I want my experiences to give hope to other people – things do not have to end when you find out that you have HIV.
In 2000 I arrived in the UK from Zimbabwe and in 2001 I started a new relationship with a man from a country where many people have HIV. To help protect ourselves against HIV and sexually transmitted infections we both went for tests. His test for HIV was negative. Mine was positive.
My initial reaction was fear. I thought that having HIV would mean that I would die in two or three years. My brother in Zimbabwe was very supportive and he told me that drugs were available that could help people with HIV live for longer.
Support also came closer to home. My HIV consultant and the nurses at my HIV clinic were very helpful and understanding and they put me in touch with support groups for Africans with HIV.
One of my big concerns was that I thought having HIV meant that I would die without ever having a child. You know, I was 34 when I found out I had HIV, so the biological clock was already ticking. And there is a real expectation in my culture that a woman should have a baby.
At a support group I attended, a speaker from Positively Women [now called Positively UK] explained that it is possible for a woman with HIV to have an HIV-negative baby. I met an HIV-positive man in 2002 and became pregnant.
But six weeks later I was dispersed from London to Manchester. I was very concerned because I'd had a miscarriage shortly before and feared that the stress of dispersal would cause me to miscarry again.
Even though I was HIV-positive and pregnant, I had to find an HIV clinic by myself – I did so using the Yellow Pages.
I'm glad to say that in 2003 I had a very healthy HIV-negative baby. My own health was good and my viral load was low so I only needed to take AZT during the last few months of pregnancy. I was even able to have a vaginal delivery, not a caesarean. My baby took a few doses of AZT after she was born. She is beautiful and very healthy.
My own health is very good – my CD4 cell count did dip when I was pregnant but it is now 580 and my viral load is only 68 copies/ml. My consultant said it would be many years before I need to start HIV treatment.
My immigration status has been a big worry. In 2003 my asylum application was refused – at a time when I was pregnant – and I really did fear that I would be deported. But because I'm from Zimbabwe I was advised to make another application which is still ongoing.
I have my HIV consultant to thank for putting me in touch with good immigration specialists when I was first diagnosed and the Terrence Higgins Trust and George House Trust have also provided very good support.
Nor can I forget the support I have received from other people with HIV in the UK – and they haven’t all been Africans! It has been wonderful.
But there has been discrimination and stigma. When I was first dispersed to Manchester, somebody I had to share accommodation with searched through my bags and found letters saying I had HIV. This person told other people I shared with and they asked me how I got infected with HIV. The worst thing is when you experience stigma from other people who have HIV.
Thanks to George House Trust I was moved and have my own place where I know my daughter and I are safe. But I still do worry – what will happen to me if we are sent back to Zimbabwe and I cannot get anti-HIV drugs? Thankfully I have sisters and I know that they will bring up my child if I die.
My experiences have taught me that it is really important not to give up hope when you find out you have HIV. Knowing that you have HIV means that you can start seeing a doctor who can help stop you becoming ill. Also, it's important to get help as soon as possible over immigration problems – don't ignore these problems if they come up as they will not go away.
So I'll finish by saying, when you find out you are HIV-positive, try and keep up a positive attitude, it really made a difference for me.
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