A while back, I spoke with a person who was writing a story about our journey to conceive. She asked about the medication I was taking, Truvada, and in talking with her I realized that I had not processed the fact that I was taking an HIV medication during our attempts to conceive. When I first heard about the possibility of taking Truvada as a way to reduce the risk of transmission of HIV during unprotected planned intercourse, I asked my primary doctor to prescribe it to me. My doctor not only refused to prescribe the medication, saying it would be unethical for her to do so, but she also told me she'd refuse to see me as a patient if I was going to engage in such risky behavior.
Needless to say, I found another doctor who was willing to prescribe me Truvada. The only thing was this new doctor was a doctor at the HIV clinic where my husband was a patient. It was an unconventional approach...but I was willing to do whatever it took to conceive a child.
So...now to the "processing" part.
I'll be honest here...it was not a comfortable feeling for me to go to an HIV clinic for my primary health care needs. It was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. The advantage was the doctors at this clinic were very mindful and supportive of our desire to reduce risk of transmission, but since they were specialists in treating HIV patients, I didn't get the comprehensive health care that I really needed. But it was the only place I could be prescribed Truvada within my insurance network so there I was... monthly visits and blood tests at an HIV clinic. It made me face my own prejudice and notions about HIV. I felt ashamed. I felt humiliated. I realized that everyone in this clinic, thought I was HIV+. The receptionist, the patients in the waiting room, the medical assistants, the nurses, the custodial staff, the lab workers....I felt angry that in this modern age of medicine, this was how it had to be done. But the real reason for my anger was my shame.
I thought I had processed it all...thought I had come to accept my husband was HIV+, but it became clear that I had not. I finally understood why my husband battles so much with shame, and social anxiety, and self-hatred. It is because he lives in a world where having HIV is still judged, still shamed, and still feared. And...he joins his voice to the rest of those that spew judgement and hatred...in fact, his voice may be the loudest of all. And I am ashamed to admit, and still processing how to rid myself of the judgement and fear that I thought I had overcome. I know now that it is different when you are a patient. It is different when you are the one living with HIV.
I also know that I rose above my own shame, and I faced what I thought was judgement from others...because I knew it was temporary. I knew I was not HIV+, and once I became pregnant I would not have to go back to the clinic. While it took resolve for me to check in and sit in the waiting room of an HIV clinic, it was not brave or courageous. No, the brave and courageous ones are those who live life every day with HIV...who boldly face shame, and fear, and rejection each day.