Thank you so much for your support of mothers2mothers' (m2m)! I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce you to Juliet, a former m2m Mentor Mother and current Site Coordinator in Uganda. Below is her story.
My name is Nalumu Vivien Juliet. I was 26 years old in 2006 with my first pregnancy. I went to Kamuli Mission Hospital for the normal antenatal care and as a routine, all women were tested for HIV.
I was anxious and proud because of the new life inside of me, happily looking forward to producing a very healthy baby. I was six weeks pregnant and in one minute all my joy disappeared and was replaced by fear and anxiety when the results were positive.
My first thought was who will take care of me? My mother had just died of HIV in 2003 only three years earlier so I knew what HIV could do.
The nurse advised me to share my results with my husband because I need a lot of support to produce and raise an HIV-free baby. It takes two hours from the hospital to my home. In my bag I had drugs that I was supposed to take and as I travelled, I could only think that I had to take them without the knowledge of my husband because I knew he would throw me out if he knew.
Let me tell you for a moment about my home life. I am one of my husband’s three wives and in East Central Uganda where I come from, it’s a custom for men to have more than one wife. This is the breadwinner of the house, and makes all the important decisions in the home. Our role is to produce children and do house work. My fear was once I revealed my status, my husband would kick me out of the house and I would have nothing to live on.
Having feared to disclose, it was impossible to keep going to hospital secretly because I need money for transport from my husband. Consequently, I took some time without medications and became extremely ill. I was now 32 weeks pregnant and only weighed 42 kg when I went to hospital. I was ill and my husband couldn’t look after me so he took me back to my father’s home.
On reaching home everybody rejected me. To them, looking after me would mean they would contract the disease from me. They sent me out of the main house and separated all my utensils. When my husband saw me again, he decided to take me to his own village to his parents.
Two months later, I gave birth to twin baby girls. The first baby developed HIV-related illness, which killed her at four months. At nine months “my other little one” had also developed HIV-related illness and I rushed her to hospital. She was admitted with TB and pneumonia and also tested positive.
We were admitted to this hospital since then and continued taking medications secretly because I still had not disclosed to my husband.
Four years later in 2010, mothers2mothers (m2m) came in Uganda and in this facility we were getting treatment. I enrolled as a Mentor Mother, an appointment that turned my life all the way around. During the first training, the m2m trainer told us that being a Mentor Mother means telling other people about your HIV status and it becomes quite dangerous if one has not disclosed to her family.
With her support, I disclosed to my husband, had him and his two other wives were tested. One of them was positive and the two were initiated on treatment.
Now, more empowered than ever I decided to try out the knowledge I was giving to other women and produced two more children who are HIV free.
m2m has empowered me to be a role model and a pillar of hope to my own community, the very people who saved me and my daughter when we were ill. I have empowered them to fight stigma, raise negative babies, and advocate for their rights.
Besides the capacity built in by m2m, I have enrolled in a local university and am doing a bachelor degree in social work and social administration.
There is something else, something bigger, that I am a part of. m2m has given me the opportunity to participate in a global struggle against paediatric HIV which took the life of my lovely baby girl. Now more than ever I will do everything in my capacity to support, educate, and help all the women in my care to ensure that no more babies get infected with HIV.
Juliet with her three children