Personal Perspective: My Babies and Me
I found out I was positive in 1994 when I tried to sell my blood. I thought this was an easy way to get extra cash and help others at the same time. I never would have guessed what I was about to learn.
A grave-looking doctor gave me the news. A million thoughts rushed through my head. I couldn't breathe, or even think. Before that second, I had believed that all people with HIV should go to an island somewhere to prevent others from getting it. Now I had it. The doctor encouraged me to get a second opinion, then gave me a pamphlet of referrals. I went home, closed myself in my room, and cried for hours. How could I tell my family? My boyfriend? My child?
I called one of the health clinics from the referral sheet to schedule an appointment. It was torture waiting for the test results. I kept telling myself it was some sort of horrible mistake. When the news was delivered, it was too much for me and I broke down.
I was consoled with a strong hug and given a flyer with some numbers for support groups. There wasn't anything specially geared for someone hearing the news for the first time, and there was only one support group specifically for women. I had so many questions. How long was I going to live? When would I get all skinny and skeletal? When would I get AIDS? How contagious is it? Do I need a will? Who will take care of my son? Does he have it? What about my boyfriend? I felt my needs and questions could best be answered by the women's support group.
When I went to my first support meeting I had a notepad with questions, and the women were very kind and patient and answered every one of them. There was a library of materials, including videos and books explaining the disease to children. I grabbed all I could carry and spent three days going over the information. I looked for other support groups and services, but they were all geared toward gay white men and people in recovery. There was barely anything written about or for straight women, and nothing at all for black women.
When I met my doctor to go over my treatment and schedule an appointment to test my son, I got another shock: I was pregnant! The doctor asked when I wanted to schedule the pregnancy termination -- just like that! When I hesitated, he said, "You aren't planning on having the baby!? It will die!" I scheduled the appointment in tears, got the prescription for my medicines, and left. I went to a support group meeting to see how the others dealt with this issue.
When I shared what the doctor had said, the room went berserk! The women told me that there was a good chance that I could deliver a healthy baby if I started my medicines right away. I was ecstatic and furious at the same time! What if I hadn't gone to the support group and went to the appointment?! I was relieved and worried to know that I didn't have to abort my baby and that I could know the joys of pregnancy again. I was only 22 years old -- pretty young to learn you will never have another baby.
The women were very warm and offered all the peer support I could dream of. We discussed how to deal with the side effects of the medicines I was going to be taking. We talked about dealing with the psychological and emotional issues around the disease from a female perspective, and disclosure. I was still coming to grips myself and needed time to decide how and when I told my family. But I had to tell my partner I was positive and pregnant.
That was so hard to do. I really felt like my boyfriend and I had a magical connection and that he would be the man I would grow old with. I would have loved to share the joy of raising a child with him instead of telling him there is a good chance I will be dead in five years. I was already a widow. My husband had died a few years earlier after complications from a motorcycle accident and a flu-like cold.
I met my boyfriend after work and told him that we needed to go our separate ways. I told him I was positive and had just found out I was pregnant, but there wasn't anyone else. I told him he needed to get tested for the virus. We went over how the virus is spread, and about having a healthy baby even if the mother is infected. He said he loved me and wasn't going anywhere. I was dazed. It never dawned on me that he would even consider it. I helped him find an anonymous testing center and tried to help prepare him for testing positive.
We went to the same clinic where I had my terrible news and prepared for the worst. He came out with a frown and told me he tested negative. I was very surprised, and a little resentful. I felt horrible that I really was alone in this battle, but relieved that he didn't pass it to me.
When the baby came, the first test was positive like we expected, but the next tests came back negative. The pregnancy was a little much on my body and immune system, so we postponed the planned surgery to get my reproductive organs severed. I was given a bag of condoms and shots to prevent pregnancy and left the program after six months.
So here I was, 23 years old, with a steady boyfriend, a four-year-old, and a newborn, and I was the only one with the virus. I didn't get to breastfeed, but it was a small sacrifice to have a healthy baby. I became active in the HIV community, going to schools to discuss HIV prevention, and I started a support group for HIV-positive women of color. I got a job at the mall.
Then one day I was unable to button my pants. A coworker joked that perhaps I was pregnant. I laughed and said, "That's impossible. I always use a condom, and besides I'm ..." and I caught myself. I stammered that I am on the shots which prevent pregnancy.
Nevertheless I went to get a pregnancy test on my lunch break and was told I was indeed pregnant. I had cheated the odds last time and I didn't want to press my luck. I prayed that if this baby was healthy, I'd get the surgery whatever the costs.
Now my boys are 16, 12, and 9. All are healthy and HIV negative and my boyfriend is now my husband of eight years. He is negative as well. I got my tubes tied as I promised and have no regrets.
This article was provided by AIDS Community Research Initiative of America. It is a part of the publication ACRIA Update. Visit ACRIA's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.