One of the most painful things a woman can ever live through is the loss of a child. It is an experience Melita Mofokeng* (not her real name) of Bohlokong, Bethlehem in the Free State has lived through twice.
“I lost my children due to my ignorance of HIV,” she said. “I got married at the age of 20. It was arranged marriage by my parents in exchange for cows. I did not know that the man I was given to was already HIV positive.”
Melita fell pregnant, but for a long time remained unaware that she had contracted HIV from her husband. She did not attend any of the local clinics because her mother-in-law was a traditional birth attendant and believed only in the use of herbs (“muthi”) to keep Melita and her unborn child healthy.
A few months into the pregnancy, Melita’s husband fell sick. They did not think much of it, and he was treated at home with muthi.
After she gave birth Melita and the baby grew sick. She continued to stay away from doctors, relying on her mother-in-law for care and treatment with muthi. The baby died after just a few months.
“Then I met Thoko Mokoena,an HIV support group agent and a counsellor, and she advised me to visit a health facility. I went to Bohlokong clinic where I was checked and found out that I was pregnant again. I then asked for an HIV test to be done, which came back positive. I tried to be strong, but I realised that my first child had been infected, and I was so angry at myself,” Melita said, adding that while her husband had known he was HIV positive, he had been too ashamed to speak to her about it.
[quote float = right]”My first child died at eight months due to my ignorance and I suffered a miscarriage with my second born because I was in complete denial, constantly blaming myself for the death of my first baby. I suffered terribly from stress, and it was a very sad time for me and my family.”
Melita then fell pregnant with her third child, but decided to change her mindset from the start. “I told myself that I am going to consult a medical doctor from the beginning till the end, and there would be no more herbs and muthi,” she said.
She was supported in her efforts by Mokoena, now her friend and counsellor, as well as her husband and family who all joined her in a support group.
“We started being in a very close relationship, where we could talk about everything, and we got to know more about living with HIV. I was also put on antiretrovials to protect my unborn baby.”
Melita has since given birth to a healthy baby, born HIV free, because she was enrolled on the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme, while Mokoena continues to check up on them to ensure that mother and baby remain healthy.
Melita’s husband Lucas Mosia* (not his real name) said he had been afraid to tell her about his HIV status, and believed that if he infected her she would not leave him.
“But I am happy that she forgave me. We now attend support groups together and are living a healthy life.”
Mokoena said she was happy to have had the opportunity to be a help and support.
“Many people are in denial because they are afraid that people will change towards them, not realising that speaking about their status is part of getting better and accepting their life as it is. I encourage people to feel free about their status, and to take the treatment they need,” she said.
Thabo Mhlakwane of Lovelife, a youth-focussed HIV prevention initiative, said: “Acceptance is the first step to healing. If you accept yourself and your sickness, you will heal very fast and be free. Also people must not forget their dates for clinic check-ups because some, when they start feeling better, stop taking their medication. They don’t realise this is taking a step back. People need to take their treatment and join support groups where they will learn how to live with the infection.”
*Real names have not been used.