Full Circle: One Woman's Story
Special Positive Parenting Section
For me, deciding to have a baby will always be wrapped up in finding out my HIV status. When my husband and I decided we were ready to start a family, he suggested I get an HIV test. (He had already had one before we got married and was negative.) I was annoyed at the suggestion, as I thought I was never at risk and didn't need to take the test.
After thinking about it some more, I went ahead and on December 17, 1992 we got the news that I was positive. (My husband was still negative, thankfully.) My diagnosis was the end of life as we knew it. Everything changed and we thought our luck had run out. We both expected that I would get sick within a few years and die. We concentrated on dealing with the news and put aside the idea of having a child.
But the desire to have a child would not go away. I went to a workshop on women and HIV and the speaker (who was a nurse) said that just because a woman was HIV positive, she did not give up the right to have a baby. This was a revelation to me. I couldn't believe that someone was saying that it was okay to think about having kids in my condition.
My husband and I started talking about it again. I remember thinking that if I could just give him a baby, it would be a piece of me he could have forever, even if I was no longer around.
My husband felt we should go ahead, but after agonizing over the decision, I felt I couldn't go through with it. This was before AZT was used to reduce transmission and the risk of my passing the virus to the baby was one in four. I felt it was wrong for me to take that chance. When I told my husband my decision, it was very difficult for him to accept.
Years went by and many of our HIV-positive friends had found ways of having children. One couple adopted, another used a surrogate mother, another used sperm washing (father was positive and mother was negative) and one couple had a child themselves. In all cases the babies were fine. Not having a baby ourselves was a huge hole in our lives. It was as if HIV had taken everything away from us.
By this time the results of the study showing that AZT reduced the risk of transmission were released, but I had already developed resistance to AZT. The protease inhibitors were coming out and I thought that I might be able to go on a combo containing one of them, bring my viral load down to undetectable and feel okay about getting pregnant.
I planned all this very carefully, got on a regimen that worked and started interviewing obstetricians. I was worried that they would all be judgmental. But I found a doctor who was wonderful. I remember walking out of my first appointment and saying to my husband, "She treated me like a normal woman." That's all I wanted. Just the fact that she was willing to accept me as a patient would have been enough, but she also was obviously a great doctor with a lot of experience with HIV positive pregnancies.
With all systems go, my husband and I got underway using artificial inseminations so as not to put him at risk. Believe me, the whole process with the turkey baster was not particularly romantic! After about three months I went for a viral load test and found out that my protease inhibitor regimen was not working. My viral load had gone up and I no longer felt safe trying to have a baby.
It seemed that every time we made some plans, they turned out to be built on a house of cards that came crashing down around us. I was very distraught. I didn't know what HIV drugs to take. I didn't know what drugs would still work for me. I remember lying in bed one night when my husband was away and thinking: I am completely alone -- no one can help me, no one can tell me what to do, no one knows the answers.
I eventually went on a double PI combo that brought my viral load down to undetectable and kept it there. After about six months on the new combination, we decided to try again. But when I started working with my obstetrician again, she told me I needed to see a fertility specialist. This was too much -- on top of everything else I found out I had a fertility problem.
The fertility specialist was also non-judgmental and she had no problems treating me even though I was HIV positive. Nonetheless, it was a real blow when I had to start on fertility drugs. It's a very expensive process that insurance did not cover. If it weren't for my parents, we would not have been able to afford it.
After several months I hadn't become pregnant and the doctor started me on stronger and more expensive fertility drugs. It was about $100 a day to buy those. We did it for a few months and felt we had to make a decision about what to do. I was 36 by then and time and money seemed to be running out.
I just couldn't face giving up, but my husband was starting to feel that it would never happen. I started accepting that we might never have a child and had just about convinced myself that it was all over. We gave ourselves one, or maybe two more cycles to try.
Then in March 2000, when the doctor inseminated me, I felt different right from the start. My husband and I both had a feeling that it was going to work this time. Sure enough, a few weeks later I went for the pregnancy test and it came back positive!
I have to say that because this decision was so difficult and such a long time in coming that once I actually got pregnant, I was not as worried as I thought I would be. After getting over the initial shock, I started to enjoy the pregnancy. Then we started seeing movement when I would go for sonograms. We saw the baby's heartbeat at week 10. That was amazing.
We started telling people after that and it was such a joy. Seven years earlier we had told everyone I was HIV positive and brought such devastating news to our family and friends. Now, we were able to go back and tell all those people who had stood by us and helped us that I was pregnant. It was as if we had come full circle in so many ways. My husband felt we were blessed for all we had been through. As I got larger, I started to enjoy the pregnancy even more. It was one of the happiest and most joyful times of my life. I felt it was very healing for us.
On December 3, 2000, our son arrived. We couldn't get over how tiny and perfect and precious he was. He was a winter baby. The first few months after he was born it was snowy and cold outside. All I wanted was to stay snug and warm in our little house with my little family. I had everything I had always wanted right here at home.
After a few months, we got the final HIV test results and found out our baby was negative! Although I hadn't really expected him to be infected, it was still a huge relief that we could stop worrying about it.
He got more beautiful as he got older. It has been truly amazing to watch him grow and develop physically and mentally. Time seems to stop and race ahead all at once. Each moment can be so intense and yet all the moments blur together and before we knew it, 2-1/2 years had passed!
We still find great pleasure in holding and kissing our son's warm, soft, sweet-smelling little body. But he is no longer our little baby. He has grown into a toddler with endless curiosity, energy, and desire to push the boundaries of his abilities and his world. Even though it is not always easy, I feel so lucky that I am a mom at last.
I hope I am here to watch my son grow up, graduate school, and go on to have a life and family of his own. But even if I am not, I will never regret what we went through to have him and will always be grateful that we have had the privilege of being parents to such a remarkable child.
Wendy Williams is a pseudonym.