August 25, 2015

Finding hope when pregnant and living with HIV: Amina’s story

Amina Abdullahi contemplated suicide after discovering she was both pregnant and living with HIV, but after giving birth she feels differently and urges others not to give up hope.

In Nigeria, 3.4 million people are living with HIV, 80 per cent of whom will have contracted the virus through heterosexual sex (UNAIDS). And around the world half of all new HIV infections occur in those who are 25 and under (Women Deliver).

Amina*, from Kaduna State, North Central Nigeria, is now a 26-year-old mother of one. Both her and her baby are living with HIV and have had to deal with the pain of stigma they’ve faced as a result of their HIV status.

Sexual and reproductive health

Amina comes from a poor family, but as the first child her parents did all they could to send her to school. When she gained admission into university, her parents and entire family were very proud of her. Her dad sold some of his property to pay for her fees while her mum borrowed money from friends. Amina wanted to be an established businesswoman who would make her family proud and support her siblings.

Two years into her studies, Amina met Kabiru. He was handsome and generous, providing her with money to take care of her needs. When Kabiru asked her out she gladly accepted and, three months later, she moved in with him. She was in love and life seemed perfect.

Although Amina and Kabiru had maintained a no-sex relationship Kabiru never complained. Amina says: “This made me love him even more.” But one night, three weeks after she moved in with him, Kabiru said he had endured long enough and that, if she truly loved him, she would have sex with him.

Amina had grown to trust Kabiru so she agreed but he had no condom. She initially refused but he assured her that he was safe and would withdraw prior to ejaculation so she wouldn’t get pregnant. Amina says: “I was naive and blinded by my feelings for him, so I agreed. But a month later I started feeling sick.”

Amina went to the doctor who confirmed she was pregnant. Then, two days later, she got a call from the hospital to come back. When she got there, the doctor revealed to her that, after further tests, she was living with HIV.

Feeling ashamed

“I felt ashamed and betrayed by Kabiru,” says Amina. “I accosted him to disclose his true HIV status to me. He said he was negative but would not go for any test to confirm this. It was then I realised I had been deceived.

“I thought of the disappointment it would bring to my parents. I was confused and felt the only way to escape the situation was to take my life. I went back home and tried taking poison. But just when I was about to ingest the substance, which I had bought on my way back from the hospital, I realised I had another life inside me and it would be unfair to end the innocent baby’s life without giving it a fair chance.

“I decided not to. Instead I chose not to go back home to my parents until I delivered the baby. And that has been my resolve.”

Finding hope

Amina has almost finished her studies and she hopes her story will touch the lives of other young women, showing them they should not give up hope as living with HIV does not limit someone from realising their dreams. She still believes she can become a successful businesswoman and take her family out of poverty. She also wants to get married and have more children.

Amina says: “I believe one day various cultures and religious groups will learn to accept people living with HIV and there will be no discrimination.”

Amina regrets not having accessed family planning services, including those which can help prevent transmission of HIV from mothers to their babies, as was advised by the doctor. Amina didn’t go because of stories she’d heard from other women which made her fear being discriminated against. She now understands how important it is to speak out and change attitudes.

Integrating sexual and reproductive health with HIV services can increase the range of services provided to and taken up by communities, saving time and money in resource poor settings.

Amina says: “I hope for a better health policy by the government that would discourage stigma and discrimination and support women living with HIV to access comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, especially to improve the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.”

* All names changed to protect interviewees’ identities

Nnamdi Eseme is from Nigeria and is a member of the Key Correspondents network which focuses on marginalised groups affected by HIV, to report the health and human rights stories that matter to them. The network is supported by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.