With today’s antiretroviral treatments making it possible for people living with HIV to achieve complete viral suppression, many are taking this opportunity to start families of their own — though recent research shows pregnancy for poz women is not without complications.
Viral Load Rebound in Pregnancy
“Viral load rebound” is when an HIV-positive pregnant woman experiences a sudden spike in their viral load just before delivery, according to a recent study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology.
“Even women attending for HIV care and achieving viral suppression in pregnancy can experience viral load rebound predelivery,” wrote the authors of the study, which was conducted at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.
However, the instances of viral load rebound were very low, and most of the women in the study did not experience it. Only 6 percent had a viral load resurgence — and in half of those women it was detected within one day of delivery, stated study author Isabelle Boucoiran, MD, in a report in MedPageToday.
Another positive finding in the study was that no vertical transmissions (mother-to-child transmissions) occurred in any of the cases, which is hopeful news for those who do experience viral load rebound in their pregnancies.
Healthy Moms Ar Having Healthy Babies
Despite this added complication, research also shows that more and more HIV-positive women are experiencing happy, healthy pregnancies and successfully starting families of their own.
In another Canadian study, new research revealed that improved treatment is allowing more women living with HIV to get pregnant. The Canadian HIV Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Cohort Study (supported by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS) reported that nearly 25 percent of women reported a pregnancy after an HIV diagnosis. In British Columbia, where the study was based, there has not been a single mother-to-child HIV transmission in more than 20 years.
Out of the 1,165 women living with HIV involved in the study, 278 reported 492 pregnancies after diagnosis (61 per cent of which were unintended).
“An HIV diagnosis doesn’t preclude you from motherhood and that experience can be healthy, can be happy, can be wonderful and that’s a reality that we didn’t foresee in the earlier days of this epidemic,” said study coauthor Angela Kaida to Canadian news source, TheStar.
Real Women, Real Families
For Lisa Partridge, of B.C., these statistics are not just numbers. She was 14 when she learned she had acquired the HIV from a blood transfusion she underwent as an infant in Romania. At 1-year-old, Partridge became very ill and after a tiresome search for the cause, her doctor finally recommended HIV testing.
Partridge tested positive — and for next 13 years took a daily cocktail of pills which she believed was for her congenital heart defect. Partridge says that initially she was in shock when her parents told her about her condition.
“I kind of remember freaking out a little bit and being like, ‘Oh my God,’” told TheStar. “But then I did more research into it and it’s not as bad as people thought it was.”
Partridge’s experience living with HIV is a hopeful testament to the medical and social advances that have been made since the 1980s. Now 27, Partridge has an undetectable viral load thanks to her antiretroviral treatment. This has allowed her to lead a healthy life without fear of transmitting HIV to others — and enabled her to start her own family.
Though not everyone living with HIV is as fortunate, Partridge says she has rarely encountered stigma from romantic interests, friends, or co-workers. So, her dream of starting a family with her husband has never been in doubt.
Adriana, their 4-year-old daughter and “rambunctious little thing,” was born healthy and HIV-free four years ago and is keeping mom plenty busy. “I thought I wanted two [kids] and I had one — and I think I’m okay with that,” jokes Partridge.