My Journey to Motherhood As an HIV+ Woman

“Be positive about being positive,” is one of the statements that has stuck with me for a number of years. l am always encouraged to see people who take a positive outlook on life no matter the circumstances they are faced with.

Precious Mwewa Kaniki is such a person. l call her “A breath of fresh air” each time l read her posts on social media. We’ve featured her story twice before on The Weight She Carries. The first time she talked about the complexities of navigating life as a young woman living with HIV. Then, she opened up to us about finding love as an HIV+ woman. Now she is back to talk about motherhood and the steps she took to ensure the virus was not transmitted to her baby girl Gabriella.

Kim Mukwa:  It is good to have you back, Precious. Your journey with HIV is well documented on The Weight She Carries and other media outlets. What was the process of PMTCT (Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission)?

Precious: Every HIV-positive woman wants to bear an HIV-negative child, and because of improved science, it is indeed possible to have an HIV-negative child as long as your viral load is undetectable. ln reality though it is different. As a person who has been living with HIV for the past 16 years, truthfully it is quite scary because I went through anxiety and the fear of ‘what if my child gets infected?’, which is the most realistic question that a lot of mothers face.

Like everybody else that was my fear as well. When l found out l was pregnant with Gabriella, I took double and even triple the care I gave myself because now I was thinking about the child too. l made sure l took my supplements and did not miss any of my doses despite continued anxiety.

Zambia’s PMTCT guidelines state that when a child is born it is put on prevention prophylaxis, which are antiretrovirals for three months administered according to the baby’s weight. The baby is supposed to be tested about seven times before they are in the clear.

The first three months for me were the most difficult because the fear of infecting her never went away even when l knew l was taking precautions.

It is a great responsibility to undertake but l am glad that l had a solid support system, which includes my brother, mother, and husband, who were always on standby to help me. I am happy to say that Gabriella is a healthy baby who has met all her growth milestones.

Kim Mukwa: As an HIV advocate, what are some of the recent projects you have undertaken and what words of advice would you give to a positive woman who wants to have children but is afraid?

Precious: Children change your life. Schedules change and the life you knew is disrupted, which, in and of itself, can trigger anxiety and stress. Going out becomes too much of a job because you fear that the baby may cause a mess or throw a tantrum, so you just end up being at home rather than going out.

Another important aspect of the baby’s health is breastfeeding. As long as one is undetectable and is adherent, you can breastfeed instead of starting with formula which can trigger diarrheal issues. Gabriella was breastfed for the first three months before l put her on formula.

Adherence and encouraging your partner to do the same is very important in this journey as well. At the facility l work for, l encourage women using my experience. l promote what l practice and also share my fears and anxieties with them to show them that they are not alone.

At the end of the day, the onus is on me to do my best to take care of my baby and l. Keeping one’s mental health in check is also something l speak about a lot because l know how daunting motherhood can be.

Remember to be optimistic and have a positive attitude always and do not hesitate to call out for help when things get tough.

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