I was 23 years old when I found out. We met when I was 22 and he was 29. He didn’t look his age so I didn’t mind the seven-year age difference. We fell in love quickly, and he fell in love with my son, who was 3 at the time. That was huge. Our motivations, aspirations, and dreams bounced off of each other like a racquetball. I was in love.
I was already four months along when I found out I was pregnant. Ironically, that gave us more goals and aspirations: to get married and buy a home so the kids could have their own backyard and rooms to themselves — something I didn’t always have growing up. We shared so many secrets during late night conversations; deep dark secrets from the past that let us laugh and cry and hold each other even tighter.
Our living was meager: we often went from one cheap motel room to another. Just days after my son’s 4th birthday, I started to feel very anxious and scared because I couldn’t feel my baby moving. We rushed down to the doctor, but everything was fine.
One night I had a dream (it felt more like a premonition) where I got to meet my partner’s mother. She was a beautiful Black angel with wings so wide. She smiled and placed her hands on my stomach. It was like a healing touch, but I didn’t really get the significance of the dream yet. I understood that my baby was a loving gift from God, since my partner was once told he couldn’t have kids.
By the time I had my follow-up a week later, everything was falling into place. I have a rare blood disorder — Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura or TTP — that doctors discovered when I was 16. I still freak out if I bump into something because it takes longer to show, and it can turn into a blood clot. So I worried about that while waiting for test results, but it didn’t stop us from getting caught up in the excitement of both a new apartment and new baby on the way.
And then it happened. My doctor called to say something was wrong, but she said she couldn’t tell me over the phone. As I was freaking out thinking I needed more blood or plasma, my partner grabbed my hand with tears rolling down his face.
“Babe you’re going to hate me for this and I won’t blame you if you leave me, but I know what’s wrong with your results,” he said. “I gave you HIV. I was born with it and now you have it and now our baby might have it. I’m so sorry I just didn’t know how to tell you.”
I sat there with tears rolling down my face and I couldn’t breathe. I was numb. I felt so hurt and betrayed. He got up to leave until I grabbed his hand and reminded him of the dream I had of his mom blessing our child.
“I am pissed off at you, but I’m not going to leave you,” I told him. Things would be a lot different now, but there had been so many medical breakthroughs around HIV, and it wasn’t like the 1980s when he was born, both in terms of treatment and stigma. We would be resilient and get help.
We hugged that day, but we did not kiss. The celebration was over. With that bad news I just felt like everything was crashing down and I couldn’t catch a break. My mind was like a roller coaster, but I had to get myself back together for my appointment. I kept telling myself everything would be OK.
The next day my doctor put me on Stribild and Bactrim DS while I was pregnant. I had to take two pills a day, and then when my princess arrived she’d have to take medicine too just to be safe. It felt like this was all just too much and I was overwhelmed.
We planned to set a date for a C-section birth on New Year’s day, but it wouldn’t be. On December 17th, I spotted blood and it was go time. I rushed down to the hospital as soon as possible and I was a mess. I was freaking out. I was nervous and scared.
That night I was cut open and her cry touched my heart. My baby. I held her and cried. I hadn’t even been on my meds for two weeks when Arianna decided it was show time. With only two weeks of meds in my system, the likelihood of my daughter being born HIV-negative was low. As a mother, I felt both excited and terrible that day and in the weeks ahead.
The rollercoaster ride continued after we got home. I had more meds to take (this time, Genvoya) and my daughter had to have Zidovudine every 4 to 6 hours, every single day. It was killing me. We cried over her every time it was time to give her the medicine. As a new mom and newly diagnosed as HIV-positive, I was consumed with postpartum depression. I didn’t want to take any more medications myself. And I didn’t want to give my daughter anymore medicine either. I was so tired of it all.
When she got her vaccines at 6 months old, they drew blood too. At the follow up, our pediatrician came in all smiles and said those magic words: “Your daughter is negative for HIV.”
I exhaled as though I had been holding my breath for six months.
My own follow-up was two days later, but I was nervous. With my HIV medicine, you’ve got to take it the same time every day and I had missed a few days due to my depression. So the day of my appointment arrived and I watched my doctor’s facial expressions and body language and I just couldn’t tell with her. She had such a poker face. She looked up at me and just sounded shocked.
“You’re undetectable!” she told me. Undetectable means I’m healthy and unable to transmit HIV to anyone else. I felt ecstatic like I could fly if I wanted to.
That word “undetectable,” I’ll admit, did make me feel “normal” again. But who defines what’s normal, anyway? I tell other young women, my best advice to anyone really, is to know your partner’s HIV status. It could’ve been worse for me, but my my health is better.
Now I’m 25 and still undetectable. Both of my kids are nice and healthy, growing into strong, amazing, and incredibly smart little people.
My partner and I celebrated our third anniversary earlier this year. There are no more secrets between us. I’m happy. He’s happy. Our kids are happy.
In just a few years, I’ve grown so much and learned a great deal about life and being aware of your own needs and those around you. This journey through love, parenthood, partnership, and HIV, helped me realize that sometimes what seems like the worst thing in the world to happen to you can turn out to be a blessing in disguise.