"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.
What has the response been outside of the HIV community? I’m sure people who aren’t as familiar with HIV would be shocked to know that an HIV-positive person could have unprotected sex and their partner and child can both be HIV-negative.
I would tell people that I’m working on this story and that this was possible and people would do double takes, like their mouths would hang open. They can’t believe that it was possible, and, at first, I couldn’t believe it either. It’s really exciting. The response from people outside the HIV community is generally, “Oh my gosh, how is that possible? I want to read your story!”
When I talked to women who’ve had trouble getting pregnant or have been in that fertility cycle, who have read the story or that I’ve talked to about the story, they’re super excited to read it because they feel like they see their experiences there as well. They get to see how hard you have to fight, how much determination you have to have in order to have a child. I talked to Poppy after PomPom was born, and she said, “My daughter is so stubborn, she’s already really stubborn. But so am I, and that’s why we’re here.” Women who have no connection to HIV have read this story and have been really excited about it. They’re pulled into that human drama of how hard it can be to get pregnant.
Why did the couples choose to have children through unprotected sex—and risk infection of the HIV-negative partner and child— rather than other ways, such as adoption or IVF?
They both considered other options. I think for both of them, especially the guys who are HIV positive, they never really thought they could ever have kids. When they were diagnosed, they both thought that they wouldn’t be around long enough to have children, so this was a whole new thing for them to consider. But they both married women who wanted to have babies, so this conversation started really early in their dating lives.
One of the other wrinkles in this story is that California, where both couples lived, had a legislative ban that said it was illegal for doctors to perform a procedure that’s necessary before other fertility treatments to remove HIV from semen. Even with the other options—IVF, IUI, or ICSI— HIV-positive couples have to go through sperm washing, which separates the HIV-infected semen from the sperm. Another thing that was big for both couples was the cost. IUI and IVF are not cheap and the costs were prohibitive. And especially since they wouldn’t be able to do it in California, they’d have to fly to someplace like Colorado or New York where it is allowed, and that wouldn’t be covered by their insurance.
Neither couple was really thinking unprotected sex at the very beginning. Before Poppy even married Ted, she went to his HIV doctor to find out her options. Poppy was really attached to having a kid that belonged to them both genetically, and really wanted to see her husband’s sandy blonde hair and pink cheeks on their child. But she still considered all sorts of other options. Adoption was never on the table for her, so she settled on doing a sperm donor, because she really wanted to carry the baby. But eventually Poppy decided that she couldn’t have a baby that wasn’t genetically related to her husband.
Susan did consider adoption and IUI, but it came down to cost. Which was why they really turned to the research to determine whether they could just have sex and have a baby. They spent years looking at research before they decided to do it.
What is the most important thing you’d like people to take away from your story?
Especially for a non-HIV audience, the most important thing I want people to take away from it is that the experiences of these women are not that different from any woman that longs to have a baby. This is an experience that bonds us, even if you don’t think you relate at all to people who have HIV or are married to people with HIV. Even if secretly in your heart, you would look at an HIV-negative woman married to an HIV-positive man and say, “I could never do that.” I want people to know that this is a human experience that women have and that you probably will relate. For those of us who want to have babies, it’s a natural urge, and these women’s experiences are really inspiring. I hope that people will take from it that HIV doesn’t have to be so scary, and that people who are in relationships with people with HIV are just like them.
“HIV and Baby Makes Three” is in its last days of fundraising and is scheduled to be available on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2014. You can contribute to the publishing of “HIV and Baby Makes Three” via its IndieGoGo campaign, and you can join in the discussion on the book’s Facebook page.
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