Positively Adopted

Life with children who have HIV

Susan's Story

 Frederick Buechner says that "The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I have always loved that quote and believe it to be true about my life and certainly about my adoption process.

I have known since I was a little girl that I wanted to be a mother and that I wanted to adopt. I don’t really know why adoption was so compelling when I was a kid, but it really always has been. The call to be a mother was clear. There was nothing I wanted more.

As I began thinking about what kind of adoption I could do, I considered younger children and older children, several different countries and circumstances. With most of the options that I considered, I kept thinking that others were better equipped. 


  • I started focusing on what I didn’t have: a husband, a house, a yard, room for a sibling set. And then I met an HIV positive child at the camp where I volunteer who had been adopted. And I thought, “I can do that.” 


I have been volunteering at that camp with HIV+ kids for years. I’ve done some work in hospital chaplaincy. HIV is not that scary to me. When I found out that there was a real need for adoptive parents for HIV+ children, I figured I’d found the meeting of my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger.

I researched opportunities, determined that international adoption would be the best option for my demographics, chose Ethiopia, and found an agency that had impeccable ethics and financial support for HIV+ adoptions. I sent in the first check in January. On October 1, we touched down in New York, and stood in the “families of mixed citizenship” line at immigration.


My daughter turned three just 3 days later. We’ve been home just over six months. 


My life could not be fuller. She is silly, happy, overly dramatic, affectionate, active, strong, smart and generally awesome. My cup overflows.


Selam does not yet take medicine, though I know that is in our near future. I am grateful to not have to couple adjustment to a new life with adjustment to new medications. She’s been very healthy, with only a few short bouts of normal preschool illness. I love our PID and feel very comfortable with the way that they have collaborated with her pediatrician on her health care. So far, the only medical frustration has just been the large number of appointments that we’ve had. I remind myself, though, that a lot of this is just because she’s newly internationally adopted, not due to the HIV. Over time, once we’ve caught up on immunizations and figured out her baselines for everything, we’ll be down to a more normal schedule of doctor visits.

I’ve taken a middle ground with regards to disclosure. Most of my friends and all of my family know. I choose not to tell day care or the parents of her day care friends. I don’t want to tell anyone that she would later want to have the choice to tell or not tell. I also don’t want her to be treated any differently than the other kids in her class. I choose not to put our last name on anything in print or on the internet that is related to HIV. I have mixed feelings about this. I would love to be an advocate, but I do want her to have the power to make those decisions for herself later.

Most of the people in our lives have been wonderful about her diagnosis. Some have not. I find myself startled by the lack of education that I encounter—even from medical professionals. I know the more challenging times are yet to come. I know adolescence and young adulthood will be hard.

Last week, I returned to the camp that started us all on this crazy path. I drove down the long and familiar road and entered camp not as a volunteer, but as a family member. We had an amazing weekend, chock-full of “firsts” for her—s’mores, fishing, archery, performing on stage. Even the air at camp is humid with joy—and Selam drank it all up. I am grateful that this camp, or others like it, will be a part of her life. I am grateful that there will be places like this that will help her to navigate those difficult adolescent years. I am grateful that she will have peers.


  • Selam is the most amazing person I’ve ever met. I am constantly amazed that this wonderful creature lives in my apartment, eats my cheerios, calls me “Mommy.”

I am startled by her rich laugh, and drunk on her sweet, sweet spirit. I am blessed. She is my deepest gladness.


~ Susan