I often get asked what it means to be a mother with HIV and honestly, I never knew how to answer that question. I never felt that my HIV had any relevance when it came to my parenting.
I’ve always told the women I meet and mentor that my daughter knows I have a thing called HIV and that I take a pill everyday for it and she accepts that. Well she did up until the other night that’s when she started to ask lots of questions about why I take a pill and what HIV is.
When she was three she asked me what my pill was and I said to stop me from getting poorly. She’d seen other family members like her grandparents take pills regularly so she accepted that explanation. When I did some interviews for radio and TV last year she asked ‘Mummy, what’s HIV?’. I said ‘You know the pill Mummy takes to stop her getting poorly, that’s why, I have HIV and need a pill for it’, that she accepted also. Now she’s nearly 6 and telling her what I’ve already told her is not enough anymore, she wants more details.
Firstly she asked why I take a pill, to which I replied I have HIV, she asked when will it be gone and I can stop taking the pills. I explained that it doesn’t really work like that and I’d have to take them forever. This is when she started to cry and that’s when I started to think that it would be easier to have not let her know about my HIV. Easier maybe, but not better.
She’s at an age where she’s thinking about life, death, family and her place in the world. In her world she knows that having a virus means that you’re poorly. She wants to know details about HIV but she’s not quite got the comprehension yet to understand the details. Asking questions about where it came from, how did I get it, can children have it etc etc. We had a cuddle, I explained all I could, showed her all my boxes of medication so she was reassured that I wouldn’t run out and managed to turn it around and we were giggling before bed, but it wasn’t the end of it.
A day or so later she asks my friend to explain to her how people get HIV, I guess my explanation of ‘you wouldn’t quite understand just yet’ wasn’t good enough but my friend said something that really made her accept she won’t know until she’s older. The conversation went like this;
My friend: You know how you can do maths at school?
Daughter: Yes, I can do sums, we did our two times tables this week.
My friend: You know James, (a 2yr old we’re very close with) does he know his two times tables?
Daughter: No he’s too little.
My friend: He’s too young to understand his 2 times tables, isn’t he?
My friend: Well it’s a bit like that, we could explain to you all about HIV but you’re too little to understand just yet. Just like you could tell James his times tables but there wouldn’t be much point would there?
Daughter: Ok I get it so you could tell me but I wouldn’t understand like James doesn’t understand maths. Are you going to tell me when I can understand? When will that be? when I’m like 10 or 11?
Me: We’ll have to wait and see but I’m guessing around then.
Since that conversation she’s not brought it up again. I’ve noticed she asks me if I have taken my pill a little more often than she used to but that’s all so far.
I’m extremely grateful for my friend who was able to explain things in a way to her that she understood and accepted. It really helped to have things explained in a different way by a different person, calmly and clearly. I admit I was a little emotional trying to explain to her about it all. I didn’t visibly get upset but I went a bit too far along the route of ‘don’t worry’ and ‘mummy is going to be fine’ than thinking about the best way to explain a complicated matter to her. She still doesn’t know how someone gets HIV because she still doesn’t need to know. I will now plan what to say in the future depending on her age.
I have nothing but respect for the mothers and fathers who tell their children about their HIV when they are already old enough to have formed an opinion about what HIV is, that must be very hard. I feel lucky that HIV happened to me when she was so young that me becoming sick from it will not be a part of her memory. It may be hard to explain to her about these things, but I think in the long run I’ll be glad I did it this way.