Sarah and Oliver: All You Need Is Love
At mothers2mothers (m2m), love is key to all that our Mentor Mothers do. Whether supporting other mothers living with HIV and ensuring their babies are born healthy, or giving of themselves in their communities, every day these mothers selflessly offer their love and support to other mothers and their families. But who supports them? How do they find the strength to deal with their own HIV status, challenges within their families, and still have the energy and tenderness to give? Often times, they have someone special in their lives who gives love and support to them. In honour of Valentine’s Day, we asked all our Country Directors to send in their favourite love stories…and we share some special ones with you. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Oliver: My name is Oliver and I am a resident of Muhoroni in Kisumu County (Kenya). I am married to Sarah, the love of my life, who is a Mentor Mother working for mothers2mothers. We are a discordant couple.
Sarah: My name is Sarah and I am a Mentor Mother based at Muhoroni Sub-District Hospital. When I first found out I was HIV positive, I was devastated. At the time I was engaged to someone and we were to be married in church. Everything fell apart and we broke up. The stigma that came with my diagnosis was hard to deal with and I became depressed – my CD4 was very low and I was sick. Fortunately, I had a friend who convinced me to get treatment. She told me that being HIV positive was not a death sentence and that I could live a good life. I began attending a support group in my community and one of the activities we engaged in was using drama to address HIV and raise awareness. That is how I met Oliver.
Oliver: I first noticed Sarah because she was late for the drama training I was conducting for her support group! But I also noticed that she was very fond of theatre. At the time my life was at a very low tide. I was still recovering from a broken marriage, my business ventures were not working out and I had left my main job due to poor pay. This led to frustration as I was unable to meet my daily needs. What surprised me is that with all the problems facing both of us, we were strongly attracted to each other.
Sarah: I found Oliver to be a good person and we became friends. However I was so conscious of the fact that I was HIV positive and he was not. It scared me to think that in some way I could be responsible for his becoming infected one day – despite knowing about safer sex, there is that lingering fear that you could infect the person you love. So that caused me to withdraw from him.
Oliver: In my case, friends would ask me if I wasn’t aware of Sarah’s status. I knew our relationship was different to the norm, however I knew that she is someone I wanted in my life – she was special and it was a risk I was willing to take and I was finally able to win her over. We then started dating each other and eventually started a new life together. Financially we had mixed fortunes. At times Sarah would be feeding us and other times I would be providing. Somehow we managed to make ends meet. One night about a year into the marriage, Sarah woke me up with sobs, she was so distraught and told me she was pregnant! Surprise, joy, confusion, and pain all ran through my mind. Joy because I was going to be a father; confusion because she was crying; and pain because it dawned on me that there was a high possibility of our child being born with HIV. I had witnessed the effects of ARVs on some infants – was I prepared to let my baby undergo the same? What about her chances of survival? Sarah too was worried about what the pregnancy would do to her health. It had started deteriorating and she was considering the possibility of terminating the pregnancy.
Sarah: I had previously heard a little bit about PMTCT (prevention of mother-to-child transmission) but when I became pregnant, I was anxious and shared the same concerns Oliver listed.
Oliver: One day by coincidence we met Carol, a mothers2mothers (m2m) Mentor Mother at Muhoroni District Hospital. We developed a strong friendship which led to Carol inviting Sarah for a mentoring session. She returned from it with a clear understanding of PMTCT. I was skeptical and my doubts were being fanned by the fear of the unknown. Could the confidence I had in the m2m program be the light at the end of the long dark tunnel? Or was it just a mirage leading us on hopelessly? Carol’s professionalism and concern for our family’s wellbeing won me over, and eight months later, our baby girl was born at the hospital. We were confident with the health of our baby because we had followed the advice on PMTCT to the letter. Despite having all the information about PMTCT, we still had the natural fears of the unknown but we adhered strictly to the advice from the Mentor Mothers.
Sarah: As we attended my clinics, I made sure to follow everything I was taught so as to have a healthy baby and eventually our daughter was born. In the months after, I saw a job advert for a Mentor Mother with mothers2mothers. I applied and was thrilled to get it. This job meant a lot: I was able to have a steady income while doing something I was passionate about.
Oliver: When our baby attained 18 months, Sarah was away for an m2m training and so I took her for the final test. During this process, a blood sample was drawn from our baby’s finger and applied to the test strip. My eyes soaked with tears when I saw a single red line which announced that she was free from the virus. I am not sure if our baby would ever have seen the light of day if we had not met Carol, the m2m Mentor Mother. And if she did, we may have subjected her to the undeserving sentence of being born with HIV. I would like to say to all men and women living positively, whatever your status, a healthy and happy family is possible. What’s most important is to love and support one another through the ups and downs, and help each other access the medical treatment that’s so critical to keeping your baby and your family healthy and strong.
Oliver was one of 10 men who took part in m2m Kenya’s Mentor Father pilot in 2012.
In November 2012, Sarah and Oliver were given the honour of sharing their story at an annual conference held by the National AIDS and STI Control Programme (NASCOP) which spearheads the Kenya Ministry of Health’s efforts to fight against HIV/AIDS.