*Sam received a shocking text from an unknown number informing her not only did her boyfriend of two years have a fiancée, but he was HIV positive.
His fiancée sent me the text. I thought this is bullshit, someone was playing some kind of game. But she confirmed it, by sending a photo of his prescription bottle. I googled it and discovered it was HIV medication.
My initial reaction was fear for my child’s safety – oh my god, what if I’m HIV positive, and I’ve passed it onto my child? I know I wasn’t thinking straight, and that can’t happen.
I went to the GP for a HIV test
He said it was unnecessary because I was a heterosexual female who wasn’t a sex worker, or an IV drug user. So, I got a second opinion from a more informed doctor, who tested me straight away. The results came through, and I was positive for HIV.
Even though I’d prepared myself for the worst-case scenario, I was in shock. I spent a lot of my early 20’s in the drag and gay scene in Melbourne, so I knew it wasn’t a death sentence, but it was still a life-changing moment.
Debra Messing (mom of son Roman): “The priority shift is a relief. There are so many things that used to monopolize my time and my energy that I realize now, in the face of being a mother, are just completely irrelevant.”
It was the text message that would change everything. Picture: iStock.
I confronted my boyfriend
He confessed he had a fiancée, but not that he was HIV positive. I said, “this affects my son too - so if you’re HIV positive tell me right now!” He replied, “yes, ok fine. I am.” That was the end of our romantic relationship but we remained friends for a few years.
I made the decision to start treatment right away, I’ve experienced no physical ill effects from HIV and in less than six months I had an undetectable viral load. U=U stands for undetectable = untransmutable, which means I can’t infect others through sexual transmission.
Treatment is just taking one tablet a day
I also check in with my HIV specialist once a year. HIV is something I’ll have for the rest of my life – stop taking my medication and my viral load could go up.
I really want to get the message out there that testing is important – if you are sexually active, you need to know your status.
When I was diagnosed, I told my mum because my son and I were living with her. She was convinced, like many others in the wider community, that because I was HIV positive, I was using IV drugs. And she kicked me out… so I ended up in emergency accommodation. We’re working on repairing our relationship, I love my mum and it’s an ongoing process. But my son has a great relationship with his nan, I’ve always supported and encouraged that.
Encourage daddy time. The greatest untapped resource available for improving the lives of our children is time with Dad - early and often. Kids with engaged fathers do better in school, problem-solve more successfully, and generally cope better with whatever life throws at them.
My son has an age-appropriate level of awareness
I explained my blood is sick so I take medicine. My sister and a few others know, but I haven’t told many people… and I may never, because of the stigma. It’s the biggest battle those who are positive for HIV fight on a daily basis.
I know this might sound a little crazy, but being HIV positive is one of the most positive things that’s ever happened to me. I mean no disrespect to anyone else who is undergoing struggles in their journey with HIV when I say this.
When I was diagnosed, I wasn’t in a good relationship, and I hadn’t worked for years. I had no idea where I was going… people would say you’ve got so much potential, but I was just floating about on the single parent pension.
I don’t see myself as a victim
I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. Four years after being diagnosed, my life is full and I’m happy. I’ve grown so much as a person, been a member of the Positive Women Victoria board, I volunteer to help others, and I’m studying community services.
The last 12 months have been a massive upwards trajectory. I couldn’t have done it all without the relationships that I’ve built and the support I’ve found through Living Positive Victoria , and Straight Arrows who provide services and support for those living with HIV. Through these services I was introduced to my HIV sister, who has always been there for me, I count her among my close friends. These places connect you to others, they’re good places to go along to, and just breathe.
Get kids moving. The latest research shows that brain development in young children may be linked to their activity level. Place your baby on her tummy several times during the day, let your toddler walk instead of ride in her stroller, and create opportunities for your older child to get plenty of exercise.
Getting my diagnosis was the same as any life-altering situation; you can’t change it, it’s what you do about it that matters. I still go through tough times; am I ever going to find a partner, when I’m ready? I worry about my son’s school friends finding out - what if he’s bullied?
I know I’m not going to die
It’s not the physical threat that’s the issue, it’s the stigma. In the past people were terrified of the grim reaper advertisements associated with HIV – and for good reason. People were dying, but it’s not like that now in Australia.
I can’t transmit HIV to others, and I am not obliged to disclose that I have it. But I’d tell a partner anyway. I’m single mum, if I’m sleeping with someone, I’m going to be in a committed relationship, and the HIV community, the advocacy work I’ve done, is all such a big part of where I’ve been and who I am now.
Check out Positive Women Victoria to get a better understanding of HIV, prevention, treatment and how we can all provide better support to women and men living with HIV.