Finding out you are pregnant can be one of the most exciting moments of your life, but when you are living with HIV like I am, it can also be stressful. With so many health hurdles to overcome, it becomes more important than ever to do your research and find out what your limitations and rights are as a mother to be. Which is exactly what I did when deciding a few things about my pregnancy, birth and post birth. One of the big decisions I had to make early on was whether or not I was going to breast feed.
As someone who has been living with the virus for 30 years now, I knew that the option was possible for me since I had read years ago that HIV positive mothers could breast feed without transmitting the virus to their baby. But since it had been many years since doing my research I reached out to my DRs to find out what they had to say and what advice they could offer.
Now I have to point out that I am currently living in France and so I was dealing with French doctors who often didn’t speak a word of English which meant my husband had to translate. But still I was optimistic that they would be encouraging. Instead I was met with a huge wave of NOs as DR after DR told me it was too dangerous. Thankfully having done my own research before hand and having worked in HIV I knew that they were wrong and showed them articles from the the World Health organization and other institutions and publications which had done numerous studies and found that there was basically zero risk of transmission if the mother was on ARVs and had a suppressed viral load which I had had for some years. After some convincing on my end, I finally decided to go my own way and do what I thought was right for my family and myself.
It has now been two months since I gave birth and I have been successfully breast feeding without any problems or risks. But what this whole experience has taught me is how much people living with HIV and other chronic illnesses need to advocate for themselves, to do research for themselves and ask the right questions to get the full picture. Because what ever a mother decides, should be supported and met only with facts and not be shamed into doing what the DRs think is best as I came to realize because all of the DRs I had spoken to had rarely worked with someone living with HIV and instead of being a pillar of support became another hurdle to overcome.
So whilst I always listen to DRs advice, I also think it is important to know what your limitations are and get as many opinions as possible to make the best decision for yourself. Because after all, it is your body and your life and no one has more agency and control over it than you.