Adopting children who are HIV positive was a conscious decision on my part. I had previously adopted two boys domestically at the ages of 3 and 4, and they were now at an age(15 and 16) where it was possible financially and I was ready personally to adopt again. I had been donating to orphanages in Haiti that served many infants and children who were HIV positive. I read more about the needs of children with HIV and thought, “I can do this”. My boys had come to me with issues that I felt were harder to deal with: severe ADHD/ADD, hearing loss/hearing aids, facial tics. Constant doctor appointments and chronic school issues were a way of life. I had experience with starting medications, adjusting the dosage, trying new ones, and taking them on a daily basis. Medications would not be new for me to deal with.
The focus switched from Haiti to Ethiopia for several reasons and because the need there was just as great . The age of the child changed from infant/toddler to preschool/grade school as I aged. I found an agency that had a special grant for special needs children and also had a solid reputation for strong ethics. As I was gathering paperwork and preparing to submit my dossier, I joined the Yahoo HIV Adoption group. It was on this group that I learned about twin girls, age 3 ½ at the time, at a brand new orphanage in Nazret. I contacted my agency and the orphanage, hoping I could connect the two so I could possibly adopt these girls. Well, after a few months it became evident that this was going to actually happen. My girls came home with me at the end of July, almost a year after finding out about them.
The stigma of having HIV in Ethiopia is great. So much greater than here in the United States. And there is still stigma here. Believe me, it is not gone. Whether or not to disclose is a very tough decision to make. I have heard about people who were fully supported and others who definitely were not. I chose not to disclose to my girls’ preschool. I pointedly asked and was assured that the staff was thoroughly trained in first aid and universal precautions. The girls are being educated to not touch anyone else’s blood or to allow anyone to touch their blood. They are being taught this along with other standard health procedures (cover your mouth with the crook of your arm, wash your hands, etc). It is not being made into a huge deal. They are only 4 years old so they do not as yet know even WHAT HIV is.
My teenage sons had a few misconceptions that I didn’t even know they had. At first they would not get into the pool with them, they still won’t eat any food they’ve taken a bite of. My daughter’s tears once fell in my son’s eye and he thought he’d get HIV. They still say that they would not tell their friends at school; that kids would not be cool with it. My parents, who are in their 80’s were not told of the girls’ HIV status until after I had their referral and at that time gave them a lot of literature to refer to . They are fine with it now. I have had plenty of negative reaction from friends and co-workers. I think they had the worst reactions. One said she would be afraid to have her child play with mine. Another kept asking me repeatedly, even after they were legally my children, if I was sure I really wanted to do it. It just amazed me how much educating people really needed and how, even after receiving all the facts about HIV, they still choose to keep their beliefs. I think this was the hardest part about HIV adoption. You must really be willing to try to educate people and to accept that some people will not ever come to terms with it. If other people’s opinions weigh heavily with you, then adopting a child with HIV is probably not for you.
They are not yet on medication. They have not yet been home three months. Although I dread the day they will have to start medication, I know it is going to come. I hope to handle it in a matter of fact way. My biggest concern is their teenage years. When they know they have HIV. When they get their first boyfriend. When they have to struggle with disclosure. When they are unable to breast feed their babies. I have great hope that there will be more progress in the medical field. I hope to raise them to be strong, confident young women who know that HIV is only a small part of their lives and it does not define them or limit them in any way.