Paul Gallegos has been featured here twice before. The first time he talked about his HIV prevention work, standing at busy intersections in Palm Springs, California with a home-made sign urging people to get tested. You can read that interview here.
In his second interview with PositiveLite, Paul talked frankly and honestly about life in prison and what it feels like to be an HIV-positive inmate.
Today he brings his wife Kelley in to the pictrtue. Kelley is HIV-negative and they have had two healthy HIV-negative children together, which brings their family to six.
Our subject today is an important one. It’s how relationships where partners of differing HIV-status work. I had told Paul and Kelley that they didn’t have to answer any of my questions if they didn’t feel comfortable about doing so. They answered all of them. Somehow I knew they would.
Paul can be found on twitter at @Pauly1999. Kelley is @sallynjacknight. Stop by and say hello. I think they’d like that.
Anyway, here’s the interview.
Bob Leahy: Thanks for agreeing to talk to us again, Paul. This time we’re talking also with your wife Kelley. Hello to the both of you. Today you agreed to talk about sero-discordant couples, but I’m not sure that everyone likes that terminology. I’ve heard the term “magnetic couples” used sometimes . What’s the term you would like to use?
Kelly Gallegos: I prefer “magnetic”.
BL: First of all I need to put this in some perspective. Tell me where and when you met.
Kelley Gallegos: Paul had just gotten out of jail for something he did. I was talking with some friends, when his name came up, I was young and I wanted to meet him.
BL: Was it love at first sight?
KG: Yes, I knew he was the one for me.
PG: When I met Kelley she was young and I didn’t think we’d end up together.
BL: At that time, Paul you didn’t know you were HIV-positive, right?
PG: No, not a clue.
BL: Remind us all how you found out. It was in connection with a job you applied for, wasn’t it?
PG: I had this job already, when they wanted good workers for a big construction job, but I had to take a physical. They took blood work and then I got the call.
BL: How did you take the news, Paul?
PG: I cried, I thought I was gonna die.
BL: How long was it before you shared that news with Kelley? And was that a difficult conversation or what?
PG: Kelley was there when I got the news, she cried horribly and said she was too young to die.
BL: And Kelley, what did you think when you heard?
KG: I thought our lives together were over.
BL: Were you worried for your own safety, Kelley? Did you get tested yourself?
KG: Yes, I was very worried, and Paul took me to get tested right away.
BL: I’m just wondering how much you two knew about HIV at the time? Did you try and learn up on it?
KG: I knew a little bit because my mom and her boyfriend had it and died from it, around the late 1980's.
PG: I knew nothing about it. I had to get some education on it. It drove me crazy.
BL: I’m guessing you weren’t using condoms at that time. Did you talk about using them after Paul got the news of his diagnosis? And what did you decide and why?
KG: We really didn't use them, once we found out about Paul's status we tried once a while.
PG: We never really talked about it until we learned a little more about it.
BL: Tell me more about that. Kelley, were you concerned about getting Paul’s HIV?
KG: At that time I was not too worried. I loved him so much, I just wanted to be with him.
BL: Did the news interfere in any way with your sex-life? I mean did you feel you had this thing hanging over you or did you learn to forget it?
KG: I never let it get to me in a way where I would be afraid of my husband.
PG: I was worried for her safety, I would have a difficult time sometimes. I started drinking more to take the emotional pain away.
BL: Now I expect you also wanted to have children, right? Did you know at the time what the chances of them being born with HIV were?
KG: We had the older two already and we learned that as long as mom was HIV free, the baby would also be HIV free.
BL: Did you go for help in understanding the issues and risks involved in having kids when Paul was positive?
KG: No, we asked about it and there was so much negativity, I told my husband that I didn't want to talk with anyone about it
PG: Like my wife said we tried talking to other doctors and they were against it, so we just went ahead and followed our hearts.
BL: How hard was your decision to make?
KG: The only hard decision was having to live with the guilt if our child was HIV+.
PG: It was very hard for me because I didn't want to get my wife infected or my child. I think I would have felt selfish.
BL: Have you heard about “sperm –washing” that some couples go through?
KG: Yes, it was after we had our third that we heard about this and there was a doctor willing to help. When we wanted to have another child, the doctor had already moved out of the area.
BL: Was Paul’s viral load anything to do with your decision to have kids? (I guess you know that research suggests that risk of transmission is low when viral load is undetectable, right?)
KG: Yes, we were told if we were going to try, Paul had to be undetectable.
PG: Yes, that is the only reason we would try.
BL: Did it make pregnancy more difficult for you, Kelley, thinking that maybe the baby might just be positive?
KG: No, because I always tested negative.
BL: So things turned out well. You have four kids now, right? And they are healthy and HIV-negative, right?
KG: Yes, they are all healthy and HIV-negative.
BL: So what are their names and how old are they?
KG: Monica 18, Paul Jr. 15, LuKias 7, and Hezekiah is 6 weeks.
BL: Kelley, I’m guessing Paul is a good dad. Am I right?
KG: Yes, he is a very good father and his love for his kids is unconditional, and his kids also love him very much.
BL: What advice would you both give to other magnetic couples who want to have kids?
PG: When my wife was pregnant with our 7-year old, people threatened to call the cops on me. Don't let the virus stop you from living and having the family of your dreams. There are doctors out there that will help and if not there are couples like us who had to learn about it.
KG: Look at your situation and weigh out your options. It can go either way.
BL: OK. At what age do you think it’s appropriate to tell kids that one of their parent is HIV-positive?
PG: As soon as they're old enough to understand. My 7-year old already asks questions. He's starting to understand a little more.
BL: So how easy is telling them that to do?
PG: It's a little hard for me, because I don't want my kids worrying for me. I don't want them to think I'm gonna die everytime I get sick.
BL: Right. Thank you so much to the both of you for answering all my questions. I think there’ll be a lot of interest in your story, just as there was with your previous interviews, Paul. Tell me why you consented to do this interview.
PG: People need to know that there is hope, and that they are not alone. We’re willing to share our story with anyone; if it help's one person it's worth sharing our story.
BL: Anything else you’d like to say?
PG: People, please get tested and know your status. It may make a difference in your life and maybe your loved ones lives.
BL: Again, thank you so much for talking to PositiveLite, Paul and Kelley. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate this. A big hug to you both from all of us here in Canada