I am an HIV-positive woman. There, I said it. Now that that’s out of the way, let me answer the questions you may have:
- No, my children do not have HIV.
- Yes, women living with HIV can have healthy, HIV-negative children.
- I’m not dying anytime soon. I plan to live a long healthy life just like everyone else.
It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with “coming out” with my HIV status. For a while, I was ashamed, then I felt like it was no one’s business. But truly, I’ve just been scared. I’m done living in fear. I’ve fully accepted my status and the woman I am today.
I’ve been living with HIV since 2010. Rather, I should say, HIV has been living with me since 2010. A few months after I married the love of my life, our honeymoon phase came to a screeching halt.
I knew he was HIV-positive the entire relationship. Friends and family told me not to be with him and protested us getting married. But I was already in love and felt that God assigned Jake to me. We did our due diligence to ensure I wouldn’t be exposed.
When he proposed, I said yes. Ten minutes later, after the tears began to dry, I told him I wouldn’t marry him unless he started and stuck to a treatment plan. I wasn’t going to marry someone to become a widow.
About a week later we went to an infectious diseases doctor and Jake began taking medication. His blood levels were terrible, and he was on the brink of having AIDS. But you wouldn’t have known it just by looking at him. He had been sick once since I met him with a stomach bug, and that was it. He looked like any other person living life. We got married. Shortly after that, we got the call he was undetectable, meaning his viral load had dropped, thus reducing the likelihood of transmission. We were ecstatic.
Another few weeks went by and I went for my annual exam at the OB/GYN. They asked if I wanted a complete STD test, and I said yes. I had taken several HIV tests before, and they always came back negative. I thought surely this one would, too. I got the call a couple of days later, went to the doctor, and they told me the test came back positive. I didn’t break down, I didn’t cry at all. The doctor looked puzzled at my calm demeanor. I made it all the way to the car without crying. Then I broke down. My husband was also devastated.
I had “campaigned” our entire relationship on the premise that we’d be the mixed-status couple that makes a happy life together. “I’ll show them,” I thought. Instead, it happened. Now, I know you’re thinking “Duh, girl!” But it’s not like we took the virus for granted. We knew we had to protect ourselves. But sometimes, that protection fails – meaning condoms break.
And I didn’t know that I should’ve gone straight to the hospital the night of “Breakgate” to receive post-exposure prophylaxis treatment to prevent the virus from spreading – a case of miseducation. I had no idea this type of treatment existed. There I was, a college-educated woman who learned about the birds and the bees, STDs, and pregnancy very early in life living with misconceptions and miseducation.
That’s why I’m coming out. This isn’t the 1980s anymore. Folks aren’t dying from HIV/AIDS in mass quantities. Believe it or not, it happens to more people than just gay men and drug addicts. I want to help educate anyone and everyone about HIV, sex positivity, and empowerment. I accept the fact I’m coming from a place of privilege. As a white-passing Latinx, cisgendered woman in a heteronormative marriage and family situation, I am privileged. That privilege affords me an acceptance and a potential for people to listen to me. And I need to speak up and stand up for those who aren’t being heard, accepted, respected, or served.
HIV doesn’t play a major role in my life except for the one pill I take every night, and my complete blood workup I get every six months. I’m not trying to diminish the virus by any means. Rather, I want to show everyone what the face of controlled and treated HIV looks like.
I’m still the same Janeli everyone knows – a happy mom and wife who’s loud, messy, loves food, dancing, and laughing, and is a sucker for Oprah and The Real Housewives. Now you know a little bit more about me. I used to be scared of how people would treat me after they found out. Now I know that how others treat me says more about them than me. So if you feel blindsided or misled, let me reintroduce myself:
I’m Janeli, mom to Ezri, Max, and “Ocho,” wife to Jake, daughter of José and Nora, child of God, and I’m HIV-positive.