“From the Moment I Held Him, I Knew…”
The first real decision I made as a mother saved my son’s life.
I went the doctor’s office for a routine check-up, but after more than an hour of blood work and tests, I knew something was wrong. The doctors told me they needed to do an emergency Caesarean section, that the fluid around my baby was low, and that his heartbeat had slowed dramatically. If they didn’t deliver soon, I could lose my son.
Despite that information, my first instinct was to say, “No, maybe tomorrow — because today I’m not ready.”
I was alone in a new city, so I hesitated. In September 2013, I left my home in Sudan and moved to Washington, D.C. for a yearlong Atlas Corps fellowship with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF). I was five months pregnant when I left my husband, my family, and my friends to embark on a new journey and advance my career.
Four months later, I sat in the doctor’s office alone, panicking. I called my husband, waking him in the early hours of the morning back home, and tried to explain what was going on. He told me to think about our son – who I hadn’t felt move in hours – and make a decision.
Thirty minutes later they wheeled me into the delivery room.
I can’t really explain what it’s like to hear your child’s voice for the first time. But I know my life really started the minute they put my son in my arms. His eyes found mine and in that instant I became a mother. My husband and I decided to name him Sajed, which in my culture means “close to God.” In a few short months, Sajed has already taught me the meaning of unconditional love. I have the rest of his life to teach him everything else.
But sometimes I find myself wondering what would have happened if I’d had Sajed in Sudan. In my country and around the world, many women lack access to the kinds of medical facilities and skilled physicians who helped save Sajed’s life.
That’s why I am passionate about my work with EGPAF. They are committed to working until no child has AIDS, and each day I come to work knowing that I am helping bring us one step closer to that goal.
When I first started working at EGPAF, I was struck by the images on the office walls of women holding their babies and smiling. To summon the courage to smile despite the fact that you’re living with HIV, or when your child is HIV-positive, is no small thing. I know those women are beaming because of EGPAF’s lifesaving work. They smile because they are healthy and their families are healthy. They smile because they have a future.
At night when I get home, I tell Sajed about my day. He stares at me with bright, clever eyes. Though I realize he doesn’t quite know what I’m saying, I feel like he’s listening. When I dream of my son’s future, I imagine a world where every mother – no matter where she lives or what her HIV status is– can have a happy and healthy baby.
And I will keep working until that dream is a reality.
Maisoon Ibrahim Ateem is EGPAF’s Atlas Corps fellow based in Washington, D.C. For more information on the Atlas Corps, check out their website here.