HIV isn’t a big part of our lives. Sure, I write and speak about it a lot, but other than a few pills at 7:30am and a few more at 7:30pm, we’re not constantly thinking about the virus that made three of my children orphans for a while and that still flows through the blood of one of them.
But HIV isn’t something you can see. We look like any other family, see?
Okay, maybe we’re not quite like any other family, but HIV isn’t the difference that is evident. Nor is epilepsy or childhood trauma or cerebral palsy or FASD or rhematoid arthritis, even though those are represented in the picture above.
Thankfully, our dear one’s HIV viral loads are now undetectable on lab tests, which means our child can grow and learn and develop and live just like any other kid. We’re grateful for the medication that allows that. We know none of our other children are at risk of contracting the virus, even though some are more medically fragile than most, because our kids don’t practice blood transfusions, organ transplants, IV drug use, sexual activity, or breastfeeding with each other. Those are the ways HIV is spread, and it has never been transmitted through household contact or even skinned knees or bloody noses. Even sports are safe, as HIV has never been passed in that arena. (For more stats and facts on HIV transmission, visit this past post of mine.)
Sadly, I would estimate that about 80% of parents of HIV+ children choose not to tell most – or any – others, judging from conversations in secret Facebook groups we have for support as well as other adoptive family interactions I’ve had. Why? Because while awareness events for autism and epilepsy and Down syndrome and cerebral palsy have all educated others by putting a face on those special needs, stigma against people with HIV is still strong. We learned that the hard way. Most HIV-affected families I know don’t disclose their children’s HIV or AIDS diagnoses because the world can be a hard and unloving place in which we all respond too often in fear rather than facts or faith.
So today I’m joining others in facing AIDS, because our family is not ashamed of a manageable chronic illness and because we are hopeful for a day when no more children become orphans because of a treatable illness that, with medication, never has to progress to AIDS.
(If a lot of this is news to you, don’t feel bad. Until a few years ago, my HIV knowledge was stuck back in the 1990s too. Feel free to comment with any questions you have, and I’d be happy to answer them because education is a powerful tool in #FacingAIDS.)