I don't think anything can prepare you for the moment when they unveil the piece of paper that contains your fate. Even though the odds seemed to be against me, I was not prepared to be told I had HIV. Turns out, the doctor had worse news: It was actually an AIDS diagnosis and the doctor gave me 3 to 6 months to live.
Almost 12 years year later, I look back and can still feel the hopelessness after hearing the news. I was in disbelief of what seemed inevitable. By that time in my life, I had lost many family members to AIDS. I was born and raised in Zambia, and it felt like we lost a generation to AIDS.
The support and encouragement of family, faith leaders, and colleagues saw me through the sickness, depression, and stigma that came with the diagnosis. Thankfully, I received life-saving medication and treatment.
Life after my diagnosis
I met my husband when he visited Zambia on a mission trip. I still think he is crazy for falling in love with me, and he thinks I am crazy for marrying him. I guess we are crazy in love. The acceptance that I have found in my husband and his family is a miracle in itself. I had given up all hope of getting married because of my status, so the acceptance that I found in my husband and his family feels like a miracle.
We both knew we wanted children, but it was a scary prospect. There were so many "what ifs," including the thought that I might not be able to see my child grow up.
We went out of our way to find and work with a doctor who could help us prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV and perform a C-section to ensure the health of our child.
My first son was born HIV-free in 2009. We had a second son in 2011. Both my sons and my husband remain HIV-negative.
My life feels like a miracle, but it's also just as crazy as everyone else's. My life is all about kindergarten, music lessons, birthday parties, Christmas, Transformers Rescue Bots, and Power Rangers. Other than taking two antiretroviral (HIV medication) pills at bedtime — a drastic change from taking six to 10 pills twice a day — my life as a working mum is practically normal.
Today, I work with an organization providing direct services to women of color who are living with or at increased risk of HIV in the Washington, D.C., metro area.
I believe I have a responsibility to educate women and create awareness about HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention. I want all women living with HIV/AIDS to have an opportunity to access care and, should they desire, to find love and start a family. You, too, can have an HIV-negative child.
I know that education and awareness will help reduce stigma, too. I hope that by sharing my story, I can help others realize that HIV/AIDS doesn't define you. I may be a woman living with AIDS, but more importantly, I am a mother, wife, and advocate.
Join Martha and be part of a community that stands together to fight HIV/AIDS — learn how you can support National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
The statements and opinions in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health.