Personal Perspective: A Hope For Our Son

Rica Rodriguez and husband

I was diagnosed with HIV when I was 13. So when I met Joe, I was worried about how he would react when I told him -- he might leave all together. A prior relationship had ended up in total disaster after I disclosed. He told his ex-wife and she threw it in my face in a very vindictive way. He wasn't as ugly about it as she was but said that he couldn't carry on with someone who would "soon be dying an awful death." I tried to salvage the relationship and offered support by answering his questions, but he wasn't open to any of it. We parted ways and went on with our lives.

When Joe and I started dating we always had safer sex, until after about three weeks he got sneaky and took off the condom without telling me. I didn't realize it until after sex, so I asked him and he denied it. I felt he was not being honest and he finally admitted he didn't like condoms and didn't want to wear them. That's when I told him that I was HIV positive and asked how that made him feel. He was very curious about how I faced the challenges of living with HIV. We talked for hours, cried, and held each other for the rest of the night. We haven't let go since. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. He said it didn't make any difference to him and that he would love me unconditionally. In fact he feels like we have a stronger bond now, because I have accepted all of his flaws now he can accept one of mine. We were married almost a year ago.

I have always wanted to practice safer sex but Joe absolutely disagrees. My doctor of course recommended the same but left the decision entirely up to us. I have always been a non-progressor and haven't had the need to be on meds, except when I was pregnant with my daughter. But since Joe refuses to use a condom, I'm staying on the meds to lower the risk of transmission. We also discussed side effects of the medications and the need for me to see a doctor. Joe said it would set his mind at ease if I was in regular care. I felt the opposite, because I had always been really healthy and never needed much care. On top of that, I didn't have health insurance. But luckily there are programs here in Colorado that help with drug coverage and provide health insurance to people with low incomes.

Joe has been tested but says like he doesn't feel like getting tested anymore -- although he will in the future. He says he feels closer to me now than ever and that he will always feel this way. He's told me on a few occasions that I better not get sick on him.

But he has not told any family or friends, out of fear they won't understand and will think less of us. He feels this is something the two of us are capable of dealing with ourselves and that with the amazing HIV drugs out today we can manage to live healthy and productive lives together. He has often told me that it's he and I against the world and those who don't like it can go somewhere ...

When we decided to try and get pregnant, we chose to do it naturally because Joe thought it would be silly to do something like artificial insemination since we're not having protected sex anyways. There wasn't too much discussion with my doctor about it. He did talk with us about the risk factors and that the fact that I was on HIV medications lowered the risk of transmission. He also suggested that my husband get tested every three to six months. One doctor was a little surprised that I was the one who wanted to continue to practice safer sex and that Joe was the one who didn't.

Having been in the HIV field for several years as a care manager and client advocate, I had gone through multiple trainings about HIV therapy. So I knew what precautions had to be taken and educated Joe about them. I did however bring him with me to a few trainings that the Children's Human Immunodeficiency Program (CHIP) at our hospital hosted on how to go about getting pregnant and having an HIV-negative child. We looked up things online together, like information about the medications and their side effects. I signed up very early to participate in studies through the CHIP clinic that monitor my health, the growth of my baby, and the effects of drugs before, during, and after pregnancy, just as I had done while I was pregnant with my daughter ten years ago. So we didn't have any issues with getting pregnant without condoms and didn't feel the need to talk to other couples about their experiences trying to get pregnant.

Our sex life is still as strong as when we met two years ago. Of course with me being eight months pregnant, I am tired and physically drained, so sex is the last thing on my mind. Joe also feels like he may hurt the baby and is very nervous about becoming a father -- he's stressed about how he will perform once our son arrives. One concern that I know weighs heavy on his mind is whether our son will be HIV negative and healthy. We've both been counseled by the hospital staff and know that as long as my viral load remains undetectable our son will be fine, but there's always a chance. My ten-year-old daughter is negative -- she was born with Down's syndrome and other health issues but HIV is not one of them.

We hope that our son, who is due on July 19th, will be born HIV negative and will live a long healthy life -- we're dedicated to giving our all to him.