Dear Diary,

I’ve attended the funerals of five family members–my sister, my aunt, my two cousins and my nanny. I lost them all to HIV. As I mourn their deaths, I can’t help but wonder if I’ll be forced to once again say goodbye to other loved ones. Right now, my aunt is in the hospital, and my cousin is being treated for the disease–an illness that impacts more than six million South Africans. It’s a disease that has unfortunately been a part of my life since I was 10-years-old. And more than a decade later, HIV impacts me. Here in South Africa, more than six million people are HIV positive. That’s more than the populations of Iowa and Kansas combined. And three in 10 pregnant women have the disease. As a mom-to-be, who strives to stay healthy and fit, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be the face of that statistic. So, I sat down with Thembeka–who was HIV positive and pregnant. She’s now a mother who reminds me that I can overcome anything life throws at me.

Samantha: Please tell me your story. When did you find out your status?

Thembeka: I was diagnosed in 2005. I was very shocked and hurt. I wasn’t expecting this thing, but I didn’t have a choice, I had to accept my status, so I got counseling.

The nurse at the clinic told me about medication, and I said to myself, I can beat this! I don’t have to live with this virus–this virus has to live with me!

Samantha: How did it affect you as a mother?

Thembeka: As a mother, you are always scared for your children. and you don’t want them to be alone. For me, it was just a matter of saying, OK Thembeka, this is your life now, so be strong, because you want to be there when they grow up. I also teach my kids to be strong and smart, because I want a better life for them. I want them to learn from me. HIV made me a better mother, and I am thankful for that.

Samantha: You had a child after you became infected. Was she planned, and how difficult was the pregnancy?

Thembeka: My daughter was such a surprise! I didn’t think I would get pregnant again. When I found out, I was put on Neviraphine to stop her from getting infected.

I was happy that she would be born healthy, but at the same time when you’re at the clinic, taking those pills, it clicks in your head that you’re actually protecting your child from yourself. I’ll never forget feeling like a danger to my own child.

I couldn’t breastfeed her, that was also hard for me because I felt like I was robbed of a chance to bond with her. Other than that, it was a very normal pregnancy. I still ate things like umgqusho (South African bean dish) and take-aways. At the clinic, the doctors couldn’t see the virus in my blood! It doesn’t mean it’s gone. It just means I’m doing well. I just make sure I always take my ARV’s. And as for exercise, my kids and the kids at work keep me on my toes.

Samantha: You’re very open about your status. How has that affected your family?

Thembeka: It was very bad. My family tried to take my child away from me. Other kids would tell him I’m a whore, and I’m going to die. People in the neighborhood would laugh at me and tell me that I was going to die. It was a fight from day one, and I had to be strong. Giving up was never an option. People talk. They always will. What kind of a mother would I be if I let words kill me? I just focused on my child and here I am. I’ve outlived some of those who said I’d die.

Samantha: What advice do you have for other HIV positive mothers?

Thembeka: Don’t hide. Being open about my status has been more of a blessing than a curse. At the clinic you can always tell who’s hiding, because the stress shows. Living openly allows me to be myself, and my children can see how strong their mom is. Lastly, don’t be ashamed. Like most illnesses, HIV can be managed. Life goes on.

Samantha: Thembeke, thank you so much for your time. Interviewing Thembeka was bittersweet. I am inspired by her courage and honesty. I wish my deceased relatives had her gusto and determination. I really hope that her story will help other women, no matter how much.

Hey DFTM Fam–Did you get tested for HIV while pregnant? What ran through your head while awaiting the results?

About The Author

Samantha Mangali
Motherland Mom

Samantha is a millenial mom-to-be living in Cape Town, South Africa.She writes about life as a future mom and the challenges of being bi-racial, unmarried (but in a commited relationship) and pregnant in the culturally rich and diverse South Africa. She's looking forward to building a life for herself and her young family. When not writing for DFTM, Samantha attends school full-time and blogs about life, love and social issues at Sami for Beginners.

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