The Power of Family
“My husband said if we stick together we would beat HIV,” — Cynthia Nontando Mthethwa, a Mentor Mother from Nelspruit, South Africa, who learned that if she and her husband worked together, they could bring health and hope to their family and inspire other families to do the same.
I was diagnosed HIV positive in 2007 while I was pregnant. When I came to the clinic that day it was just a normal day for me and I was not expecting anything to go wrong. I had tested for HIV in my previous pregnancy and the results were negative and I only had one sexual partner so I had no reason to suspect anything.
I could not believe the positive results at first and asked to be retested. The nurse tested me again and the results were again positive. At that moment I felt like I was carrying the whole world on my shoulders. As much as the counsellor tried talking sense to me, I could not hear a word she said. I was overcome with feeling ashamed and worthless.
After I was diagnosed I was so angry. I got home and I shouted at my husband. I just didn’t know any other way to address what I was feeling inside. He was so calm that it made me angrier. He asked me to sit down so we could talk. We didn’t say much but we held hands and he promised to be there for me no matter what. He said he would go get tested the following day and he did. He came back and told me that he too was HIV positive.
My husband said if we stick together we would beat HIV. He always said that whatever I was feeling was not wrong and just helped me find positive things to replace all those bad feelings. He showed me love and supported me, not even once had he said I shouldn’t feel what I was feeling. The love he had was enough to erase all the anger but all the fear was still there.
At that time I saw no reason to keep a baby who would be sick and I wanted to terminate the pregnancy. Not even my partner could convince me otherwise. I wanted to kill the baby because I was still very scared. I had lost all my siblings to HIV-related illnesses. My mother had passed away when I was just a teenager from hypertension. I felt I had nowhere to run, no one to turn to. I had no brother, no sister, no mother. I felt all alone even though my husband and children were there.
I had booked my appointment with the doctor but when the day finally came, something inside me told me not to kill my child before he lived. I asked the doctor to just check if my baby was okay and see if he could see the baby’s gender. He told me I was carrying a boy. Funny enough, I was then overcome with joy.
After I gave birth I met mothers2mothers (m2m). I was astonished to hear all the stories other women would share during our training. I realised then that there was nothing to be afraid of. I made friends with other Mentor Mothers, a different kind of friendship than the one I was used to. The Mentor Mothers seemed like they understood how I felt even before I would tell them. Some of their stories would bring me to tears and that when I realised I was not the only one with HIV or a troubled past.
My husband lost his job just after I gave birth but I had also just found employment with m2m as a Mentor Mother. There is nothing good with loosing an income but at least one of us would be able to look after our family, so all was not lost. I learnt from other Mentor Mothers that I should continue appreciating my husband, especially now that our roles were reversed. He was looking after our house and children, while I put food on the table.
We now have four beautiful children. I am healthy and have started ARVs. All my children are HIV negative and my husband is very supportive. I realise now that he has always been this supportive but I was too angry to see it. My husband has not yet started on ARVs because his CD4 count is still above the level when one needs to start. We love our children and one another so much. We are doing our best to be good parents to our children and be role models to our community by taking care of our own health first.
It’s very sad that I lost most of my family but with my partner, I have all the support I need.