Saturday, November 17, 2012

Most Commonly Asked Question....

I would like to preface this post with a warning - this will be long, in depth, and full of facts. So, please stay with me.

Do you want to know what the most common question people ask when they find out we are adopting from Ethiopia is?

........Brace yourselves........

"But she won't be, like HIV+ right?" Then, before we can answer, they continue with some form of the following: "That would be a deal breaker for me." or "I don't know if I could expose my family to that!" or "There's no way - she'd just be sick all the time and likely, you know, die." And I believe there was something else about spending so much to bring her back thrown in with that last one.

I'd like to point out that we've actually heard all of those comments. And you know what? It breaks my heart. Because I at one point, would've have thought those things. I likely would not have spoken them out loud to that person, but I'm sure I would have thought them. Why? Because HIV+/Aids is taboo. We don't talk about it. Please, don't take what I'm about to say the wrong way. But most people think HIV+/Aids and homosexuality go hand in hand.

So no one wants to talk about it. No one wants to learn about it. No one wants to help those who have it - no matter where they live.

One thing about choosing International Adoption is, we have a lot of training and classes we have to take in order to be as prepared as possible for the changes coming our way. And one of those things we learn about are common special needs in the region you're adopting from.

     -Ethiopia has 10-18 percent of it's adult population living with HIV/Aids.
     -There are 650,000 orphans who have lost one or both parents to HIV/Aids.
     -An estimated 67,000 people die every year in Ethiopia due to HIV/Aids

So what exactly is HIV/Aids. Well, first of all, HIV and Aids are not quite the same thing. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. According to the Project Hopeful   website:

-HIV is a virus which needs cells of a living 
organism in order to make copies of itself. 
HIV attacks the cells of the human 
immune system by using its cells to 
reproduce. The HIV virus causes AIDS.

Aids is Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

-AIDS is a diagnosable medical condition. 
A person is diagnosed with AIDS when 
their immune system is weakened by the 
HIV virus to the point where it can no 
longer fight off infection.

So to put it plainly, HIV is a virus. When it goes untreated, it becomes AIDS. How do you treat it? Just like anything else, with medicine. Medicine called ARV's - antiretroviral drugs that you take at the same time every day. Sometimes, only one is required, sometimes a combination of 2 or 3. But that's pretty much it. Daily medication and checkups with a specialists a couple times a year to make sure the virus levels remain low.

Hmm, what else requires daily medication to keep it in check: diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, women take birth control daily to prevent pregnancy... That's. It.

Oh, why of course! I'll answer those questions likely buzzing inside your head. Is it contagious, isn't she just going to die prematurely anyway, won't it costs a lot for "upkeep"? To answer these questions simply and straight forward: No to all three. From HIV to Home explains it a lot better than I can.

  • But isn’t HIV contagious? HIV is a very fragile virus, and there are very specific ways that it is transmitted. HIV is only transmitted when the virus enters the bloodstream. This only occurs through sexual contact; through the use of contaminated needles or other sharp instruments, or receiving a transfusion of HIV-infected blood products; and from a mother who is HIV-infected to her child during pregnancy, childbirth, labour and delivery, and breastfeeding. HIV transmission does not occur with normal household contact. It is not transmitted through tears, saliva, mucous or other bodily fluids. It is considered a “communicable” disease – meaning you can’t simply “catch” it. In addition, when an infected person is on treatment, the levels of HIV in the blood are brought so low that they are considered undetectable – meaning the possibility of transmission – even through contact with blood, semen, or vaginal fluid – is that much more remote.

  • Aren’t these children going to die after their families bring them home? Many people don’t realize that the prognosis for children on treatment for their HIV is excellent. They are expected to live long, normal lives. In fact, in the west, HIV is now considered a chronic illness rather than the terminal disease it used to be. Sadly, this isn’t the case for those HIV infected children living in resource-poor settings, where 50% of infected and untreated children are not expected to live past the age of two.

  • What if no insurance company will cover my child? Here’s the great news! It is a legal requirement that all adopted children be added to group insurance plans without pre-existing condition clauses in all 50 states! And many states also require that private insurance plans do the same! In addition, all 50 states have funding programs that will assist with the costs of HIV treatment within specified income guidelines.

Pretty interesting eh? I bet you (like I did) thought it was this horrible awful disease. You can't catch it by giving hugs and kisses, sharing a soda at the movie theaters, or snuggling with them when they're home with the flu. And contrary to popular belief, HIV+ children do not get sick more often than those without it.

What about when they get older? What if I adopt a daughter, what happens when she gets married and wants to have kids of her own? Won't it just continue in a vicious cycle? Again, no. As long as a woman stays on her ARV's continually and consistently, mother to child transmission has been virtually eliminated. Meaning, she can have healthy children that are not HIV+.

So what are we so afraid of? A stigma? Ignorance? That was me. When we went through this training, I was amazed at how ignorant I was of all the facts. I never thought to look them up. I had no need to.

But who am I to decide what she has? I understand that there are some people who are unsure about adopting "special needs" children. But let me ask you, if you had children biologically, would you have been given a form with a checklist of needs that you would or would not accept?

Don't get me wrong, KC and I sat there looking at this medical list, and there were some needs we knew we had to say no to. And it broke my heart. But for the most part - we checked WTD on 85%-90%. WTD: Willing to discuss. Because we are - we are willing to discuss them. It's been my experience (with wanting to find out more about a little girl we saw on our agency's wait list), that most of those big words on the list are just that - big words. And we're willing to follow God's leading on this.

With all of that said, it's time to answer the question most commonly asked:
Well, we don't if she will be HIV+ or  not. And even if she were, that's likely something we would not share with the general public. Due to such high public ignorance, I wouldn't blame her if she chose to keep this (or any other medical conditions) to herself.

So for those of you with friends just starting out in the process, please, PLEASE do not ask them such a thoughtless question. Because would she be any less worthy of adoption if she were HIV+? I don't think so, and I'd like to think others would feel the same. Y

                                                                    {Photo courtesy of Project Hopeful}

.....My only hope is in you.
                                                 -Psalm 39:7




  1. Great thoughts! And oh, the thoughtless questions. I would like to say it will get better as you go further in the process, but, well, they don't go away. :) Hang in there!

    1. Thanks Kim! Haha! I figured that much. ;) It reminded me of that video Things People Say to Transracial families. :)