"HIV and Baby Makes Three:" Busting Myths About HIV and Pregnancy
Health writer Heather Boerner talks about "HIV and Baby Makes Three," a story that chronicles the struggles of two HIV-positive couples as they try to have children—and succeed.
“HIV and Baby Makes Three” is the story of two couples—each with one HIV-positive partner—who did what most people think of as impossible: they had children, through unprotected sex, and no one else contracted the virus. It’s a surprising and inspiring story about overcoming medical obstacles and social stigma in order to achieve the dream of having children.
I talked to health writer Heather Boerner about her forthcoming e-book, the universal longing for love and the drive to have a child.
Tell us about the couples in your story.
The first couple I met was the Hartmanns, Dan and Susan. I met them about four or five years ago. They now live in the Washington DC area and they have one daughter, Ryan Nicole Hartmann. She is HIV-negative and Susan is also HIV-negative and Dan is HIV-positive.
The other couple Poppy and Ted—who I call the Morgans, which is a pseudonym because the husband is not out about having HIV to everyone. I met them later… in 2011-2012. They live in San Francisco and their daughter, who we called PomPom in the story, was born in April. I met her in July and she’s super adorable and really mellow, and she’s HIV-negative. Her mom is also HIV-negative and her father is, still, HIV-positive.
Why did you choose to specifically write about these couples and their attempt to have children?
What I wanted to write about was the couples, not so much about HIV.
Most of the time, when you hear about an HIV-positive person, the image that pops into people’s head is a gay man. When I discovered this story, I was doing an article for a hemophilia magazine. A lot of guys with hemophilia developed HIV in the 1980s from tainted blood products. And that’s how I met Dan Hartmann—he has hemophilia. I was doing a story on ways to become a parent. I talked to a couple who adopted, I talked to a couple who did IVF, and then I talked to the Hartmanns.
My thoughts about HIV had kinda frozen back in the 80s and 90s. I knew that there were better treatments. I knew that people were living longer, but it was kind of abstract to me. And then I meet these couples, and the men have had HIV for decades now, and they’re really healthy. What it brought home to me was how much HIV has changed and that it’s no long this death sentence that kills you quickly and robs you of a rich, full life. These guys [Ted and Dan] have rich, full lives, including wives.
I had already had an interest in fertility and had been researching another book on miscarriage. I had been following the saga of infertility and infertility treatments and the drama that goes along with that. And that was the other thing that attracted me to this story. The story is about HIV, but it’s also about this drive to have a child. I’ve read lots of stories about women who are powerful in their everyday lives, and then they try to get pregnant and they’re powerless. This story seemed to me like a different example of that struggle. Neither couple had problems with fertility biologically, but rather these artificial fertility issues. Unlike other couples, they couldn’t just have sex and get pregnant. It was almost like they were “de facto infertile,” because they were supposed to go with the reproductive technology route.
What has the response been from the HIV community?
The responses I’ve gotten from the HIV community have been, “I’m so glad people are talking about this!” There’s this myth that you can’t have unprotected sex—which I think most of us believe. That’s the public health message: don’t have sex without a condom. If you look back at all of the HIV awareness campaigns, they all mention condoms. So, what’s happened is that the science has gotten so much better that the guys in this story, who both have HIV, have no trace of the virus in their system. The drugs are so good and powerful, that they not longer have the virus in their systems to pass on. Which is how they can have unprotected sex.
This is something that’s been a big topic of conversation within the HIV community for years. There’s been tons of research on this, and there’s been tons of research within the gay male community about it. But it seems to me that a lot of the research deals with either can you have unprotected sex or can women who are HIV-positive not pass on the virus. I think that people are really getting excited that this is getting more press and that the mainstream public is getting more information about it.
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