July / August 2011
by Regan Hofmann and Willette Francis
Michelle Braxton, 48, Homemaker; West Orange, New Jersey
One day, my husband said that the doctor wanted to see me (we shared the same primary care doctor). When I asked why, he just said, “He wants to see you.”
I went to our doctor, and he gave me an HIV test. At the follow-up visit, I found out I was HIV positive. It was in the late ’80s. I had contracted the virus from marital sex with my husband, who I believe was unaware of his status until about a year or so before I tested positive. In hindsight, I remember seeing him take Bactrim [a sulfa drug], and now I know that it is used to keep infections down in people living with HIV.
I don’t know what prompted my husband to get tested. I knew that he had been struggling with an alternative, gay lifestyle when he was younger, before he came to know the Lord. He came to the church not aware of his past probably following behind him. We met at church, got married and the rest, as they say, is history. We were married for 13 years, until he died.
I tried to talk to my husband about my diagnosis, but he didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t have him as support at all. I believe that was due to his guilt and not knowing how to express it. But he loved me as much as he knew how to. And stupid and all, I loved him.
My foundation had always been the church, and that’s where I got a lot of my support. My mother, dad, sister, brother and friends were also my support system. As soon as I learned I had HIV, I began to tell my family. That’s so important, because I think secrecy can kill you.
My spirituality also played a part in my deciding when to get treated. I didn’t get treated right away. I prayed first about it because we believe that God is a healer and can do anything. And when I prayed, I believed that the spirit of the Lord spoke to me and told me I shouldn’t take the medicine at the time, because I would die. I didn’t start treatment until 2010.
I think my ignorance made me more vulnerable to HIV. I grew up in a church community that didn’t educate young women who desired to get married on how to protect themselves. The spirituality part doesn’t balance out with the reality of the times. I believe you should not have sex before marriage, but people do, and they’re not protecting themselves.
The church didn’t equip us to say, “If you’re getting married, you need to get tested. You need to find out your status.” The church’s platform should include HIV/AIDS programs, and a lot of churches don’t—when they should be dealing with this disease head-on. If young people learn from responsible adults who have their best interests at heart, they can equip themselves to be prepared to live a healthy, happy life.
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