When you’re told you have a terminal illness, the script requires that you do all the things you ever dreamed of doing before your imminent demise. Screw the consequences! You won’t be around anyway. But somehow, I’ve survived HIV’s “Oh, shit, I am not going to live” phase, then the “Oh, shit, I am going to live” phase and now, after 18 months of symptom-free treatment, the “Yippee, I am going to live well” phase. No more constant headaches, fatigue, unexplained rashes, anemia, weekly shots, IVs, blood work and doctor visits. I’m riding horses and motorcycles, ballroom dancing, working out, showing my face at parties. I love the new choices health brings. Each miraculous day is mine, not my sick body’s. But almost as soon as I got back up, walking around with a glow in my cheeks, people started nudging me toward another choice—one with lasting consequences. The subtle hints went something like this: “Wow, now that you’re well, you can have kids, right?”
Well, I guess that is not so subtle.
Here I am in the prime of my life with all expectant eyes upon me. Throughout my illness, not one conversation went by without someone asking in condolence, “Did you want to have children?” There was always the naive assumption that as a positive woman I could not have kids. In reality, for the past ten years, treatment options, when properly managed, could lower the chance of having a positive child to less than 1.5%. But rather than share that happy news, I was a lying bitch. I used HIV as an excuse to forgo motherhood. The people closest to me, especially my husband, know I’m just full of shit.
Why do I lie? Our culture presumes that every female must want to be a mother. That to be a “successful” woman, having a baby is a rite of passage—otherwise, she’s a self-obsessed ice queen. It’s not that I’m antichildren. I have given this great thought and have envisioned the possibilities. They range, on one extreme, from “I would suck as a mother” (my mentor was not exactly the best; thank you, Mom) to surreal, endless domesticity. I can see only sleepless nights, diapers, cooking, cleaning, financial sacrifice and, most important, surrendering my every free second. All I know is that I just recently found my energy. Now that I’m well, I want to get to know this new me a little better before getting to know some littler me.
I know this isn’t a popular decision. Whether a mother is positive or not, I hear it all the time: Her children are the best things that ever happened to her. Of course, I respect all my positive sisters who have struggled through motherhood, whether it was their decision or not. Not to mention all the women out there who desperately want children and can’t have them. This is not a condemnation of their choice, just a celebration of my being able, after so many years, to finally make one.
My husband, who is 14 years my junior, believes that if he could get me and an infant in a room alone together, my mommy gene would activate. He may be right. Having a child is so important to his life, his legacy. And I’m the type of person who has often said, “What the hell? I just want you to be happy.” But this issue can’t be reduced to a concession. He understands, he says, and the baby talk is off the table. I also know that just when I think I’ll never change my mind on a particular matter, doubt creeps in. So perhaps the kid thing isn’t completely out of the question. Meanwhile, I will enjoy the silence, the free time, basking in the notion that I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. Who knows? Once I’ve had enough recreation, I might choose to be nauseated and tired all over again—this time, from something joyful.