June 1, 1995 was the happiest day of my life. After two years of trying to have a baby, my husband and I had just found out that I was three months pregnant.
I had all of the standard tests run, as well as an ELISA test. I had no worries because I had donated blood in the past, and I had never tested positive.
On June 21, 1995, my world fell apart. My obstetrician called me at home and asked if my husband and I could come to his office as soon as possible. I thought he was going to tell me I had cervical cancer, because that was one of the two tests that hadn't come back yet. I bet you can guess what he told me.
When I realized I wasn't dreaming my next thought was that I was dying and there was nothing I could do about it. Then the thought of the child I was carrying came into my mind. I said to my doctor, "I want an abortion right now. I will not carry this child just to give it AIDS and watch it die."
He wouldn't do it. Instead he told me he'd taken the liberty of scheduling appointments at the Rand Schrader/5P21 Clinic and the Maternal Child Clinic. It was the best thing he ever could have done for me.
Two days later, I went to my first appointment at the Maternal Child clinic. I was amazed at the caring I found here. Not one doctor or nurse ever passed judgment on me or placed any blame. The people there were wonderful! They re-ran all of the tests my first ob/gyn ran and explained the benefits and risks of continuing my pregnancy. They gave me the odds of whether or not my child would be born HIV-positive and explained what drugs I would be taking during my pregnancy. My husband was also tested that same day.
My husband was diagnosed with full blown AIDS. We did some soul-searching and we both wanted to know what it was like to be parents. We decided to go ahead with the pregnancy.
Telling our families -- especially my father -- was the hardest part. Six years earlier, my father lost my mother to cancer. For him to find out his only child was also dying from a terminal disease devastated him. He ran the full emotional gamut, from denial to rage to fear and finally acceptance, although that took a while. He has been my rock of Gibralter. When I need a helping hand or someone to listen to me, he's there.
At the time, my husband and I were living with my mother-in-law. We didn't know how she was going to react when she heard the news. None of us had ever really dealt with HIV or AIDS. We told my mother-in-law that if she wanted us to leave we would because we didn't want to put her at risk. Her reaction was, "Well, if God means for me to get AIDS from you guys, then I already have it." She did not make us leave. She told us to stay, using the argument that I was pregnant and where were we going to go?
Something to celebrate
Our daughter was born in December 1995, one month premature. She spent one month in the hospital and was released in late January. The Lord God truly blessed us as she was diagnosed negative. We were given the last test results at 18 months and had a small family party to celebrate.
My faith in the Lord has gotten stronger since my diagnosis. I have always been able to pray to him when times were tough. Through all of the illnesses, side effects from the drugs, to when I was just feeling down, He has always been there. Some of my friends can't understand why I didn't blame God or stop believing in him, but my reaction has always been the same. I fell in love with a wonderful man, got married and then found out he had AIDS. We had no reason to believe he had the virus because he was not in any of the risk groups.
My faith in the Lord was so strong my husband and I decided to risk a second pregnancy, which was the pregnancy from hell. I was sick for seven of the nine months of pregnancy but delivered a full-term, healthy boy in October 1997. He is negative also. As I said before, we are truly blessed.
We have also been fortunate in the way our families and the few friends have reacted to our illness. The love and acceptance we have received from them has been incredible.
I have talked to some of the other patients at 5P21 and have heard some real horror stories about the ways they have been treated by their family and friends. For some, since diagnosis, have had little or no contact with their families.
Knowing my husband and I are PWAs, we have made certain arrangements, such as who will take care of our children in the event we get sick and are unable to take care of them, or if we die, making wills and living wills and deciding what kind of funeral we want. But I also feel any person who is a parent should make these arrangements in the event of their demise. After all, being a parent is all about responsibility.
Women who are HIV-positive or who have AIDS need to understand their lives don't end just because of their diagnosis. As long as they work at keeping themselves healthy, they can go on to marry, have children and live a long life.
Taking your meds, eating right and clean living are the best ways to remain healthy. Just ask me. I'm living proof.