heavy and restless. Most likely it's a belly ache, I pray. But I will only be able to know for sure as the day goes on. But for sure, I'm not thinking about my shit, my nerve pain, my finances, or all the work that needs to be done in the next week before the tweet-up. At this moment, all I can only think about is being Sophie's Mommie. BTW, you can follow Sophie on Twitter here.
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Rae Lewis-Thornton Speaks
Rae Lewis-Thornton is an Emmy Award-winning AIDS activist who rose to national acclaim when she told her story of living with AIDS in a cover story for Essence Magazine. She has lived with HIV for 27 years and AIDS for 19. Rae travels the country speaking and challenging stereotypes and myths about HIV/AIDS. She has a Master of Divinity degree and is currently working on her Ph.D. in Church History. Rae has been featured on Nightline, Dateline NBC, BET and The Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as in countless magazines and newspapers, including Emerge, Glamour, O, the Oprah Winfrey Magazine, Jet, Ebony, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, to name a few. She earned the coveted Emmy Award for a first-person series on living With AIDS for Chicago's CBS News.
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