One of the biggest joys and responsibilities of life is bringing another human into this world. It’s a surreal experience that can be filled with joy, anxiety, and fear. Finding out your partner is pregnant can bring even the strongest man to his knees in tears; it’s an emotional out-of-body experience. There are so many unknown factors and risked involved to begin with but what happens when you throw HIV into the mix?
As an HIV positive heterosexual male it was one of the biggest worries when initially diagnosed. For those of you who know my story you will know that my ex-girlfriend and I were trying to have a kid with no success. After trying for months on end it seemed as if my dream of being a father would never come true; this was when I was still negative. It was disheartening but when I was diagnosed it became even more difficult to fathom as reaching this goal seemed near impossible.
December of 2014 brought a special gift and that was my first serodiscordant relationship since my diagnosis. Despite being an activist and open to the world about my status, when it came to facing the possibility of rejection from a potential romantic partner, it was still an obstacle I was trying to overcome. When I finally let go of that fear, it was then I realized the sky is the limit.
HIV would no longer define my love life and when the time was right, I would finally have that family I so longed for. Little did I know that my dream of having a child would come so soon.
I got the news from my negative girlfriend Maria around mid-January of last year. She was pregnant. It came as a big surprise as we had only been together for a short amount of time and were still working on building our relationship. This wasn’t exactly the “ideal” way to go about having a child, especially since it was unplanned, however I knew that I would step up to the plate and take care of them both. It sent me into such an emotional and elated state that it;s hard to put it into words. I felt like all those things I thought when being diagnosed were being knocked down one by one. It finally felt like my life had started to take a turn for the better. Not only had I found a girl I cared for but also was now going to be a dad.
God had finally answered one of my prayers, well two actually. Even though it didn’t exactly fall in the timing I thought it would, it was still a blessing regardless. We were both excited at what the future held but then I was again reminded this pregnancy would be a bit different than the average.
We took it one step at a time; however it certainly was a trying experience. I wanted to make sure I was there to support Maria but then there was this whole HIV issue that would present extra obstacles other couples might not have to go through. After discussing the pregnancy in detail with my doctor we had a battle plan in place. It involved me obviously staying undetectable through adherence to my medication, her discussing starting PrEP with her doctor, and multiple HIV tests.
" Even though we were both educated and had made the conscious decision to use treatment as prevention (TaSP), when a baby came into the equation that “what if” always lingered."
Her pregnancy was considered high risk. not only due to her age but also due to my HIV status. The term alone is scary enough but making sure both my girlfriend and baby were protected was the number one priority above all. I did not want to live with the guilt on my shoulders that I brought a child into this world for a choice they never had. Even though we were both educated and had made the conscious decision to use treatment as prevention (TaSP), when a baby came into the equation that “what if” always lingered. It was tough and being the guy we naturally want to protect but so much of what happens in pregnancy is out of our control.
Picking out names was exciting. We wanted something unique. We picked out Esmeralda Isabella Middleton for a girl and Giovanni Noe Middleton for a boy. It was much too early to know the sex of the baby yet, however overcome with excitement we began to look at all the cute baby stuff. All the while in my mind I was thinking to myself, “is this really happening?” It seemed to be happening in slow motion, just like my diagnosis, but this time much more real. I had to pinch myself at times to realize “yes Josh you are HIV-positive” and you are going to be a dad. Take that, HIV!
Unfortunately the joy would not last long as we lost our baby to a miscarriage a day after Valentines Day. There was no reason the doctors could give as to why it happened; most of the time there isn’t, but it was something out of our control. As fast as our baby had come into the world it had left. In a future blog I will discuss my experience with the miscarriage as it has affected me to this day in a major way.
All I know is that our baby is in a much better place now and all he or she ever knew was the love of it’s parents while it lay nestled in the womb. I still consider myself a father even though I never got to hold our baby in my arms because it is in a much more secure place now, in the inner-most workings of my heart.
I wish this story would have ended differently and I could have been showing all the hundreds of pictures that new parents tend to share. Although this is not possible I want to let everyone know that having a child when HIV positive is completely possible.
The uneducated world puts us in a category that we are undeserving of love and certainly undeserving of achieving parenthood. The scary part is sometimes our minds trick ourselves into believing it. We are already looked at as irresponsible in the eyes of those who are uneducated. It’s like we should just accept the fact that some things will never happen and that is just part of our punishment for past actions. Well this is completely false and you shouldn’t believe a word of it.
Whether you choose TaSP or sperm washing, the ball is in your court. Yes it does come with a mix of emotions and challenges that other pregnancies might not but that doesn’t mean the end goal isn’t worth it. When you receive the news and look into the eyes of your baby for the first time, HIV will be the last thing on your mind.
A miracle is a miracle regardless of its parents’ HIV status. For a baby does not know HIV status when it is born but solely the love that it is shown by its parents. Don’t sell yourself short, you deserve everything that anyone else does. HIV is simply along for the ride.
This article previously appeared on Joshua’s own blog, Pozitive Hope, here.