I have two children, a 12-year old and an 8-year old. We won them in the long, hard slog that is IVF. We went this route as I have HIV and my wife does not, so a manner in which she was kept safe from being infected was the only way to go for us. For anyone familiar with any sort of fertility treatment, you'll be aware that its success rate rarely climbs above 30% and involves a long, arduous series of tests, trips abroad, more tests and some very mind-altering medication for the hopeful mother-to-possibly-be. It often makes you wonder how people ever get pregnant simply left to their own devices. But, as they say, there are books on that.
The IVF process was one in which I had the alarming discovery that while I had gone through many different emotional and physical stages of living with HIV; illness, trying to comply with harsh drug regimens with harsher side-effects, telling family, telling would-be partners and coming to terms psychologically with the status, HIV still had surprises for me. I thought I had gone through pretty much everything with the diagnosis, and barring serious illness, it had simply become a part of my life, as much as my over-sized ears or my ongoing recovery from alcoholism. It's not really so much of a jest to bookend HIV with those two aspects of my life. Everything in our lives is an aspect of our being, with its own drawbacks and advantages, depending on our perspective at any given time.
But trying to have a child and being HIV produced an entirely new (for me) part of living with the illness. The endless, necessary but intrusive questions regarding the sexual practices of my wife and I, normally rather a personal matter; the need for a fertility clinic to run our case by their ethics committee, and of course, how might my HIV status impact on any child we might be lucky enough to have. So, cut to 14 years later, after 3 IVF cycles across as many countries and I am in that enviable position now, with two wonderful, healthy children.
"For their generation, me having HIV
may well become as mundane as a Dad
with blood pressure problems or diabetes."
How is the fact of my HIV going to affect them? It's a thought on any parent's mind of course. How will my actions, choices, personality, and example be a force for good or evil in the lives of these kids? The large question as it pertains to HIV is, of course, the stigma. Yes, these are different times now to the grim 80's, but the knowledge and attitudes of the general public hasn't really moved very far from then, I believe. The fact that HIV is a sexually transmitted infection in a country where the public discourse around sexual matters is still, well, conservative, at best and narrow-minded and judgemental at its worst. So, let's say if a parent of my daughter's friend discovers my HIV status, will that impact on her negatively? I don't know. It depends on who we're talking about of course; and people can often surprise you with how empathetic and supportive they can be in such circumstances. So, I will have to wait and see.
I'm uncertain if there is much I can do to prepare myself or, more importantly, my children from possible negative fallout. I haven't yet told either of them of the HIV. They see me taking medication daily, but it's such a fact of life for them that it hasn't aroused any curiosity that I've been aware of yet. I don't wish to make a big deal over 'warning' them either of what might happen. Perhaps nothing ever will. For their generation, such matters may well become as mundane as a Dad with blood pressure problems or diabetes. Serious and important for sure, but not meriting any other emotional trauma. Until I drop dead from some ailment I suppose. But then every child has the possibility of losing a parent to deal with. So, it's a work in progress for me to think about. I have a wonderful relationship with the two of them. And they are wonderful people (I would say that though, wouldn't I?) so perhaps that's the one thing that matters most, and any and all emotional stresses, disasters and life challenges will be met and coped with based on how strong I can keep that relationship.