I’ve given birth to three beautiful children. They are my light, my heart, and world. They are the greatest accomplishment of life. And although I know that’s something every parent says of their children (and every parent is correct in their own statement), for me, claiming my children as an accomplishment is a true measurable accolade. They’re health and happiness was completely contingent on the fact that I took every precaution to ensure they would not be born with HIV. That was my duty to them as their mother.
Women with HIV have a 98% chance of delivering a baby virus free. There is a higher risk for any woman anywhere, with or without HIV, to give birth to a child with Downs Syndrome.To ensure a healthy baby, I had to take medication daily and have same type of antiretroviral medication in an IV form during labor.
For my first two children, I took 6 pills a day, everyday, and with my third it was just once a day-a big relief!
If the mother’s viral load (the amount of virus in the body) is controlled, they can be born naturally. After the baby is born, the child is given a liquid antiretroviral medication as prophylaxis to be taken twice a day for 6 weeks. They are also tested 4 times in 18 months.The first 3 tests are “viral load” tests which measure the amount the virus in the blood system. If the child were to be given a regular HIV antibody test (the test you can get in the SAAF testing van, for example) it would come back positive. This is because the child receives the mother’s antibodies to HIV (antibodies are what the body produces to protect itself from the virus) , but this does not mean they receive the virus.
I know that’s a lot of information. Still with me? OK…
If the test comes back “undetectable” this means the child is in good shape and will most likely not have the virus. The child will receive 2 more of these viral load tests while being watched closely by a Pediatric infectious disease specialist. Babies take about 18 months to shed all of the mother’s antibodies and create their own. The last test at 18 months is a regular HIV antibody test. If it comes back negative, then that means the child does not have HIV.
I’m happy and proud to say my children have been tested and were always “undetectable” and ultimately found negative of the virus.
Less children are being born with HIV, which is awesome. However, the infectious disease pediatricians my children saw said the majority of new patients they saw were teens. We’ve got to properly provide our children with sexual education, including prevention and be willing to have those uncomfortable conversations in the name of health and education!
We can see and end to this entirely preventable disease. We just have to open up our mouths and TALK about it. Maybe you’ll get uncomfortable, but what’s a moment’s worth of social discomfort as opposed to valuable education? It matters, guys. We’ve got to have these tough conversations in order to make the change happen.