Being a woman is like being on an adventure—you get to experience and explore life as it rocks you into different directions. However, all these directions are driven by one word: CHOICE. Whatever direction we take, we have made a choice. One of the areas where making a choice is the most important is our sexual and reproductive health. And under that is the choice to be a mother. I never knew the importance of life until I gave birth to life itself.
As a woman living with HIV and as a sex worker, being a mother was the last thing I had on my bucket list, or even my mind. When I found out that I was pregnant, I could not imagine myself being a mother. My job was put on hold and I wasn’t prepared or ready!
Negative thoughts about pregnancy clouded me. One thing that terrified me was how to break the news to my father. In my culture, any girl or young woman who becomes pregnant before marriage is seen as a disgrace to her father. It was worse for me because not only am I living with HIV, but I am also a single mother.
I confided in a few friends and I got all kinds of advice. Some of the statements that stood out to me were, “It is going to be tough, but it will be worth it…,” “Being a mother is a full-time job…,” “Children come with their own charm and luck…” and “It is for YOU to CHOOSE what you want.”
At the end of it all, I made a choice to have this baby. My boyfriend at the time, who had convinced me that he would do whatever he could to support us as a family, broke up with me when I was six months pregnant. I received the opposite of what he had promised. I faced so many hardships that I regretted choosing to have the baby that was going to be brought into this world only to suffer. I was jobless, single again and pregnant, full of fear of criticisms from my family and friends. My whole life and future plans were shattered.
In August of that year, I gave birth to a bouncing baby boy who is HIV-negative. I was able to do this by taking medicines that prevent HIV transmission from mother to child (PMTCT). With support from my maternal grandparents, where I was provided with shelter, I managed to raise my baby. Still, without a job, it was a challenge providing for my son’s basic needs, for as he grew, his needs also increased. But I had to make it work no matter what. All the hard work I went through made me realize that I needed to start planning for both my son’s future and my own.
I had heard about contraception but never really saw it as essential because of the misconceptions that came with it. After my son was born, with support and guidance from counselors and my friends’ testimonies on contraception, I decided to take that step.
Today, I can testify that the choice I made regarding contraception has given me power as a woman to take charge of my life. I also adhere well to my antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) for HIV treatment because they are my life. Right now, I don’t worry about having an unplanned pregnancy when I start a new relationship or become intimate again with anyone. I can enjoy sex work as my main source of income without having to worry about unintended pregnancy. I have full control over my body and life!
Today, I am a happy mother with clear goals. My future is bright, and I have a sense of direction. I hope to be a consultant on gender-based issues and a mentor to the forthcoming generation of both girls and boys on areas of sexual and reproductive health. I am currently working on an advocacy campaign aimed at eliminating cultural barriers that hinder the girl child from making well informed choices around her sexual and reproductive health and rights. My choice now is clear: to support adolescent girls and young women to take charge of their lives and bodies by mentoring them to support their own families and peers.