Try to imagine it. You’re just 24 years old, sitting in a doctor’s office with your three small children beside you. They’re crying…because you’re crying. Because you’re four and a half months pregnant—and you just found out you’re HIV positive.
“It’s kind of hard to put all the emotions into words,” says Wanona. “Anger, shock, disbelief. I felt like I was in a dream. I felt like it wasn’t real.”
Like most people, Wanona knew the basics about HIV. But she’d never imagined HIV would impact her life or her kids. Now that it had, she couldn’t picture what the rest of her pregnancy would be like. Or what her baby’s future would hold.
“I was scared, but I was mostly scared for my child,” remembers Wanona. “I was scared of bringing someone into this world and automatically stripping away their chance of a ‘normal’ life. I was scared that there would be a lot of questions, and some of them he might not understand. I was scared that he might resent me for bringing him into this world HIV positive. I didn’t want him to feel like an outcast. That was my biggest fear.”
I live a normal life. HIV hasn't stopped anything.
Wanona’s mother, Ronica, was scared too. But she was also hopeful. Because the doctors told them something that too many people still don’t know: women living with HIV can have healthy, HIV-negative babies. With an effective treatment plan, it’s possible to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to baby during pregnancy, have a safe delivery and maybe even breastfeed.
That’s all Wanona needed to hear. She began an HIV treatment plan and prenatal care right away, and her doctors monitored her pregnancy closely. To have a natural birth, Wanona would need to become “undetectable.” That meant reducing the amount of HIV in her blood until it became so low, it couldn’t be seen by a blood test. And that was important, because when someone living with HIV is undetectable, HIV becomes reliably untransmittable. Even during child birth.
In the end, Wanona gave birth to a healthy, HIV-negative baby boy. And she found that living with HIV wasn’t as scary as she had once imagined. “I’m not going to say the journey is easy, because there are bad days and hard times,” says Wanona. But with her mother’s unflagging love and support behind her, Wanona has found the strength to stay healthy, to raise four amazing kids, and to reach out and empower others. “I want people to know who I am. When you come to the realization that life is way bigger than the negative things people have to say, there’s nothing you can’t conquer.”
Wanona’s life has changed in ways she never saw coming, and it’s brighter than she ever expected. “At one time, I felt it was the end of the world. I did feel like it was a death sentence, like I wasn’t going to be normal anymore,” says Wanona. But she learned and she grew. She found support and shared her truth. And she’s more excited than ever by all the possibilities ahead. “I found my blessing in my lesson. I turned my havoc into victory.”