Teniecka Drake: Balancing HIV Advocacy, a Husband and Three Young Children
March 7, 2011
Was this the same hospital where you had given birth to your other kids, and was it the same doctor? Or was it different people you were dealing with?
With my first daughter, I actually delivered on a military base installation; but with my son, I did deliver at that same exact hospital. And I had the same pediatrician that I had for my son. That's why I was a little taken aback and puzzled. Like, why is this happening now? When I had my son, I was laboring and water broke, and yet they were not like this then. I was able to touch him. I was able to see him. They did not take him away then. I would think, for his situation, it would have been, "Let's watch, because the water broke. Let's see if any membranes burst, or anything like that."
But this was a totally different thing. There was no emergency. She came at the time she was supposed to be due, which was on the 27th of September. She came at the exact time and there were no issues.
I had to call some other people to help me with this. I said, "I've never had this happen to me, where I can't touch my own child." Then I found out, after I went through all of that, that they were basing that off of an old test. There was nothing wrong. I should have been able to see my daughter. I was like, "You guys didn't even update your records to find out that those weren't correct. That was incorrect information. You guys didn't have up-to-date information."
The worst part of my pregnancy and birth was when I couldn't even hold my own baby. They took her from me, and it was at least a good two days before it was OK for me to see and touch her. It was really heart-wrenching at the time. I was glad that when they were done with what they were doing, I could actually have her in my room. But she's still healthy. And I'm just glad that portion is over.
Your other two children are confirmed HIV negative. Is this newest little girl still within the period in which she'll need to be tested to confirm that she's HIV negative?
When is the date that you'll find out for sure?
We're going to do her lab testing in March. She was tested in the hospital, and that one was negative, but they always have to follow up. I'm really not worried about it, because I was undetectable throughout [my pregnancy and] her birth. I was taking my pills, doing what I needed to do, eating healthy and all of that. Plus, [during delivery,] they gave me the AZT drip on top of my medications.
What did you do to keep healthy while you were pregnant?
What I did was just be natural, eating a lot of fruits and vegetables. Because I don't eat that many vegetables, I overloaded on fruits. I would overload on tangerines, oranges, strawberries, leafy greens -- whatever I could find. I was using a little bit of yogurt sometimes. I was using whole grain bread, and making sure to at least drink a glass of milk, because it's easy for me to just grab a glass and drink it. Just little, simple things that I knew I could do for the baby to be healthy.
Even the doctor noticed. He was saying I was losing weight. I was like, "Well, I'm not exercising." And he was like, "You're not, but you are eating healthy." And he said, "I know you're doing this because of the baby, but after the baby, you need to continue to do this so you can be a grandmother to the grandkids that will come from these children. You want to be around! It's awesome you're doing that because you're pregnant, but don't forget to do that same healthy bingeing that you're doing to get the baby the vitamins and nutrients for yourself."
He was right. I'm actually slacking now, because there's no baby. But I'm still trying to maintain something. At least if I can get an apple, I'll know I'm eating something nutritious.
The first time you interviewed on TheBody.com, you mentioned that you didn't get much support from your family after your diagnosis. Has that changed at all in recent years? You mentioned that your mom was involved in your second labor and birth. Is your family involved in your life in a different way, especially now that you have kids?
Well, my family: They are my family, and I wouldn't ever want to say anything bad about them, but they've moved to California and I'm here in Colorado. The only person I have here is my grandmother, and we've been kind of on the rocks, anyhow. My mother was here for my son's birth because she is a federal employee, and she just happened to be coming to Colorado Springs for a conference. He wasn't supposed to be here; he came early and she just happened to be here during that time.
I don't converse much with them. I've spoken to my brother and my younger sister. My other sister, I kind of don't mess with. They're don't ask, don't tell. And since I don't communicate with them that often, we don't really have any support from my family that way. It's gotten a little worse, not so much better. I'm not really worried about it. So, support-wise, it's just me and my husband.
What about your husband's family? Are they involved at all?
No. He and I have the same family dynamic. I've never met his mother. I've been married to this man almost three years, and I've never met her. She's only seen my children in pictures; she might have also gotten a glance at whatever pictures I have posted up on Facebook. But she doesn't know me. We don't speak and I've never met her. His brother lives in Washington, and he's not been a part of this family. He doesn't really care. He's all about himself.
So we just try to keep our family intimate and close, between my husband and me. If we have any issues, we just make sure that we bring it back and try to remember that we are all we have. If we have any arguments, sometimes I sit down and remember that I don't have my family to run to. And that they could care less. So I really need to do what I've got to do to make sure my own family stays focused, and stays together.
How do you find yourself resolving conflicts with your husband when they come up? Do you have any tips?
When we get into serious arguments, when they get really hot and heated, and I don't want to let it go, I want to keep pushing my issue to the point that maybe fists and things will start to fly -- not that I want that to happen -- but when it gets really hot like that, I have learned that I need to remove myself from that situation, and stop trying to voice what I want to say in the argument. Because nobody's going to hear anything. I'm going to be yelling. He's just going to be ignoring me, which makes me really upset.
So I just remove myself. And since I have online classes, and I have to check e-mails and stuff, I'll go upstairs to the computer room and do things on the computer just to remove myself from that situation so I don't cause any more problems, or anything like that. I've found that by leaving my husband alone, he'll actually come up when he's calmed down, and start poking at me and saying, "What's wrong with you? Why you being mean?" Then we start giggling and laughing again.
Giving ourselves that space -- five or 10 minutes just to cool down, relax and get our composure back -- I find works a lot better for us.
How do you think being a mom has changed you, if at all?
I think it's made me a better person. It makes me want my children to have the family dynamic that I don't think I have now. I don't want them to grow up to be adults who do not think that they can come to their mom and dad because we don't want to have any dealings with them. I want them to be able to have the love and everything that I think I might have missed out on. The relationship my mom and I don't have -- I want to feel that relationship with my daughters, and for them to be able to come and talk to me about whatever they're going through -- if they're having man troubles or if there's anything that they want to know about, like my HIV. I don't want to keep any secrets from them. I want to be open with them and not have them fear me, or just think flat-out that their mother doesn't care about what's going on in their life.
I want to change the way I treat my children and learn from what I had to deal with, and just change to make them better people, make them what I was not.
I'm going to nurture them. I'm just going to keep doing that until they're adults. I want to be able to accept their husbands, or their girlfriend. I want to be able to accept them and not shun them because of their choices in life. I just want to keep loving them and let them know that: "Your mom's here, regardless of whatever choices, bad or good, that you make. I'm going to be here unconditionally. I'm not just going to leave you stranded out there to fend for yourself." That's not the impression I want to put on them.
Have you come across any challenges that relate specifically to raising kids as an HIV-positive mom?
When I got diagnosed, it was a wake-up call. So, every time I feel like I'm getting mad at my children, I just remember the reason they're here, and why I wanted to have children. I didn't want to have them just to have them; I was really excited to have children. HIV plays into that because I thought that, being HIV positive, I would not have someone who would accept me enough to actually put himself in jeopardy to have some kids with me. And now I have three! So that always plays a part.
I look at them every day and think, "You're not HIV positive; you guys are healthy. There's nothing wrong with you guys. You are not on oxygen. You guys aren't needing anything. Nothing came out wrong. You guys are just healthy children."
If they do something wrong, sometimes it hurts me to even tell them, "No, don't do that," because of that passion and that compassion that I have for them. It just changed me. The way I try to discipline my children or try to talk to them is so different from someone who says, "Hey, I lay down and had a kid; it was by accident," and who is not HIV positive.
They weren't a mistake to me. And the HIV, I think, makes me a better person to understand that life's fragile. You only get one chance at it. So I'm going to do whatever I have to do to stay healthy to survive, and be around for them to graduate from high school and college, and get married. I don't want the HIV to put a stop to that. It helps me to make sure that I take care of myself so that I will be around for them, for the years that will be coming up.
Has having a family changed your level of openness about your HIV status?
I think it always depends on the situation and the circumstance. I always use discretion [in my personal, one-on-one interactions with people]. I just watch who I speak to -- because I do have a family, and my husband sometimes doesn't feel comfortable with people knowing my status. It's not even him; he just doesn't want people looking at me funny, or this and that.
I just try to keep in mind that whoever I'm speaking to, I need to be doggone sure that I would like that person to know that intimate part of me. That's something really personal that you want to not disclose to everyone. People can use that against you, or they can use it to go and spread gossip that's not even true. So I've let a few people that I've gotten close to as friends know my status. They haven't said anything, or looked at me funny, or treated me in any different way.
Only certain people that I trust wholeheartedly, and that I know wouldn't do me wrong, should I disclose that to. I don't go out [in my day-to-day life] and just blab it to the world: "Hey, look at me!" Because there are people that would gun you down in the middle of the street, and there are the hate crimes and stuff like that. I have children and, like I said, I want to be around for them. So I want to use every discretionary measure to make sure that I'm doing right by disclosing to certain people. And then, at certain times, not opening my mouth and keeping that private.
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