So I have been meaning to write this post for a while now, but have struggled to sit and put it all into words several times. This is my latest attempt because as I have wanted to write about other things regarding my pregnancy they often relate back to this; the THIS that I have not written about…
Let me begin by admitting that sometimes I feel guilty for how easy my pregnancy has been physically. I have had maybe two days of nausea, have never thrown up, have had all of two leg cramps, only some minor swelling beginning in the third trimester, a not so bad time with headaches, and all in all my midwives have always told me that I am perfectly healthy.
Except for the day they told me I was HIV positive. It was June 13th and Phil and I showed up excitedly for my 15 week appointment that was only our second one to date with our midwives. After having my vitals and whatnot checked my midwife shared “Well I have some weird news to give you today. Your blood work came back HIV positive.” I wish I could say that the rest of that appointment is a blur to me now, but instead I still remember it well. I remember the look on Phil’s face, how I started crying and he came over to hug me. I remember how my midwife stayed sitting across the room from me as she casually discussed this with me. I remember trying to stay calm and hopeful when on the inside I was screaming. The appointment did not last long; any questions I had for her had long since blown out of my mind. They used the doppler to let us listen to the baby’s heart beat. It was perfect. How was he completely okay if we on the outside were falling apart? What if he was not okay? What if I really had HIV and he had it too. Ohhh God.
They took more blood to test me again. My midwife stated she believed it was a mistake. Afterall, I am incredibly low risk and it did not really make sense. I mean how do you catch HIV when you have had sex with one person? My mind starting racing through my social work experiences-nothing worrisome there. I thought of my mission trips. We did volunteer in that one AID’s hospital…I thought of getting sick while studying in Guatemala, and how they had taken a blood sample. Was the needle they used dirty?
It did not make sense, but what if it was true? This was the thought running through my head as we left. I think I broke down crying at least twice on our way to the car. Each time Phil would simply hold me and tell me that we would be okay. As we pulled out of the parking lot we made several calls. Phil called my work to let them know I would not be coming back that day. I called my dad. I tried really hard to sound strong, and not scared at all, and I fought back feelings of guilt at having to potentially put him through another family crisis. Another family illness.
After our phone calls I became determined that I needed Indian food. Indian food would make it better. We went to Ellwoods and picked up Indian food off the hot bar. I also bought my first dark chocolate bar in about six months (I discovered last year that dark chocolate and green tea were the culprits in the serious stomach pain I had been having for months), because if I had HIV then I was sure as hell going to eat a damn chocolate bar.
Throughout the rest of the day our conversations consisted mostly of prayers, what if’s, jokes to try and distract ourselves, and sharing with some of our close friends and family so they could be praying for us. It was a dark night. Phil and I laid in our bed for hours that night simply holding each other. I kept thinking about the possibility that I had gotten the two most important people in the world to me sick. I thought about our son having to grow up with two sick parents. I thought about how I would probably have to have a c-section delivery and would not be able to breastfeed my child. I thought about how I might second guess myself every time I went to kiss my son. Would I still be able to work at my job? Would my friends treat me differently? Would I still be able to hold and kiss their babies? Would they let me, but be wincing on the inside? How on earth would we be able to afford the medications needed to treat HIV? How, why, what, how?
My appointment was on a Wednesday. I barely worked for the rest of the week. I just could not emotionally handle going into a session and being emotionally present with a child and their problems, when my own problems were almost all I could think of. All my coworkers were worried. They thought something was wrong with the baby. I did not correct them, because I was in no way ready to share what was really happening. So I stayed home. I jumped every time my phone rang, hoping it would be my midwife calling with good results. I almost screamed when they did call, but it was simply an automated message reminding me of my next appointment. Friday came and went and no test results. We would have to make it through the weekend.
Let me back up a little bit. Since the Spring of this year I have been slowing reading a book called “One Thousand Gifts”. I mention reading slowing only because I normally inhale books. But not this one. There has been so much truth, beauty, and conviction in it that I can only handle it bit by bit. I read and then I spend time reflecting, praying, and ultimately changing. The book is amazing, AMAZING, and you should read it. The basic premise is that thanksgiving is intricately tied to our salvation, and that Adam and Eve’s first sin was truly at its core a sin of being ungrateful for ALL that God had given them. They wanted more. They were not looking around to see God everywhere. The book is about drawing us back to seeing God everywhere. To finding the gift from God in everything; even the hard things. The author began writing a list of the gifts of God. Things she experienced every day. Because as she learned to really have her eyes see, to be thankful for all the gifts that surrounded her, she learned to live in worship. She learned to live in peace.
Well God certainly knows what he/she is doing because I had these truths sinking into me for at least three months before our midwife dropped the three-lettered bomb on us. It is through no great work of my own, but completely God’s grace and power that shaped mine and Phil’s reaction to the diagnosis. When I look back at my journal from that week I did not write much at all; I simply wrote this:
Lord, Your will not mine. All you give us is a gift in one way or another. All you give is a gift and I trust that you will not give us more than we can handle.
Thursday of that week I went out after dinner for a walk. Phil had to do homework, but was concerned with whether I felt up to going by myself. I assured him that I was fine and honestly I knew that I needed some more alone time to pray and continue the “I trust you God/wtf God?” conversation I had been having since Wednesday. I went out and walked and walked, and walked some more. The day was so beautiful outside I could have cried just for the beauty alone (read pregnancy hormones). As I walked I counted the graces, the gifts from God all around me- the beautiful sky, the breeze that moved the hair out of my face, the children’s laughter I could hear from afar…. I prayed. I listened. As I walked God spoke to me about how I was okay, that I was not sick, and that the diagnosis was not true.
For the past few months at my church we had this running theme of “Listen to His Voice”, well I did and I realized that night and in the coming days that there is a big other step I had to take aside from listening to God’s voice….I had to actually trust what I had heard.
I had to trust it when that next Monday my midwife called to share that I had tested positive again. I had to trust as we made an appointment with an infectious disease specialist. I had to trust as I got texts from friends asking for updates. I had to trust when I looked at my husband and doubts came into my head about whether or not we would be able to grow old together. Whether I would be there to hold my current son’s future children. I had to trust at the infectious disease doctor when filling out paperwork with a blank line asking “reason for visit”. I had to trust when I started getting calls from a VCU MCV program specifically for pregnant women who are HIV positive.
And the good thing about that trust? It produced a peace that honestly goes beyond anything I have experienced in my life. Phil and I were able to live our lives for the next month more or less normally. Sure there will still moments I doubted. Times when I cried. A lot of curse words were said. I ate more chocolate bars, and had terrible stomach aches. But I also had some great times with friends. Times where we danced and laughed. I felt a lot of love from people who reached out to let us know that we were not alone, but that they were with us. I was able to walk back into my sessions with client’s focused on their needs, not mine. God’s grace and peace were sufficient.
And thankfully almost a month later on July 11th I received a phone call from the infectious disease doctor. She kept it quick. I was not HIV positive. I have one random antibody present in my blood that produced the false positive, and she was not really sure why it was there…but she was sure that I was/am HIV free. She told me to relax and enjoy the rest of my pregnancy. She wished me luck, and I thanked her for how sensitive and kind she had been.
We hung up and I burst into tears in the middle of my office.I put my head down on my desk and sobbed. Laughed and sobbed. I was overwhelmed with the gift, with the grace. I spent a month with and HIV diagnosis. And instead of it being something that overshadowed my entire life, it was a gift. A gift of learning to listen and trust like never before. A gift of great grace. A gift of coming to care for those who do have an true HIV diagnosis with more compassion than ever before. A gift of knowing that even if I had truly had HIV that I would have been okay. My family would have been okay.
Because God can use everything that comes into our life to be a gift in one way or another…if only our eyesight can change.