As part of a collaboration with our longtime partner organization Christie's Place, The Well Project will be sharing stories from their book "Healing Hope: A woven tapestry of strength and solace" as blog entries on our A Girl Like Me platform. The views and opinions expressed in this project are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of The Well Project.
Translation of written submission by Kenya
Para leer en español, haga clic aquí.
Hello! I'm Kenya. I'm 28 years old, married, I have three daughters, and yes, I am HIV positive. I was diagnosed four years ago, and I'm still standing, fighting, moving forward, and even with all the stones along my upward path, my tireless feet continue to climb! But it wasn't always like this...
My story begins when I was 23 years old. I was no longer married to my ex-husband who was both physically and mentally abusive. I had two beautiful girls with him—my princesses. I moved into a room that I rented. It had the basics: bed, refrigerator, and stove. I finally felt free and began to love and enjoy my life. I had a job, a roof over my head, and I had my daughters. The rest I planned to achieve with effort and a solid determination to get ahead. At work, I started making friends, both female and male. I was having a great time!
One afternoon I got a call from my ex-husband. I thought it was just a normal call. We were always in touch about the girls; he was always looking out for them. They visited him on weekends. They stayed with his parents. They loved being with them. But that call was different. He asked me to get tested for some sexual diseases. That's how he approached it. He said it was because he'd been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease. I just said, I hope you feel better; the girls will call you later," and I hung up. I paused for a while, thinking, "How could this affect me? I left him more than a year ago. Why would I be at risk? So, I just went on my way. I never thought about what he'd told me that day on the phone and he never mentioned it to me again.
After a few weeks, I started a relationship with my current partner. I was pretty clear in my mind that we were just dating. I did not want to repeat what I'd gone through with my ex. My life went on just as I wanted it to. Then, I started to notice that I was losing weight and I thought it was super good because I was carrying a few extra kilos. I had almost no appetite. I only ate one meal a day. I attributed it to being exhausted from work and thought I just needed to rest.
One morning when I got up to go to work, I felt my legs shake. I thought, “Maybe I'm not eating very well. Before I get to work, I'll need to buy something to eat." I went to drop the girls off at my sister's house. She watched them during the day. When I got to her house, I told her that I felt a little weak and my stomach was starting to ache. She thought I had a stomach problem and said to buy some pills to take for that. I said goodbye and went to catch the bus that takes me to work.
On the way, I started to feel much worse. It felt like my blood pressure was dropping and I could barely hold my head up. I thought I was going to faint—I could only speak in whispers. I barely managed to grab my cell phone and call my boyfriend. I told him that I was feeling sick and asked if he could meet me when I got off the bus. He said he could, and that he'd be waiting for me. The trip seemed eternal. I even gave the driver my boyfriend's number in case I fainted before meeting him. I managed to make it to the bus stop. He got on the bus, then got me into his car, and took me to the emergency room for a checkup. They said I was dehydrated and that I had to rest for three days and stay out of the sun. I felt pretty calm since they'd told me that it was nothing serious.
I spoke to the girls' father, and I told him that I was having some issues. I asked if the girls could stay with their grandparents for a few days while a worked some things out. I didn't give him explanations because he didn't need to know all the details. I took four days off and then returned to my regular routine, and I started eating more. I didn't want to have another scare like that!
But that was not enough. A month later, I started to feel the same weakness in my legs. I was trembling and my back ached and was also cramping in pain. I went to the emergency room. When the doctor gave me my diagnosis, he told me I was pregnant, and I might abort. I was in shock. “This can't be happening to me,” I thought. I asked for help to call my boyfriend and let him know what was going on. When he heard about the pregnancy, he was excited. I, honestly, was neutral because I was afraid to commit to another relationship. But he had proven to be a good man to me and my daughters.
The doctor discharged me but instructed me not to work and to rest. That meant that I had to quit my job. My boyfriend told me that he would take care of us and that I didn't need to work for a while. He rented an apartment and we moved in with him. I felt happy. I felt like I could finally have the family I always wanted to have.
A month later I went to the clinic to start my prenatal appointments. When my turn came, the nurse took my vitals, weighed me, measured me, and gave me two quick blood tests. One of them was for HIV/AIDS. I wasn't worried. I was sure I could never have any disease like that. Then, they took me in to see the doctor for my consult. The nurse came in and whispered to the doctor. I was puzzled, wondering, “What's going on?”
The doctor asked, “Is the baby's dad with you here today?”
“Yes. He's in the waiting room,” I answered.
The doctor said, “Go get him and then go with the nurse for a test he needs.”
I got up from my chair and said, Okay. “What's going on?” I thought.
I got my boyfriend and told him that we had to see the nurse to have some quick blood tests done.
“Me? Why? For what?” he asked.
“I don't know. That's what the doctor said,” I replied.
He went with the nurse and I went to the doctor's office. There, the doctor told me to take a seat. She said she needed to talk about something sensitive, but that I didn't need to be scared, everything would get worked out. She said the nurse would come in with my husband's results and then she'd explain things. That made me nervous. The minutes seemed like hours to me. The wait seemed eternal.
Finally, the nurse came in, gave the doctor the results, and then left. The doctor said, “Okay, what's going on is that you've tested positive for HIV and your husband has tested negative.”
"Excuse me? What?” My mind traveled into an abyss, and I felt shell-shocked. The doctor was talking but everything she said sounded like it was coming from far away.
I felt a little dizzy when I suddenly heard, “Ma'am, I know this is difficult news, but I want you to pay attention. I'm going to have you go to Epidemiology at the General Hospital. There, you'll receive immediate attention and treatment with retroviral medications. I don't have anything else to offer here. I hope you feel better. You can go.”
I got up not wanting to get to the waiting room to tell my partner what I'd just learned. I shortened my steps. The atmosphere completely changed. It felt heavy and had a yellowish aura. I don't know—it felt almost otherworldly. When I saw him, he immediately stood up and asked me, “What's going on?” He'd had an HIV test, but they hadn't told him anything—just that it came out negative. My chest felt very tight, and I had a knot in my throat. So many things crossed my mind. I realized that I was most worried about the baby in my womb. What would become of her? Was she going to die? Was I going to die? Did I infect my partner?
And then I remembered that call when my ex warned me of a disease that he could have transmitted to me. How innocent I was to not pay attention! A thousand thoughts passed through my brain in an instant. My entire body experienced a profound sense of devastation.
"What's going on, Kenya?" my partner asked.
"They told me that I tested positive for HIV and that you are negative."
"What?" he cried, "How can that even be possible? No, no, they made a mistake! How can you be positive and I'm negative? We're going to go to another lab and do blood tests to make sure."
Just knowing that there was a possibility that I was HIV-positive scared us a lot. I was so worried that he would think that I'd cheated on him with someone else or that he might leave me to fend for myself. He gave me a hug and a kiss, looked at me and said, "Whatever happens, I'll be with you. We will get through this together even if I get infected if you are HIV positive." Through all of this, I never shed a tear, but when I felt his support, I cried an ocean, and he cried along with me.
All the studies revealed that I was indeed HIV positive. And again, I was stunned. Again, I felt like I was in a bubble and that everything was swirling fast around me. I came to, and I stood solid in the thought that it was whatever it was, and that whatever came, I would keep going. I would give it my all for my daughters! Yes, I fell many times, but I got up again to win many more times. I cried a lot in the shower. I looked in the mirror and couldn't recognize the deteriorated face I saw there. I cried what I needed to cry. I vented. Then, I would rinse my face and put on makeup. I would come out of the bathroom as if nothing had happened because nobody knew about my condition except me and my partner. I just had to maintain appearances.
Little by little, I began to understand HIV and how to take care of myself. I was invited to meet with a group of women, mothers living with HIV. And that's when my life took a quick turn. I began to see the sun on the horizon—the good things over the bad. I realized that yes, you can build a life, and create your own story. In that group, I met an angel who said something I will never forget. It's engraved in me now. "Let's learn to love and embrace where we are in life, a life with HIV."
HIV is not an enemy! We just need to understand it and move in step with it to live with HIV. It can be a full life. When my daughter was born, after a month of treatment, she tested negative, and she was discharged. To this day, after many tests, my partner is still negative.
I'm proud of myself and what I've accomplished. In everything you set out to do, be consistent and hold tight to the only hope you have. And if you don't have hope, you can create some that will take you up that mountain that I used to feel was tumbling down on me.