Talking To Your Kids About HIV
"Talking To Your Kids" is a new series featuring wisdom from the smartest people I know on how to teach children about difficult subjects. Today's post comes from my friend and mentor Michelle. Wife, Mom of four, exceptional baker, fierce advocate for adoption and too many other amazing things to mention here. You can read more from Michelle on her blog Thoughts from Michelle's Kitchen.
February is African-American HIV Awareness Month. While I’m not African-American (pretty sure I’m the whitest skinned girl my friends know), nor HIV+, my kids are both. So I guess I can write about this sort of thing, even though we’ve been told by nearly every professional not to.
There are some really good reasons not to tell. For starters, it’s their story. Not mine. And the pain it will bring from mean children if we tell. Mean people. Mean parents. Parents are the WORST.
But oh, the pain of NOT telling. The unnecessary fear that still exists in our society. The secrets. The aftermath if it gets “leaked.”
Why We Talk About HIV Openly
I went to look for financial help for very expensive medicine from a local non-profit. I had an appointment with a nice, young social worker. There were posters, pamphlets, educational materials, of course propaganda, and a candy jar full of condoms of every color in the rainbow sitting on her desk. I didn’t have my kids with me, but if I had, I’m sure that “candy jar” would have been moved because of uncontrollable hands reaching for what they thought was sugar-filled yumminess.
"How did a girl like ME get here?" I thought with nervous bewilderment.
I told her we were thinking of disclosing. Without hesitation, she said to me, “Oh you don’t want to do that! This city is harsh. I have an 80-something year old client who is so afraid someone will see him here that he won’t even park in the parking lot. He parks in the back of the office and I have to let him in through the back door. None of his friends or family know because of the ramifications.”
And in that moment, I made my decision.
No child of mine will EVER live life that way. NOT EVER!
So we can advocate as informed citizens and get little to nowhere. Or we can advocate and educate as parents of our amazing Dominican-born children and actually be heard.
Our family lives with HIV. LIVES WITH IT.
Two of my kids have HIV. NONE OF MY KIDS ARE DYING FROM IT.
And we intend to keep it that way. That is why we are telling you.
You can help by knowing the truth about HIV. Therefore not fearing them, stigmatizing them, shaming them. Because when those things happen, they want to die. And then they do.
What is HIV/AIDS
HIV is a virus that attacks the immune system. Once the immune system is damaged, infections develop. Two or more infections turn an HIV+ status into AIDS. The person will die of that particular infection. HIV can be stopped from leading to an infection (AIDS) by taking medication. Adult patients can now take just 1 pill a day. It is no longer a death sentence.
And all the HIV patients say, “Amen and Hallelujah!”
HIV is a fragile virus. The virus starts to die once it leaves the body. It is not airborne. If there is a blood spill, the virus starts to die once it hits air. Because of this, there has NEVER been a reported case of accidental infection in a casual household.
And yet, the FEAR remains.
How HIV is Transmitted
HIV is not spread through kissing/saliva. You can share drinks and food with an HIV+ person and not worry about getting infected. It is not found in urine, fecal matter or vomit.
HIV is spread through sharing needles, breast feeding and sex. So as long as your child is not engaging in these behaviors they will not get HIV.
Medication and Treatment
Although HIV is a fragile virus, it is a very smart virus. If the medications are not taken properly, the virus can mutate and the person can become immune to the medication. If this happens, it limits the patient’s options. Because of this, a patient can die.
I don’t have this teaching my kids about hard topics thing figured out yet. They are still young. Or teaching my kids anything for that matter. The older I get, the more life experience I gain, I realize how very little I really know about anything.
But we’ve decided it’s important for us to teach YOU about this hard topic FIRST. So that when our kids are old enough for us to give them more detail about why they have to take 3 medications every morning (and it is a battle EVERY morning) they know there are lots of people out there who accept them. Virus and all.
Look for Opportunities to Discuss with Your Kids
We like to share old TV shows with our kids. Lately we’ve been going through The Brady Bunch thanks to Hulu. My older boys love it which makes my heart smile. They ask questions about the actors, and I show them pictures of what they look like now. The older characters have passed on now and my kids want to know why for all of them. The only one I really know the why for is Mr. Brady.
So I told them, "He had the same virus that your brother and sister have. They didn’t have the medication then that they do now."
They are 9 and 11. They very matter-of-factly accept this truth.
But do you?
The importance is not HOW Mr. Brady acquired HIV or that my kids were born with it. The importance is how YOU treat them. Regardless.
Please don’t be afraid of my kids. Please be their friend. They are not scary. They are not scary now. They won’t be scary when they are 16 either.
Help us spread the truth about HIV.