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Marcya Owens

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Marcya Owens

Marcya with her daughter Mariama. Mariama was born before Marcya met her husband Roy. If it weren't for Mariama, in fact, Marcya may never have gotten to know Roy; when the two met, he and Mariama hit it off immediately. Mariama, who was born HIV negative, means "Gift of God" in Swahili.

How long did you and Roy date before you got married?

We dated for a little over two years. After we met at the church singles picnic, he helped me with my business plan for ROSE. He had a computer, I did not, so we worked at his mother's house. When we met he had just graduated from Oakwood College with a B.A. in theology. We dated over the summer, and at the end of that summer I boarded a plane for a business trip, and he loaded up a U-Haul bound for Miami to begin his new job as a teacher for a Christian academy. The remainder of our dating years were through a long-distance relationship until just before we married.

How did he react when you first told him about your HIV/herpes status?

I knew that I cared about him, but that my heart would recover if he didn't accept me. Recently we spoke at a high school in South Georgia, and he said that telling him earlier in the relationship was the best way to disclose. At the time I disclosed, his response was that no matter what it was -- cancer, multiple sclerosis, or any other disease -- he would not let me go. His feelings were that if we were really meant for each other and we allowed HIV or herpes to come between that union, then we'd be the biggest losers. Not his exact words, but that's what I can recall.

Your husband was a minister. What impact did that have on your relationship -- not just in terms of your HIV status, but also in terms of your bringing a child into the marriage?

I sometimes believe that he was denied the opportunity to do any real work in the ministry because of me. The church does not look fondly on either situation, and at times I wonder if it's because most people would have a hard time having a first lady of the church who is HIV positive. I know other ministers who married women with children who were born out of wedlock, but I know of none who married women who also had HIV. Roy says that he's respected by his peers for making the choice that he did.

How did you and Roy come to the decision to have a child together?

I've always wanted to have two or three children. I met Rebecca Denison [founder of Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Diseases (WORLD)] at the National Women's Conference in Pasadena in 1997 and saw her twins. Meeting them motivated me that it was possible to have a second child -- but not without a husband. Roy and I talked about having children while we dated. He wanted three more. I wanted only one more -- my first pregnancy and delivery was awful -- so we agreed on two more. When we made the decision my viral load was undetectable and my CD4 count was over 600. It appeared that my health would be strong enough to handle a pregnancy, so we went for it right after getting married.

How were the precautions -- doctor's visits, medicines, lifestyle changes -- you took during your second pregnancy different from those you took for Mariama five years earlier?

With my first pregnancy we knew very little about prevention of perinatal transmission. The primary prevention we used was very good prenatal care. With my second pregnancy I knew that I would take a drug cocktail and that I also had the choice of a C-section. As far as other lifestyle changes, I've always lived a very healthy lifestyle, so no major changes were required. Although, I did have more doctor visits with an obstetrician -- not much different then most pregnant women.

I also had a very severe adverse reaction to one of my drugs during my second pregnancy, which caused my liver enzymes to elevate ten times higher than normal range during my second trimester. There was no harm to my son. In my third trimester I went into pre-term labor six weeks early, and was placed on bed rest with medication to stop the contractions. With several trips back and forth to the hospital this worked for two weeks. My water broke with a slow leak on Mother's Day, four weeks before my due date. Omavi was born on Mother's Day, weighing seven pounds, three ounces. By the time his actual due date came around he weighed ten pounds.

Any more kids in your future?

No!

Tell me about your daughter and son.

Mariama is 12. She really challenges me; she's so bright and so wise. She has actually come with me a few times when I've given presentations. One time she asked a guy whether he had male or female partners. Another time she told a woman she saw smoking during the presentation that she should stop, that it wasn't good for her. At church, she's often asked to do things that only older kids do. She can memorize things like you wouldn't believe. The pastor asked her to stand up and read the scriptures at Church one Saturday. She memorized the whole thing.

What does she want to be when she grows up?

Everything from being a "mommy" to a policeman or the President. She has incredible ambition, which is one of her greatest weaknesses and her greatest strengths. She amazes me with how assertive she can be in requesting what she wants.

How about your son?

He just constantly makes me laugh. He's seven years old now. One of his favorite games is to play hide and seek, which is not a good game to play in a parking lot!

You must have completely freaked out!

I did! It scared me to death. One minute he'll be there and the next minute he's gone. His first name, Omavi, is Swahili for "the most high," and his middle name is Ngozi, which means "blessing" in Ibo, a Nigerian language. He was my little neat freak. You wouldn't have believed it. He picked up his toys when he was done playing. When he finished eating, most of the time he'd bring his dishes to the sink. He's no longer a neat freak, though; now we affectionately call him "El Destruckto."

Do your kids know that you're positive?

Yes. Mariama has always known. We talk about it at home, but I had to tell her not to talk about it at school. The school is great, but it's a Christian private school, so I don't want her to have to deal with stuff with the other kids. Though she and my mother did bring the book My Grandmother Has AIDS to school and read it to the class, and we got the school to give a copy to every kid.

Have you always been such an activist?

Definitely! When I was in college I was on the student government. The first term I was a senator, and the second term I got elected as the senator-at-large without even campaigning. People just knew I could get stuff done. I modeled. I ran on the track team.

My mother was probably my first example of true activism. As a battered wife she left my father when I was two years old and divorced him shortly later. She has taught me how to advocate for what is right, no matter how simple or big it may appear to others. It is not a question of being liked or disliked, it is a matter of right and wrong. My first "act" of activism was during high school in Ohio, when a group of us junior and senior girls started calling ourselves the B.R.O.N.X. Girls. We were like a sorority, but one of our goals was to look out for and support the underclassmen and underdogs. Many of us in that group had experienced negative treatment from other classmates when we were the underdogs. We became one of the most popular groups on campus.

I think the death of my best friend in college made me even more of an activist, though. He was so incredible; we had such a great friendship. He died in a car accident, and it was so devastating. He had such a temper, and now I've got it.

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