AIDS is no death sentence, says mom who thought of ending her life
Participants in JASL's Candle Light Vigil to mark World AIDS Day 2022, at Carter Hall in St Andrew on Thursday. The vigil was held to remember the persons who died from AIDS-related complications and celebrate those who continue to fight

The shocking revelation that she was HIV positive while pregnant saw a then 27- year-old woman wanting to end her life, as she believed there was no way to move on after getting the news.

Now the 49-year-old mother of three girls is sticking to her medication and has dismissed the notion of the disease being called a death sentence, with support from her children, friends and Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL).

The woman explained that after being single for two years, she met someone and started a relationship. She said she later got pregnant by her partner and went for a regular medical check-up when the gynaecologist broke the news to her about HIV.

"My first reaction was, 'Mi aguh kill myself'. I was told that I have to do a HIV test during one appointment. I did the test and when I went back for the results, the doctor was there searching for the results and I was like 'what is happening?', He said, 'I have good news and I have bad news, which one you want first'? and I said, 'Listen, whichever one you want to give me, just give me'," she said during an interview with the Jamaica Observer on Thursday.

The woman explained that she was in disbelief when the gynaecologist took up a HIV positive result, stating that it belonged to her.

"Mi start get nervous. Mi seh, 'No, this is not my result'. My partner was in the waiting area and mi get up and mi start run and my partner started to run behind me and asked what was happening," she said.

Admitting that she barely knew much about HIV, the woman said she and her partner took advice from the gynaecologist to abort the baby, as he claimed the baby had contracted the virus.

She said she paid $96,000 to get the procedure done, and she and her partner sought further advice from a doctor who was more knowledgeable about the virus.

She was startled after learning that she could carry a baby while HIV positive.

"Even to this day, two ladies came with babies [at work] and I was supposed to hold their babies. I will not hold a baby, because I am still traumatised from that. I could have carried my baby," she said.

She said the doctor helped her to get HIV treatment from JASL, where she learned how to be resilient despite the stigma that came with the virus.

"I was a shy person back then and I would go the clinic in the night, the nurse would pull my document and I would just run in, run back out to the car and leave. But my partner was a very supportive partner, when I was ashamed to go and buy my medication, he would drop off the prescription and in his lunchtime he would collect the medication. I was never short of medication," she said.

"I started going to JASL and I was introduced to Mrs Thompson who called me one day to say they are having a workshop funded under a UN women's programme — support to women empowerment workshop, entrepreneurial skills,"

"When I went into the room, there was a whole room with ladies and some had their babies, some were pregnant and I started crying. I asked the lady, 'These girls are HIV positive' and she said 'yes'. I was saying, 'Why I couldn't have had my baby'. This man took away my baby from me and I continued to grow with JASL," she added.

She mentioned too that sharing that she was HIV positive with her children, after a few years of living with the virus was not difficult, as they were already aware it.

However, she said that it gets very difficult during the anniversary of her diagnosis, as it also marks the birthday of two of her daughters who were born 10 years apart.

"I found out my status on my daughters' birthday. Each year one of my daughters would say, 'Mommy, this is a holiday for us', as I would always feel depressed about it. When it comes on to the start of December, I also get emotional due to the lack of support that infected persons get from family members and the discrimination they face," she said.

Despite the few issues which would make her a bit emotional, the woman said she is at a stage in her life, which she is very comfortable about living with the virus.

She has an undetectable viral load, for which she gets checked once per year and also visits the doctor once per year.

"To how empowered I am now, I don't remember HIV. My knowledge of what I know now, compared to what I didn't know back then is amazing," she said, noting that she and her partner are still going strong.

She is encouraging others with HIV to seek assistance in managing the virus and living a normal life.

"There are a lot of support groups. The first thing I would encourage persons to do, is to enrol into a support group. It will help, because you will go there and meet other positive women or male who you can talk to. That gave me strength to tell my story. Enrol in a support group, stick to your medication, stick to your doctor's appointment," she said.

JASL's board member, Andrea Chin See lights a candle during the Annual Candlelight Vigil, which was hosted on World AIDS Day, Thursday, December 1. Chin See was lighting a candle representing the future where there is zero discrimination and an end to AIDS.
Brittny Hutchinson

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