Getting on the Bandwagon

For women less experienced than Dupree at navigating life -- and new life -- with the virus, the prospect of pregnancy can seem daunting in the least. However, for many, the promise of childbirth means a very symbolic repossession of the hopes and dreams they once thought were lost.

Jennifer, a single, 37-year-old attorney living in Manhattan who preferred to use only her first name because she doesn’t want to potentially disclose her serostatus to coworkers, had a CD4 count of 16 when she was diagnosed with HIV in 2003. She was just finishing law school at the time, but instead of jumping right into a career like her classmates, she was so sick she couldn’t work.

“I thought, Oh, my God! I’ll never have kids,” she says. “When I found out I had HIV, that was the very first thing that I really thought of. That broke my heart.”

After a couple of years of dire health and terrible reactions to her antiretrovirals, Jennifer gradually got her strength back and eventually jump-started her stalled career. Meanwhile, she turned her lawyer’s zeal toward investigating a potential pregnancy. She hit the books, sifting through thousands of pages of medical research.

“I’m educated, meticulous, and careful,” she says. “So the idea that it can be done -- that’s just not sufficient for me. I needed to know the actual risk before I decided whether I would be willing to take that risk. Honestly, even a 1% chance would probably not have been acceptable to me.”

Her fact finding led her to the U.K.–Ireland study, in which she learned that among expectant mothers who maintained an undetectable viral load during the two weeks prior to labor, their chance of having an HIV-positive child was one in 1,000.

Finally confident that she’d be able to raise her child to adulthood, she went ahead and got pregnant -- “the usual way,” she says rather coyly.

“Anytime you have a baby,” Jennifer points out, “there’s no guarantee on anything. So the chance that my child was going to have HIV was much lower than they would have any birth defect.”

Her daughter, free of the virus, just celebrated her second birthday with a small cake-cutting party at home.

When asked how feels to now be a mom, Jennifer’s sometimes reserved voice absolutely gushes: “Oh, my goodness! Motherhood is wonderful! There’s a sense of awe every time my daughter learns something new or unexpected and over the funny things that she does.”

Tags: Health