Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 30th 2014 Contents | FAMILY |
IN OBSERVANCE OF WORLD AIDS DAY o
on the situations of some women in Trinid
By Onika Nkrumah-Lakhan
Twenty-two-year old Barbie (a fictitious name) lives in Arima, and is the mother of a young
son. She has been living with HIV for the past three years. Barbie contracted the disease
from her son's father, and only discovered her status during routine prenatal testing. "I got
the call from the hospital asking me to come in; they re-did the test in front of me and broke
the news ...I cried; it was depressing". Barbie was referred to the Medical Research
Foundation (MRF) where she was counselled about medications she could take to avoid her
child being born with the disease. "I told my child's father that we needed to talk, but he
avoided me, because apparently he already knew but he pretended not to have HIV and
instead accused me of making him sick!"
Barbie also chose to remain with her partner, at least for a while. "I had nowhere to go; I was
living with my boyfriend because my stepfather had tried to molest me and I resisted, so
when I became pregnant, he was angry and told my mother that I had to leave his house."
Soon enough, her relationship dissolved under the weight of her boyfriend's betrayal, as well
as his violent tendencies. "He used to hit me and do me all kind of things..."
Today, Barbie's ex has no relationship with his son, who was born HIV negative, and he has
since moved on to several other partners. "My child's father is still out there doing this."
Barbie makes it her business to monitor his Facebook page; this was how she was able to
warn two other women that they were 'sleeping with the enemy'.
It's such a pity that here in Trinidad, people are able to get away with such irresponsible
behaviour, elsewhere in the world, it is a crime to knowingly infect someone with HIV. I also
realize from speaking to both Barbie and Dolly, that there are two self-imposed constraints
with women who are living with HIV: they sometimes remain in their relationships, and they
often 'suffer' in silence, understandably choosing to never confide in anyone, not even their
"When I was leaving the hospital, a nurse ran behind me; she tried to convince me to call my
mother but I don't want her to know".
"I used to worry; I don't now, I've come to terms with it, but I hate going to clinic. I feel awk-
ward and sad, sometimes I see people who are badly off and I wonder, will I reach that
stage? I resent the inquisitive eyes; it's like being in a fishbowl and I'm afraid of seeing some-
one that I know. Luckily, I haven't yet." Barbie is not on any medications yet, because her viral
load and CD4 (protective white blood cells) count is good.
On the delicate subject of meeting new potential partners, Barbie softly says, "I have a lot of
friends who like me, but I haven't had intercourse since, although I have kissed one guy...it's
going to be tough, because I won't do to anyone what my child's father did to me. I will have
to tell them; either they accept me or they don't".
Adversity can sometimes create new, unlikely allies, Barbie and one of the women she
warned via Facebook keep in touch with each other. Barbie hopes to continue her dream of
teaching, she had already been accepted to UWI, but abandoned it when she became preg-
nant and subsequently discovered her HIV-positive status. Her son is her "pride and joy...I
love my son to death, I thank God for him. I don't regret his birth. Even though the circum-
stances were not ideal, if it weren't for his father, he wouldn't be here today."
By Onika Nkrumah-Lakhan
Dolly (not her real name) is a twenty-three-year old woman living with HIV.
the disease from her gangleader boyfriend, who subsequently died, not from
hail of bullets. Her boyfriend had a lot of children by different women; inevit
some baby mama drama: "One of his children's mother had issues with me
throw words, saying, 'go and check yourself because he is sick!'"
Finally, Dolly decided to take an HIV test; doctors soon confirmed that she w
"I'm a stoic; I took it well for some reason. I was in shock; I returned the nex
of the test, but the results were still the same. I confronted my ex, but he d
infecting me. We fought."
In spite of the fact that her ex-boyfriend had knowingly infected her, Dolly d
couldn't leave; I stayed because I was already infected. Why run now ... run
lot to deal with; I also feared him because of his criminal lifestyle. He would
this life you don't leave until they are finished with you..."
Dolly says that she was unaware of his criminal background until she was a
deep, "I was young and he was living a double life.... In the beginning, he eve
ents, painting a picture-perfect image of himself." Eventually, fate would fre
her ex was gunned down. She says, "I felt relief. It was painful, but I was fina
Coping with her illness has become routine for Dolly; for a while she refused
offers, but she prays a lot. "I don't ask God why me, but I do wish everythin
to normal. I only started taking medication a few months ago. I resisted it b
associated it with being at the last stages of the disease. I used to self-med
gym, and maintain a healthy diet."
Dolly is living through HIV with no family support, she resolutely insists "I w
this alone. My Mum isn't ready to accept this. I deal with stuff on my own u
Remarkably, there is one other person who knows; her current boyfriend. It
for her to finally tell him the truth, when she allowed a doctor to text him. "
carrying that burden; it was too stressful". Imagine getting that text while
flurry of text exchanges between them, he left work and went directly to b
miraculously, his status was negative. "He was exposed to it, but he didn't
shame me. He was hurt, he cried a lot ... I'm sorry I repeated the cycle of exp
would never do that again. I accept my illness now." Dolly and her partner a
measures to keep him HIV-free; they always use condoms. "The relationsh
went for counselling. He said that he is not prepared to push me away beca
tive; that man loves me a lot!
"Dolly's advice to young women is "Don't have unprotected sex ... people tak
unthinkingly give away their bodies. Think; protect yourself. Get to know yo
their status first, don't rush in.... I contracted this from my boyfriend, who w
ond sexual partner."
At MRF, Medical Research Foundation where Dolly and others who share h
treatment and counselling, "You see people you know from the street, youn
aged, more women than men, I think the men are too scared of being expo
When Dolly finally decided to attend, "Someone saw me and told a neighbo
neighbour called to interrogate me, and I told them that it was none of thei
had gone there for!"
Dolly is now living through her illness by helping others. "I counsel other you
open and frank with them; I answer all their questions. I am able to maintain
I love to interact with people, and I don't dwell on my status. There are so m
lier illnesses... I even met a guy who has been living with HIV for twenty-som
viral load is so good that he is almost HIV negative."
(Viral load refers to the level of HIV in your blood. Knowing your viral load h
care provider to monitor the disease, decide when to start treatment, and d
effectiveness of your HIV medications.)
And so, life continues one day at a time for Dolly and her partner. She says
am normal. I think positive. This is my journey, it's my path ... I didn't ask for
happen to anyone ... just don't let it be you!"
Barbie hopes to continue her
dream of teaching, she had
already been accepted to
UWI, but abandoned it when
she became pregnant
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