My name is Flora. I live in western Kenya with my husband Michael, and we have been blessed with four wonderful children: Esther, Thomas, Stella, and Frank. I am HIV-positive, but my children are not.
When I was six months pregnant with Frank in 2009, I visited an antenatal clinic at Kimilili district hospital. At the clinic, the nurses performed some mandatory tests on me, including a TB and HIV screening. I tested positive for HIV.
My only thoughts were about my baby. The first question I asked the health worker was whether my baby was also HIV-positive. When she said the child could be negative, I was determined to learn about HIV so that I could do all that it would take to prevent transmitting the virus to my baby. As a mother, I would do anything in my power to make sure my child was born HIV-free.
The day I had tested positive for HIV, I called my husband and told him to come home early. After the children were asleep, I told him I had HIV, but he thought I was joking. When he realized I was serious, he opted to go for an HIV test. He tested positive, too, and started antiretroviral (ARV) medication immediately. Now, we remind each other about taking our ARVs; remaining healthy for the sake of our children is our biggest commitment to ourselves and each other.
At the clinic, my husband and I learned what medicines to give my baby to protect him from getting infected with HIV. We also learned about different feeding options to ensure the baby would remain healthy and safe while breastfeeding.
As I was getting closer to my due date, I felt empowered with my new knowledge. I was ready to have an HIV-free baby. When my labor pains started, I couldn’t get to the hospital.
Fortunately, the healthcare workers at the clinic told me how to handle my own delivery, so I had everything I needed to deliver the child myself. I took the drugs they gave me at an earlier antenatal visit, since it is possible for a mother to pass HIV to her child while giving birth. After Frank was born, I cut his umbilical cord with a clean razor blade. Finally, I gave the baby his first dose of ARVs.
Frank was tested at six weeks, three months, and six months, and tested negative each time. My son is officially HIV-free!
Being an HIV-positive mother was hard then, and it is hard now. However, I gained a lot of strength from my family, my community, the health clinic, and other HIV-positive women I met in a support group called “Waitinya.” In my community’s language of Luyhia, waitinya is a word that means “being hopeful.” I needed to be hopeful for my children, my husband, and my unborn baby. Today, I am still hopeful, and grateful too.
As a peer educator at the EGPAF-supported Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV (PMTCT) program in Kimilili District Hospital, Flora counsels and encourages other mothers to know their HIV status. She shares her own success story to encourage other HIV-positive mothers to faithfully take their ARVs and live healthy lives. Since the hospital integrated HIV and Tuberculosis within Maternal Child Health services in 2007, more women have continued to attend after seeing more HIV-positive women give birth to HIV-free babies.