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Sharon on Getting Sober and Getting Custody After an HIV Diagnosis

An Interview With Sharon Gambles -- Part of the Series This Positive Life

October 12, 2010

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So what year are we in? You were diagnosed in 1989. And when did this happen?

2001.

So it's a long, long time.

Yes.

"You know, I'm not the one that says I should have been dead, because I shouldn't have been dead. I really think that my higher power had a plan for me. This was his plan for me. It was for me to give back."

But you were really, really lucky.

Yes. You know, I'm not the one that says I should have been dead, because I shouldn't have been dead. I really think that my higher power had a plan for me. This was his plan for me. It was for me to give back, you know, what was given to me.

And I do love to give women hope, to let them know that I've walked the same walk you walk. And just try to empower them on that tip: We still can become who we are. We're just women who can empower and get their children back out of CPS, who can get a job, who can pay bills and be a responsible, productive member of society. I know, because I've walked that walk. So I try to encourage women, regardless of what's going on right now, today. Storms come and go, but they pass. That's something I do know about storms, is that they pass. And you can rebuild. You have the opportunity to rebuild around here.

How many years in the end were you incarcerated?

Three. But before then, I did a lot of County time, a lot of Santa Rita time. Before they even built the new Santa Rita; I was in the old Santa Rita.

Uh-huh. So let's turn to your daughter. Tell me the story of what happened after the hospital, the time she was in the hospital.

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So, yes. They told me I'd have to bring her back to Children's after 18 months. I heard it . . . but I didn't really hear it. So, three years, four years . . . by the time she turned five I had lost her to my mom. My mom took her. And I was concerned. I wasn't for sure. And I was always telling my mom, "Watch Karesha." That's my daughter's name -- Karesha. "Watch Karesha."

One time, I got clean enough to go back to Ann Petru, and I asked her what was going on with my baby. I said, "Ann, I wasn't clear. When you told me I had to bring my daughter back, what did you mean that I had to bring my daughter back?" She was like, "Sharon, your daughter is negative." Yeah. She came out my birth canal, which made her positive. But what happened. She thinks what happened between her being born and her, you know: she grew her own antibodies.

So, the fact is that 25 percent of children born to HIV-positive women [who are not on treatment] will be positive; so it's a small percentage. And all children born to HIV-positive women will test positive after they are born. But they can give them another test, or wait a year for the immune system of the child to be his or her own immune system.

That's what happened with my daughter. And so she's 20 years old; she's in college right now. And she's my best friend. I call her my miracle baby. Yeah. I got her back when she was 11. And I got my oldest son back when he was 13; and I got my little baby back when he was 5. So I got all three of my kids back in my life when I got clean. I've been working ever since I've been clean.

How many years is that, now?

"I have got my own place. I have my own car now. I have my own bank account. I'm in love with my kids. I'm an outgoing parent. You know, we bowl and we play, and stuff like that. Yeah. I'm just -- I'm grateful, I'm really grateful."

Eight. I've been clean eight years, going on nine. And I've been working ever since I've been clean, with my kids. I'm a grandmother. And I have got my own place. I have my own car now. I have my own bank account. I'm in love with my kids. I'm an outgoing parent. You know, we bowl and we play, and stuff like that. Yeah. I'm just -- I'm grateful, I'm really grateful.

I still have rocks in the road. And I think I need to make that clear. I'm not 100 percent adherent to my medication. I tell my girls that. So I don't force you to take something. I've been taking medications for a long time, and I have my moments where I'm, like, not today. And it has nothing to do with me thinking I don't want to live, or anything like that. It's just that I have my moments.

And I tell my doctor if I miss a dose. I don't miss a whole dose. I usually miss an evening dose, but I don't miss the whole day without taking my medication. That's not good, either; don't get me wrong. But I have my moments. So I don't push adherence on clients, if I'm not adherent. I don't push anything on my ladies that I'm not doing.

So you've learned a lot of techniques about how to deal with stress, and how to deal with adversity.

Yes. Yes. Yes. And I have to put myself on the front line at all times. You know, I have to take care of me first. There's no way I can do anything else unless I take care of Sharon first. And I am really clear on that. And I really do a real good job of taking care of me, even when things are going up and down, in relationships, or with the children at school, or whatever.

I always take a minute and I breathe. You know, I always do that. Because I don't want to go outside of myself and do something outside myself. That's serious. Just get to the solution, Sharon: what to do; make some phone calls; use your support system; make a phone call; see your therapist; you know, talk to somebody.

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