From the date of my diagnosis, I chose to never hide my status from my daughter. I wanted her to be able to talk to me about anything and everything…
My daughter is nine years old. From an adult’s viewpoint, HIV has had a major impact on her life to date; when she was 13 months old, she lost her father to an AIDS related infection. When she was 18 months old, her mother was diagnosed as HIV positive. After rounds of testing, by the age of two, she was eventually discharged as HIV negative.
In the eyes of a nine year old though; it’s a little different. Through chatting with my daughter here is her version; Daddy died because he had ‘bugs’ in his blood and he didn’t know they were there. If he had known, the doctors could have helped him. Mummy now knows she has the bugs in her blood; but she knows about them and the doctors help her. She takes a tablet every day that will stop the bugs making Mummy poorly.
When I was growing up, the subject of puberty was tackled via a book that had been given to my older brother and was then handed on to me; I would read it hidden under the duvet in my bedroom. ‘The book’ was never discussed. Sex was never discussed. End of.
From the date of my diagnosis, I chose to never hide my status from my daughter. I wanted her to be able to talk to me about anything and everything as she felt fit; HIV and sexual health included! I never wanted her to discover ‘a secret’, the reason for her father’s death, the tablets I take, the books I read, the HIV related websites I visit etc etc.
I also want her to be able to explain, reason and be comfortable with lots of topics of conversation; even those which many are not comfortable with. I want for her to be able to discuss HIV, sex etc with others, her peers, her family etc if she needs or wants to… All the things I never could do.
When she was a preschooler, this ‘age appropriate knowledge’ was limited to her learning that if someone is hurt ie bleeding; instead of helping, it is good to get help and to offer support. As she grew, she became aware of the concept of ‘bugs in Mummy’s blood’ and she understands that they are the reason why I go to the clinic and have regular blood tests.
Now, age nine, she understands the effects that HIV can have on a person, if left untreated. She also understands that people can give each other HIV. She has limited knowledge on transmission – she knows it can be via sex; but the intricacies of that subject are still a mystery for now! She now knows that many of my friends also have HIV, and that some of them do not like talking about ‘it and that their children do not know.
I have positive friends who have chosen to shelter their children from their HIV diagnosis and I respect their decisions; every child, every family unit is different. Sadly, I have witnessed the consequences of hormonal teenagers discovering their parents status and the damage that ensues. This is where I believe age appropriate knowledge is crucial.
I feel that I am empowering my daughter with knowledge, forewarned is forearmed.
Lizzie (@fashionthing on twitter)