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Spotlight Series: HIV Stigma and Discrimination
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Boosting The Spirit of an HIV-Positive Woman

April 1997

I'm a 37-year-old African-American woman who is living with HIV. (Notice I said living, not dying.) I was diagnosed in 1993 when I was seven-and-one-half months pregnant. It was devastating for me. Since 1989 I had been getting tested because of the talk about HIV and AIDS, and because of my own promiscuousness. Since every test I took from 1989 to 1992 was negative, I thought I was in the clear. So when I found out I was positive I was angry at myself and God, because I couldn't do anything about it. I was powerless; it was too late to get an abortion and I felt like my life was over. Any dreams or goals I had set were gone. Most importantly, my baby was going to have AIDS and not live to become a man or a woman, and it was my fault.

I remember the doctor telling me that there was a 75% chance that my baby would be negative; all I focused on was the 25% chance of the baby being positive. At birth, my son was 7 pounds, 15 1/2 oz., and because any baby born from an HIV-positive mother will have the mother's antibodies, he was HIV-positive. However, at 18 months my son converted from HIV-positive to HIV-negative. He's now three years old, beautiful, healthy, 48 pounds, and negative. The God of my understanding is truly wonderful and merciful. I want women to have hope about being HIV-positive and that's the reason I'm writing this.

Don't allow doctors or nurses or health care providers to treat you differently or with no respect because you're HIV-positive. When I was pregnant in 1993, the doctor I was seeing was inconsiderate, incompetent, and had no compassion for HIV patients. My T-cell count was 127 at that time, and I remember asking her whether this meant I now had AIDS, because I read that anyone with a T-cell count under 200 is classified as having AIDS. She said to talk to one of the counselors after we were done and then said in a very cold voice, "Look, your T-cells are 127, you have to take something! AZT, ddI, d4T, what do you want to take?"

When I asked her to explain about the drugs, how they worked and the side-effects, she responded in a raised voice, "I don't have time to explain these things you're going to take! I have to see other patients!"

I was in tears when I walked out of that office, feeling scared and very depressed. The doctor had treated me horribly. Not knowing whether my baby was going to have AIDS made the last two months of my pregnancy a living hell. When I was in labor, the hospital health care providers acted like I had a contagious disease. They didn't want to touch me. I caught a fever, my blood pressure went up; I kept vomiting and urinating on myself, and they never even changed my gown, just put dry sheets on top of the wet ones. I wouldn't treat an animal the way they treated me. I heard all the whispers in the hallway: "Yeah, she's the one who's HIV-positive," and "How could she have let herself get pregnant knowing she's so sick?"

Back in 1993 I had no support group, no one to whom I felt I could talk. After that hospital stay I decided I wasn't going to just lay down and die, and I wasn't going to allow anyone to treat me like that ever again. I joined a support group and started talking to other people with the virus. That support group gave me hope, and in turn I wanted to make sure that other women wouldn't go through what I experienced. I wanted to let them know they have the right to have a baby despite being HIV-positive, and that no one should put them down because of that choice. I had no choice when I found out I was HIV-positive in my last trimester of pregnancy, but if I had found out earlier I still might have chosen to keep my son. The key word is "choice." No one should try to talk you into an abortion because you're HIV-positive. Women have a constitutional right to make their own decisions regarding their pregnancies.

In my future columns, I'll talk about: (1) encouraging people with HIV/AIDS to network; (2) political and psychological issues specific to women living with HIV/AIDS; (3) clinical trials, and a whole lot more. If there's anything you'd like me to talk about, please write! Also, I would like to hear from HIV-positive pregnant women and mothers whether you are still treated today the way I was treated four years ago.

Nina Brown is an HIV/AIDS Peer Health Educator, AIDS activist, and speaker for the Hyacinth Foundation. She and her four sons live in New Jersey.

Back to the April 97 Issue of Body Positive Magazine.

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This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.
See Also
What Did You Expect While You Were Expecting?
HIV/AIDS Resource Center for Women
More Personal Accounts of Becoming Pregnant With HIV