March has marched on and I feel I have let it drift over me. It began well and I visited my specialist hospital, following a referral from their HIV midwife who I consulted in November. I’m not pregnant but I was considering trying. That in itself is amazing, as I was sterilised when my daughter was born by c-section in 2001. I had been advised to abort because I had a 15-year life expectancy. The midwife cried when she gave me my diagnosis and I couldn’t even look at the 21-week scan.
How times have changed. Just 13 years on and I met a doctor who said he was prepared to help me ‘on this journey.’ He explained the percentage chance and the cost of conception. The birth would be free and fully supported as a natural vaginal birth, if there were no complications. How wonderful and inspiring to know that women living with HIV can now get this support. How great is the NHS - well in Chelsea and Westminster! Actually, even in my local hospital I was the first HIV pregnancy they had, and after I refused an abortion they did get a consultant for me and I started on AZT.
My daughter was removed still in her water sac, and has grown to a healthy, beautiful, strong young woman, but the birth was very traumatic. I felt so ill and scared, my husband was there covered head to toe in scrubs, the nurses had visors and the smell of burning flesh as they cut me was repugnant. ‘It’s like slaughtering a goat,’ he said. I cried, then more comforting he soothed ‘Tiga wana, Nĩngwendete’, and held my hand. We had told no family or friends of our status and I just felt out of control and alone.
A totally different experience from my son, who was born in a missionary hospital in Kiambu. There was no doctor around, but many mamas and nurses and nuns, and even though just before his delivery, mama Kamau was in the bed next to me screaming, there was a sisterhood, a curtain, and I was happy, excited and full of faith. That evening I hobbled to the telephone, told his baba, ‘It’s a boy, 10 fingers and 10 perfect toes’, then spent the night in the dorm with him in my arms, intoxicated with his beautiful smell, and in the morning I woke to hymns and waited for all our family to visit. All was great with the world.
Last year he died of suicide. I still don’t know how to follow that statement. I still don’t believe it. My arms ache to hold him, and I spray Lynx Africa and smell his pillow to remember. I want a baby, but I know rationally that this is grief reaction and I can’t replace him.
So thank you my doctors for allowing me to process that and to be given the opportunity, and feel supported. Thank you my daughters for suggesting adoption or fostering, but I need to focus on you, as you’re grieving too. I have learned my mistakes, leaned into my loss, and painted his portrait. I know he is still with me and when the sun shines I can feel his light. He was there for me, protecting me, so brave and bright. His heart got broken too many times and I couldn’t put the pieces back. You don’t have to be infected with HIV to be affected.