The joy of being a mother is the dream of most women. But it can be a different ball game for a woman living with HIV. AMINAT ALLI has coped very well especially as a wife and working mother. In this interview with KINGSLEY OBOM-EGBULEM, she shares her inspiring experience and the big question on the mind of every expectant HIV positive mother
Being a young person, what were some of the major decision processes you went through before deciding that you want to have a baby?
Initially, I decided that I will opt for a sperm donor not even a partner. But fortunately I had a partner. Jointly we decided when I was going to conceive, that is, when my viral load was undetectable, and my CD4 count was on the increase and my general state of health was just ok.
Why were you trying to settle for sperm donation before you eventually got married? Is it that you needed a baby so much and can’t wait to get married?
For me, I didn’t want to marry because everyone was getting married. I have promised myself that if I can’t find someone I can truly say I love- because most men promise you love even when they don’t mean it, I will settle for sperm donation.
Did you consider the cultural implications and how prepared were you to face the backlash?
Cultural implication does not matter to me, because when people stigmatized they do not care about people. For me, what keeps me going is living well and if having a baby is one of those things, then so be it.
So, how have you been coping with motherhood given all your responsibilities particularly being active in a national youth coalition on AIDS, supporting other PLWH with treatment adherence and even helping out with support groups issues, etc?
My partner is young at heart; he has made life easier for me because he cares. Motherhood has not been easy except the fact that I have a caring mother-in-law and also my family members are always ready to take care of my baby when am out on duty. But I have been coping because I work with a dedicated team at the Nigerian Business Coalition Against AIDS( NIBUCAA), active volunteers at Positive Youth Initiative Nigeria (PYIN). Supporting PLWH has been my major challenge and I wish we can have people that can support through accommodation to employment.
Do you feel you are taking on too much with your baby by the side or are you coping well and having the best of time?
I could remember when I had my baby I actually wanted to stop working so that I can have time to be with him, but I was encouraged by my husband that I should not let the baby kill my passion. But sincerely, I wish I can do something that will make me be with my baby 24 hours, he has really been a wonderful child.
What would you say is the difference between being an HIV positive mother and any other mother?
When I gave birth to my baby, it was the greatest joy ever. But one thing I was not too happy about was the fact that I did not breastfeed. I felt bad, I wish I did but I was scared of infecting him. There are times you are with the baby and some elders will tell you “give him breast now abi you dey sell the breast milk?”(meaning:breastfeed him or is the breast milk for sale?). But they can’t understand.
What exactly runs in the mind of a pregnant HIV positive woman? What are the major concerns and the realities she has to deal with?
The major concern for most HIV positive women is the fact that they don’t want their baby to be infected. In Lagos State, some women attending ante-natal knew their HIV status during the process, this is a concern because they have to deal with their own fears first before disclosure and this might not take place till after delivery. Disclosure might end up in divorce, denial or even packing out of the matrimonial home by the husband, that is why some women will not even disclose and still put their baby at risk of contracting HIV.
Several years ago, it wasn’t common to see any HIV positive woman delivered of babies free of HIV. Today the story is different. What would you say is responsible for this development?
I will say increase in knowledge and understanding, accessing the right information, disclosure of HIV status and access to comprehensive treatment which includes Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT)programmes at designated places. Also, PLWH are more aware about what is happening to them and taking precautions to prevent unborn generations being infected with HIV.
So, how do we justify the statistics indicating that the number of pediatric HIV infection in Nigeria is among the highest in the world?
For that, I will say that some people still have access to information but due to poverty and lack of access to proper care they still go ahead and do things that put their baby at risk. Disclosure is still a major concern, most women attending clinic have not yet disclosed to their husbands not to talk of their family.
You probably got good quality care being on a sponsored treatment programme. Can you say other HIV positive women are getting the same quality of care and access to quality preventive programmes?
Yes I can say that. I purposely enrolled at Surulere General Hospital to know how they treat PLWH, but I was given the same treatment as everyone else because I did not disclose my status nor introduce myself to them.
You are one of the few young persons who have really conquered AIDS-related stigmatization. Now, tell me; is stigma and discrimination affecting young HIV positive mothers especially with respect to access to quality pediatric HIV prevention services and care?
I will say yes, prevention efforts should be targeted at families now because most homes are run by the family. The family especially mother-in-laws need to be enlightened on HIV/AIDS so that they don’t force their daughter –in-laws to breastfeed by force. I had an understanding in law, some might not be so lucky.
What’s your experience and opinion with this “breast feed and don’t breast feed” issue for HIV positive mothers?
For me, I am of the opinion that HIV positive mothers should not breast feed because you cannot guarantee there won’t be infection. The argument should not be based on the economic circumstances of the mother but on what is right.
There’s been an increase in the number of young, openly HIV positive mothers or pregnant women lately…what’s influencing this trend? Has t with a feeling of “if this girl can do it, then why not me”?
I think it has and another thing is that there has been a rise in the number of discordant couples because people are more enlightened now and people are careful if one partner is infected, so the probability of infecting each other is slim.
You had vaginal delivery; but what we all know is that HIV positive women are delivered of their babies through Cesarean section (CS) to further protect the baby?
Like I said earlier , my viral load was undetectable, am doing well with my treatment, and on that basis my doctor recommend that I have vaginal delivery.