#FacingAIDS for World AIDS Day

by Shannon Dingle
Originally Published: 

Think HIV is scary? We did too, but now we’re #FacingAIDS for World AIDS Day (#WorldAIDSDay).

My husband and I talked about foster care and adoption from our earliest dating days. But as we considered which special needs we were open to, we firmly agreed on one: we wouldn’t feel comfortable parenting a child with HIV.

What we knew about HIV then was based in ignorance instead of education. Then after the births of our first two, we thought they wouldn’t be safe if we adopted a child with HIV. But now I’m the mother of six, including one with HIV. We’re joining with others in #FacingAIDS today, showing that HIV isn’t just a nameless, faceless cause from the 80s.

So what changed?

Nowadays, ignorance is treated like a nasty word or insult, but the word simply means a lack of knowledge or understanding. Ignorance itself isn’t ugly or shameful, unless we choose to embrace it when faced with facts to the contrary. With a master’s degree in special education, I was knowledgeable about a wide range of special needs. Meanwhile, with an HIV/AIDS education stuck in my 90s middle school health class, I was ignorant about that.

Then an old acquaintance from my hometown contracted HIV from a boyfriend. She is younger than me and single at the time, and I thought her future was bleak. Now her condition is managed well with medication, she met and married the love of her life, and medical advances not only allow her husband to remain HIV- but also give them freedom to have healthy biological children if they decide to do so.

Watching her journey with HIV unfold made me realize how little I knew.

As my husband and I learned more from trusted doctors and other sources, ignorance shattered. The education which grew in that place eventually led us to say yes last year to the adoption of three siblings, one of whom has HIV.I wish I could say that all of our friends and family chose education over ignorance. They didn’t. While I still grieve some of those losses, I can’t change anyone else’s choices. And sometimes that sucks.

Recently, I broke my personal rule about reading comments on a recent Scary Mommy post about HIV on the playground and on a Facebook post by The Doctors after pediatric HIV disclosure was a show topic. Those comments stung. Many commenters didn’t bother reading the article, watching the show, or doing their own research before responding so strongly against HIV, suggesting that children like mine should be barred from public schools, playgrounds, sports teams, and the like. Meanwhile, the US has meticulously tracked HIV transmissions for decades, and the virus has never been transmitted in any of those environments or even in home environments like ours.

In both the blog post and the TV episode, HIV risks were said to be minimal because of medications that suppress HIV viral loads to the point of being undetectable in the blood. Yes, as a mom, I am thrilled with those medical advances. But other kids aren’t at risk because my child receives treatment; other kids aren’t at risk because HIV isn’t transmitted in childhood activities. HIV treatment simply protects my child from being sick or advancing to an AIDS diagnosis. For sexually active people with HIV, undetectable viral loads help prevent partners from contracting it, though HIV status should be disclosed so all parties are informed and consenting.

But on the playground, at church, or in school, is there any medical or safety need for disclosure to administrators, teachers, parents, or other children? No. Some families, like mine, choose to disclose so we can educate others, but we’re under no medical, legal, or ethical obligation to do so. HIV is only present in semen, vaginal fluids, breastmilk, and blood. The first three don’t come into play among kids, and when it comes to blood, HIV has never been transmitted through bloody noses, skinned knees, broken skin, blood brother pacts, or other childhood accidents. Never.

As much as I try to educate the public, the choices of other people will hurt my child someday. When others choose fear over facts, they miss out on a truly amazing kid who makes the world a richer place.

The only person who didn’t have a choice is this scenario is my child. Before taking a breath, a virus flowed through a little one who never asked for this diagnosis or stigma. I could choose to say no to knowledge. You can choose to say no to education. But my child never got a choice.

Maybe you began reading with the same attitude I used to have. Maybe you still aren’t sure. That’s okay. It’s not ignorant to want to learn more and not just take one mom’s word for it. Check out links like these, talk to medical professionals you know and trust, or do other educated research on your own.

And then make your own choice. I hope it will be to join with us in ending stigma and working toward an AIDS-free generation, but the decision is up to you.

Related post: My HIV Child Is Playing With Your Child

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