This Positive Life: An Interview With Shana Cozad
March 17, 2011
Is your daughter HIV negative?
She is HIV negative. My husband is HIV negative. He's been tested regularly.
Shana, with her family, at a recent trip to the emergency room.
The pregnancy was amazing. I knew within two weeks of being pregnant that I was carrying a girl. And I knew that she was going to be a powerhouse. When you see a mom that's glowing when she's pregnant, that's what happened to me. I was completely just glowing when I was pregnant with her. It was all her. It wasn't just me being good at being pregnant. It was her. It was the energy of her. And that's exactly how she is today. She's a formidable little girl. She's an amazing force to be reckoned with. She knows exactly what she wants. She knows what she wants to do and what to be. She has her life set and planned out. [Laughs.] She's a little Aries.
The pregnancy went well, and the birth process; I was allowed to have her naturally. I did not have to have a Cesarean section. Right after her birth, she was given six weeks of liquid-dispensed prophylactic HIV medications, which also helped reduced her risks. She was not breastfed. She was formula-fed, so that was not a risk for her.
As long as labor is fast and as long as it's not intense, fast labors are completely safe and completely fine and OK. It's when labors go on, when they're long and the mother is strained and the baby is strained, that's when risk factors are increased as far as mother-to-child transmission.
How long was your labor?
You have your oldest child, your son, and you have your daughter Danica. Do you have any other children?
Yes. Danica was born in April of 2001; and then, because my sister and I had such an incredible relationship with my sister growing up, and loved having a sister, I wanted Danica to have a sister. So we figured out that, when you engage in sex and then you have a condom filled with sperm, it doesn't take rocket science to figure out once he's done and taken the condom off, you simply reverse it inside out and you can inseminate yourself and voila, you are a pregnant woman again. He has not been exposed and you have succeeded in the process of gathering the necessary components. [Laughs.] And so in December of 2002, we had Mallory. She is also HIV negative.
So the same doctor who said, "I have to tell you you're going to be dead in five years" was the doctor who was in tears and filled with joy when I walked into the clinic for my quarterly checkup with my second baby.
Danica, James and Mallory.
One of the other unique things is that when a women's body is pregnant and carrying that life, her immune system surges. All of her systems surge. You grow more hair and nails. Just everything is kicked up a notch. When I was first pregnant, I had about 100 to 125 T cells. My T-cell count had dropped from the time I was first diagnosed, from 189, and at one point it had dropped all the way as low as 11. I literally had zero percent of an immune system. When medications came along, I was able to get up to about 100 to 125, but never more than that. But when I got pregnant, they went up to 500. So I credit being able to get my immune system back to Danica. She gave me my immune system back.
I don't know if her body trained my body. I don't know if it's just the process of what happens to a woman's body, that all of a sudden your body has to remember how to have an immune system, I don't know. But now I'm anywhere between the high 400s to the low 600s.
Amazing. Is your viral load undetectable now?
My viral load has been undetectable for 10 years.
Are you taking HIV meds now?
I also take Singulair [montelukast], Zyrtec [cetirizine], Claritin [loratadine], Paxil [paroxetine] and Prozac [fluoxetine]. So three HIV medications, three allergy medications and two antidepressants.
Do you have private insurance?
Nope, I was deemed disabled in 1997, which was following a whole series of pneumonias and the surgery and all the opportunistic infections. That's what really led my doctor to say, "OK, that's it. I know you're fighting the fight and your heart is in it. You're doing well. You feel great. However, your body's falling apart left and right. So we're making the formal recommendation for you to have disability. You will get social security and you will get Medicare. That will cover you for hospitals, doctors and 100 percent of your medications."
I have gotten off disability and gone to work three times over the years. I'm now in the process of my fourth time getting off disability and going to work.
What are you going to be doing?
Well, it's going to be dependent upon how much work I can establish for myself. Currently, I'm working for a day spa. One of the things that I had done before I left California was I went through a massage school and got my training in Esalen-style massage, which is very similar to Swedish. I've used it off and on over the years, but it was never something I had specifically set out as a career. It was just always sort of something I would fall back on, if needed. And it's not at all the type of little back-alley-with-a-happy-ending type of massage. It's professional, therapeutic, stress-relieving massage.
I've worked for health departments and I've had prevention educator jobs. I've done lots and lots of work in the HIV community. In this state, the last job that I had was working for the health department. I was actually quite quickly burnt out because HIV education here in this state is about 20 years behind.
What sorts of things you do to keep healthy, besides staying adherent to your meds and engaging with Native American culture and rituals?
Because I know I have such an aggressive virus and I know that I have to adhere to my medications, I've also learned that what works for me and my body in order to truly feel a sense of health is I eat organic. I utilize a lot of body work, as much as I can schedule -- massage, Reiki, Trager work. I love Chinese acupuncture. There are some Chinese medicines that are also very good. I also do chiropractic care and make sure my spine is in good alignment so that nerve endings to my organs are not cut off. I do reflexology.
I still go to my women's groups and I'm still an active part of my HIV community. Those are my people. So the AIDS walks, World AIDS Days, all the community-level organizations that are grassroots are things that are very helpful for me.
How do you think having HIV has changed you?
It has changed every part of my being. HIV has changed my understanding of being a woman. It has changed my understanding of being a partner in a relationship. It has changed how I parent, how I'm a mother to my children. It's changed how I see my social responsibility to the community, to the world at large.
This is something that was profound that happened to me. I'm not going to sit quietly at home and just not do anything about it. We know that there does not have to be another single person to be infected because of lack of education or lack of resources. So the more that people have access to the education and the more that they know where to go for testing and the more that they are exposed to what HIV/AIDS looks like and know what it's like to live with this, if that helps communities, then I'm doing my job. This has impacted me spiritually at my core because I've had to address, between me and creator, my need and my desire to live. There isn't an area of my life that I can say it hasn't touched. It's incorporated in every part of my being.
Shana, thank you so much for taking the time to share your story.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Read Shana's blog, Mother Earth, on TheBody.com.