I was diagnosed twenty-three years ago, when I was thirty-three and pregnant with my daughter. I was still using. I smoked crack cocaine and drank alcohol and smoked cigarettes and marijuana, in different combinations, through all those years, as we transitioned from public housing to subsidized housing.
When they were still young, my children were taken away from me. The Court stipulated that I go into treatment in order to get them back. That was the turning point for me, especially the part where you have to have supervised visitation with your children, I just couldn’t take it. So I entered rehab. At that time I wasn’t open to anyone knowing that I was HIV-positive. I was terrified.
But in the hospitals, those nurse ladies—oh! I’m just smiling about it now. They allowed me to hear them debating over who was going to draw my blood, and how many gloves they was going to put on. When I was taking my babies to get them their shots, those ladies would look at me so mean. “Why you do this to these kids?” You know, just making me feel like a horrible little mother.
But the hardest thing was the stigma I felt myself, about being HIV-positive.
I now work at an agency called the Women’s Collective and I’m a community health worker, so I work directly with clients who find it really hard to stay on their medications, or to make their doctor visits. They have life factors that come up. In the case of someone who has children, they prioritize and put their children’s needs in front of their own. In the case of someone who might be challenged with housing, there ain’t nobody think about no medicine when you ain’t got nowhere to live. Sometimes there are a lot of other factors that stop a person from doing the things that they need to do, and it is my job to find ways to encourage them or find ways to remind them, maybe just by staying in contact with them and giving them support.
Me, I take my medicine every day because I realize that this pill is keeping me alive and healthy. I surround myself with things that I like to do. I have—Lord knows—about four sewing machines. I like to sew! Right now my main focus and my goal is to live.