Teniecka Drake: Balancing HIV Advocacy, a Husband and Three Young Children
March 7, 2011
Teniecka Drake has been busy lately! She was known as Teniecka Hannah back in 2007, when she was first interviewed on TheBody.com. At that time, she was between relationships, and focused on helping her peers by sharing her story of living with HIV with audiences at high schools and universities, and encouraging them to make HIV testing a part of their lives. Now, four years after that interview, Teniecka's approaching the 10-year anniversary of her HIV diagnosis. She's also gotten married (hence the "Drake") and given birth to two daughters and a son. I caught up with Teniecka recently, and she shared her experiences with pregnancy and birth; caring for her children while going to school and working in the HIV community; and maintaining a strong family unit without the support of extended family members.
Teniecka Drake, welcome back to TheBody.com! Your last interview with us was in April 2007. It seems that there have been a bunch of new developments in your life. Do you want to talk about some of that?
Yes. I'm recently married, in 2008; and I also have three children. One is 2 years old, and that's my oldest daughter. My son is 1 years old. And my newest little girl is going to be 5 months this month.
How did you meet your husband?
Well, the story I gave other people, like my family members -- it's all going to be coming out now -- was that I met him at Walmart, because he was a truck driver. But the real way we met was on a chat line where you can meet people and interact on the phone. From there, we figured out where we could meet in person. I dissed him really badly in the beginning. I didn't like his appearance, so I kind of shunned him.
I told him at the beginning that I wasn't interested in looks and appearance. But when I saw him -- he was going through a divorce -- he was so skinny and frail. It looked like I could break him, because I'm more of a thick type of female. His appearance looked so shallow and shabby to me! In my mind, I was like, "I just don't think you're the one for me." My girlfriend was with me and I said, "You need to get me out of this situation. It doesn't feel good for me. I don't like the way he looks." So we came up with a little plan to escape.
He called me the next morning and said, "Are you sure that's what you want to do?" Because we'd had plans to go out to dinner and the movies, and I'd just blown him off.
When he called, I was like, "What am I doing? I told you it wasn't based on appearance and that I had moved away from that, but I judged you on appearance. And I'm so sorry for that."
He was living in Aurora at the time. I had to drive up there to compensate for him coming down here and me blowing him off. The rest is history.
How did you disclose your HIV status to him? How did that come up? How did he react at first?
I went about it in a very unique way. When dealing with HIV, you don't just disclose to anybody, because of all the stigma and how people may view you. So what I did -- and I did it early on just to know what type of man I was dealing with -- is I asked him, "Do you know about the rapper Eazy-E?" He was like, "Yes. What about that rapper?" I was like, "And do you know the illness that he died of?" "Yeah, he died of AIDS." And I said, "Well, I have something similar to what that rapper was diagnosed with." He said, "AIDS?" I said, "No. The virus part. I have HIV. I'm HIV positive."
He didn't say anything. He took a little pause. Then he said, "OK." And I said, "Well, how does that make you feel? You're trying to get to know me. We're new. And I do have this illness. You're going to have to deal with it if you're going to be with me."
He just told me flat out, "I accept you for who you are. That does not change that I'm still going to be with you." And then he said, "We're going to be married, anyway." And that was very early on.
I almost started crying. I said, "Don't play games with me. Because telling me that you're going to marry me when I've got HIV, that just sounds like you're just trying to make yourself look good."
He said, "No. I accept you for who you are regardless of your HIV status. I still feel we have that connection. And you will be my wife. Watch what I say." Here, today, that came true.
Pregnancy and birth can be really intense experiences for moms in general; how were pregnancy and birth for you, with all three of your children?
They were all different. When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I didn't really think much of it. I got little cravings for pickles and ice cream -- not together! I would just need tons of pickles and everything, but I didn't have a problem with the cravings.
But then the pain part, which I'm pretty sure any woman who has been pregnant can understand: The pain of the contractions and things are not fun. But I still was just really elated that I was even pregnant. Because I never thought, from when I was diagnosed till when I actually was pregnant, that I would even have a child, let alone be pregnant and have a husband that was going to be the father of my child.
I had a C-section [Cesarean section] with her, but it was an emergency C-section. They put me totally under, so I do not remember her. I just remember the doctor saying, "Hey, you had a beautiful girl." I was like, "Yeah," because I was drugged up.
Why the emergency C-section? Were you ever given an option between a C-section and vaginal birth, or was a C-section the only option for having your babies because of your HIV status?
For my first child, my doctor wanted me to do a vaginal delivery. That was the plan, but my body and the baby changed that. My body started to go into labor the night before she was born. My daughter was born June 13 and her due date was July 2. In the hospital, I was given an AZT [Retrovir, zidovudine] drip. When my labor contractions started, my viral load also spiked. I was told it jumped to 1,500, so I had to have an emergency C-section.
My HIV status did not make my doctor perform a C-section. My thoughts on it are that the woman or couple should have the choice. If a vaginal delivery is what you want, do it. If a C-section is preferred, do that. For me, my body and the baby made my choice for me. At the end of the day, you want to do what is right to have a healthy baby and to be a healthy mother.
With my second child, my son, I was going into labor when he broke my water. And so that was another emergency C-section, because he wanted to come out. That was a different, unique experience, because I had Flight for Life [the emergency helicopter transport organization take me to the hospital]. Then, in the hospital, they couldn't find my veins -- these people that deal with emergencies had both of my hands, trying to find my veins. And here comes the anesthesiologist. Meanwhile, my mom's in the room talking about some weird movie, Blazing Saddles, that I didn't want to hear about. I was like, "Why are you guys all in this room?"
The doctor's not even prepared, because he got called out of his bed to come. He was like, "Every time I come back into the room, you're contracting even faster." Nobody had the operating room open because it was not planned.
When [things were finally ready,] I was really happy. Everything went smoothly after that. I remember him being born. He didn't even cry, because he was around a lot of ladies. I was like, "Is the baby OK?" And my husband said, "Yeah. He's over there taking a nice bath, and all these pretty women are around him, so he's not crying." And I was like, "Well, OK, that's good."
When my last daughter was born, it was a unique experience because it went kind of badly, a little bit, for me. The C-section was fine and she came out healthy. But the hospital was going off of some old viral load test results showing that my viral load had increased; they thought my viral load had spiked at that time. They thought, because of that old test, that I would be a danger to my own daughter if I coughed or something. They said they needed to monitor my daughter a little more thoroughly. They didn't have my most recent test result, which showed my virus was undetectable. They were going off an old one that said I had, like, 92 copies of the virus in my blood.
They told me I could not see my daughter or hold her. Plus, she had a little bit of a respiratory problem. They kept her away from me and they put her into intensive care for infants. When I did go to see her, they had me put on gloves and a robe to touch my own child, which really made me upset.