Photo credit: Huffington Post
This blog is an adapted transcription of Ms. Thomas’s story as told on this webinar.
I’m a 34-year-old, first time mom, a student from Nigeria, and I’m living with HIV. I’m adherent to my meds, but I haven’t disclosed my status to my partner or mom or anyone else because of stigma. When I was pregnant with my daughter, my plan was for my mom to come stay for a couple months to help with my baby. I was interested in breastfeeding not only because of disclosure reasons but also because of the value of breast milk & bonding, but I was concerned about the HIV risk so I was referred for a counseling session at 30 or 32 weeks into the pregnancy. I was planning a maternity leave but also planning on returning to school or work and would have either family take care of the baby or send the baby to daycare.
I felt I was a good candidate for breastfeeding because I’m knowledgeable & know the risk involved around transmission issues & also because I’m motivated, I know what it is to have HIV and I don’t think anyone wants to go through that. And [potentially] seeing my child having to go through that, I wouldn’t want that. Centered around my knowledge, I felt that I’d be a good candidate for breastfeeding.
I felt that I was a problematic candidate because I was going back to school, and also would be having other people take care of my baby, so exclusive breastfeeding was going to be really challenging. My mother & my sister were going to be home and they were definitely going to be tempted to give my child formula or some other type of food if I’m not at home. And also, school and work are stressful, and I know stress reduces the production of breast milk, especially if you’re not eating right.
My major reason for wanting to breastfeed was the bonding issue. And because I read a lot, and I know that kids who are breastfed have resistance to infections, ear infections and things like that. I’m under the notion that kids who are not breastfed tend to get sick a lot, and kids that are not breastfed are less smart, so all of these factors make me think that, if I can breastfeed my baby, and not transmit HIV, then that would probably be the best route. Those were the major reasons I wanted to breastfeed my baby, and then thinking from a societal point of view, people thinking “why are you depriving this child of having the bond with you, of getting this nutrition that is more valuable compared to formula.”
Ultimately I decided not to breastfeed my daughter, because I didn’t want her to end up with HIV. If I would have breastfed her, she would have had to take more medication for a longer period of time at such a tender age, and that was also concerning for me. Having to give her medication every day was challenging. For me to choose that for a longer period of time, I just didn’t want to do that for her.