‘Hosting a tiny virus; HIV’.
Her Instagram bio reads. She is one of those women I have admired and watched from a distance. She scares me. In a good way of course. That full blast courage to step and live in your truth scares me. She is Phenny Awiti Spielfeld, a 28 year old, wife and mum of 3, two girls and one boy.
At the tender age of sixteen, she discovered she was HIV positive following a blood drive at her high school that led to her sister telling her that she was born with it. A teenager barely out of puberty, savoring up the little pleasures of life, kissing that boy under a tree, writing love letters to a crush in another school while discovering these changes in her body, her world came tumbling down. When the blood drive team visited her school for the first time, she was eager and excited to donate blood. She was happy to be saving a life, leave alone for the soda and biscuit. This first test didn’t reveal her status, only her blood group. It wasn’t until the second time a different organization visited for the same exercise of which intrigued, she partook it.
However, this time was different. The organization decided to do HIV counselling and testing for free. If these organizations visited your school, then you must have seen the big white or beige tent with a few serious looking paramedics who from time to time would step outside the tent, looking around. They always talked in hushed tones and whenever they were attending to someone, they were always busy writing something down. Most often, they noted things like whether you are single, sexually active, all these as your heart beats at 130 beats per second.
She walked into the tent, beaming with a smile on her face. The medical personnel attending to her smiled back briefly. ‘Have a seat, ’ Awiti was told. She started being askied the ‘about me’ questions. ‘What is your name? ‘ , ‘How old are you? ‘ , ‘Are you sexually active?’. Wait a minute, they rarely tend to ask that last question, especially to a teenager who’s white eyes are all too overwhelmed by the scenario. Let me paint it for you.
“Are you sexually active?” They ask.
“Do you have a lover?”
Then quickly, they tell you about HIV. How it is sexually transmitted and warn you about having many sexual partners who will definitely put you at risk. Before you synthesize all this information, you are already holding out your index finger for testing.
This was the kind of HIV counselling many received in the early 2000.
Imagine going through this harrowing ‘counselling’ then being told you are HIV positive. At sixteen. Freaking sixteen. The myths and the stigma surrounding HIV around this time was horrific.Phenny Awiti Spielfeld
She sought the confidence of her ‘friend’, who told another friend and told her not to tell anyone, who also told another friend and made her swear she would not tell anyone else. Within no time, news about Awiti’s status had circulated the whole school. The stigma, and the whispers, were so loud whenever she would walk past her fellow students. Despite being a bright student, she settled to dedicating her sole focus to taking ARVs, and all this newness made her perform dismally.
Now, Awiti, a mother, is a brave HIV positive warrior. Her journey to motherhood was one filled with fear. She feared she would infect her kid and her previous partner who was negative. Taking prophylaxis, day after day while clinging to the hope that she would give birth to a HIV negative baby, her pregnancy experience quickly went by. She concentrated all her energy to making sure her baby was HIV negative, so the cravings and the morning sickness were just a nip in the bud. At twenty-two, in Pumwani hospital, she delivered a bouncing negative status baby girl. The midwives in the delivery room, unbothered, had done little to help her give birth.In their words and sometimes insulting tone, ‘The baby is here, push! ’
Life was hard because she and her partner were not financially stable. They would live from hand to mouth, leaving the new mum hungry and sometimes, on an unbalanced diet. The tiny virus living in her, threatening to blow her immune system out of proportion at any moment, dictated her to religious intake of ARVs. Swearing on her life, for her baby, she would do anything. She kept on. While settling into being a mum, and appreciating the big blessing, Awiti learns she is expecting her second child. Unlike the popular assumption, neither a second, third or fourth baby is any easier. The experiences are always unique and different. For a HIV positive mum, it meant a new found anxiety of whether the next baby would turn out negative.
Birth experiences ought to be positive, to save mums from traumas of having the next child. Delivering in public hospitals is safe and easy but the negligence by the paramedics and or their care-free attitude can implant a negative experience. This is exactly how Phenny felt about having her second baby in a public facility. The pregnancy was intriguing with cravings for fries, yoghurt and bananas and the occasional morning sickness during the first trimester. Due to her dedication and commitment to taking her prophylaxis, visiting the clinics and getting all the information she needed on raising HIV negative babies, she had a normal delivery her second HIV negative baby.
Raising her two girls negatively, inspired her to have another one. This time, she had a more present partner who supported her and was committed to the process. The support system from her partner, physically, emotionally and psychologically lightened her load. No pun intended. She however, had to raise the last of her kids alone most of the time since her partner was away most of the time. Whenever he was around, he would compensate for the time he was not present. Raising a baby alone is not taboo. Should not be. However, if it happens that you need to, you should proudly be the mother and father for that little angel.
Even though her partner was HIV positive, Phenny, a warrior and a fighter, threw in all her cards into having another HIV negative baby. Unlike her first two, she ended up having an emergency CS for the third baby and amazingly, a HIV negative baby boy. God came through for her. First, it is not all the time that HIV positive mums, taking all the precautions successfully, have negative babies. Secondly, it takes a lot of bravery for these moms to endure medication after medication, just to keep their babies negative.
Being a mum is not easy. Things can get crazy at times, agreeably. HIV positive mums go through the extra; stigma. Stigma is basically when people do not understand your circumstances and pain, so they punish you for that. There is a lot of stigma surrounding HIV positive mums due to the lack of information about living with HIV and having negative babies.
Phenny, after having her first child under duress and going through a pregnancy fueled with anxiety and fears, made it her life’s purpose to seek information, inspire and educate other mums on how to raise negative babies. She uses her social media platforms to reach out to mums. It is through the same platforms that she gets bullied and picked on for living positively. While ideally, we are supposed to enjoy a safe social media space free from bullies, it is inevitable. To deal with it, over the years she has developed a thick skin and is fearlessly living her truth while holding other mums’ hands.
All in all, she stands in the gap, advocating for many as a voice, through her life. She is a thriving supermama!
Phenny Awiti Spielfeld, The HIV Positive mother bravely raising HIV negative children!