About 20% of HIV-positive persons in the United States are parents and that percentage is increasing as advances in medical care enable HIV-positive women and men to live healthier, more normal lives and have successful pregnancies with low risk of HIV transmission to their babies.
A study published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine stated that custodial parents (parents responsible for the child), may become overwhelmed by the simultaneous demands of multiple roles, including medical patient, breadwinner, and caregiver for HIV-positive family members. HIV-positive parents may experience what is called "Role Overload" as different demands are piled up on each other and can't be easily accomplished given their available time and resources. Parents with HIV, especially custodial mothers, may also be particularly vulnerable to role conflict; for example, their obligations to attend to their children, earn a living, and care for other family members, may make them unable to meet their own health needs.
This study also says that a parent who is HIV-positive, especially a custodial parent, is at higher risk for all sorts of physical and mental stress that can effect you negatively if you allow it to. No doubt, because you have much more on your plate than a parent who isn't HIV-positive. Here are a few considerations to get you thinking first about you, then about your child and last, the environment that surrounds both of you.
Be Responsible To Yourself
You have a responsibility to be there for your child. In order to do that, your first responsibility is to take care of yourself.
When you're HIV positive, that means doing what it takes to maintain your physical and mental health both short-term and for the long haul. Parents with older children know that the problems kids have don't go away as they get older, they just get bigger, so your child is going to need you around for a long time.
For starters, when you begin your initial HIV regimen, make sure that you are not just physically but mentally and emotionally ready, because adherence - making sure you take your meds 95%-plus every time - is critical. If you have an addiction problem with drugs or alcohol, are suffering from depression, are a victim of domestic abuse or have another issue that might get in the way of proper adherence, find help to deal with those issues and discuss them with your doctor. Today, there are other options if your first regimen fails but the options are not infinite so your best shot is the first shot. Make sure you're ready to start and continue!
You already have a lot of demands for your available time but next, to keep you feeling good, to increase your overall energy and add years to your life start and maintain a healthy diet and include exercise. Diet and exercise is good for both you and your child. The exercise aspect can actually become a bonding experience if you include your child in the activity. Remember, exercise doesn't have to be grueling iron pumping sessions at the gym, it can be fun like riding a bike with your child or just going on walks.
Then To Your Child
Just like you have become educated about HIV, when you feel the time is right, educate your child about HIV. You know your child better than anyone and you should decide at what age your child's maturity level is where it should be to discuss your HIV status with him or her.
Education is vital especially in younger children. Just explaining that you are HIV- positive is not enough. There is more wrong or bad information out there than right and good information and unfortunately the uninformed usually love to have the loudest voice so make sure your son or daughter knows what's right and that's what comes from you. This is an area where you have control if you take it so by all means do!
Explaining your HIV status to your child can also be a huge weight off of your shoulders which in turn, can decrease stress and anxiety. If your child is mature enough to understand your condition, they may be able and willing to take some of the responsibilities off of you as well.
You're a parent of a child and you happen to be HIV-positive. The same as if you had diabetes, it's your business and nobody else's. That is absolutely right.
The thing to think about here is nearly exactly the same as at work. Just remember that outside of the workplace, there are not the same laws to protect you.
Be careful who you disclose your HIV status to. Make sure that if you do feel the need to disclose your status for whatever reason that it is told in confidence to someone you know and can trust.
If you feel you need more help and information, ask about parenting support groups at your local AIDS Service Organization or Community Based Organizations. In larger cities, HIV hotlines might also be able to offer suggestions. If you feel your child has been discriminated against because of your HIV status, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) protects persons who are discriminated against because they have a known association or relationship with an individual who has HIV. Go to www.ada.gov for more information or to file a complaint.
Copyright 2017, Positive Health Publications, Inc.
This magazine is intended to enhance your relationship with your doctor - not replace it! Medical treatments and products should always be discussed with a licensed physician who has experience treating HIV and AIDS!