It is amazing how our perspective on adoption and the child we are hoping to adopt has changed over the last few months. When we started this process we thought we wanted to adopt a child as healthy as possible. Then we read more and more about the many, many orphans in this world. The more we read, the more we realized that we were open to adopting a child with special needs. We have discussed over and over what exactly this means and what type of special needs we can handle. Our eyes and our hearts have been open to these wonderful children who can bring so much to our life and our family, but who also are the children that have the hardest times finding homes and are sent to the worst places as they get older. We decided we were going to adopt a special needs child. I have "met" some of the most amazing, inspirational people throughout this journey. People that CHOOSE to adopt children with special needs and love them unconditionally for who they are. People that have more courage and strength than any "super hero" in any movie. They face their challenges head on and make the best of every situation, and most of them will tell you that they are better people and their families are better families because of it. These are the people that helped us to see that not only can we do this, but we really want to do this!
Then a few weeks ago we were asked if HIV is a special needs we would consider. Honestly, my initial reaction was absolutely not! Why would I want to adopt a child that was going to die. Then I took a deep breath, took a step back and set out to find out any information I could. I knew the person that asked me this would not have mentioned it if they thought it would be bad for our family. I found out that I was very ignorant in my thoughts about HIV. What I found out is that the stigma associated with HIV is not the reality of HIV. The stigma of HIV is that I would be putting myself, my family and my friends in jeopardy by adopting a child with HIV. The reality is that HIV is extremely hard to transmit. It can not be spread by normal every day contact and is even very hard to spread by coming in contact with the blood of a person that is being managed correctly. The stigma of HIV is that it is a death sentence. The reality of HIV is that children that are followed by a doctor and have their medication managed correctly can go on to live long lives with a pretty much normal life expectancy. HIV is now seen as a chronic, manageable illness just like diabetes, thyroid disorders, etc.
Ukraine has one of the fastest growing rates of new HIV infections in Eastern Europe. This leaves many HIV positive orphans in orphanages that need families. We have found out about a little girl that we are hoping to adopt. I can't post any information about her publicly because we will not receive an official referral for her until after we have our SDA appointment in Ukraine. What I can say is that she is very lucky to be in an orphanage where she is being treated by one of the best HIV/AIDS doctors in Ukraine. She has already been started on anti-retroviral medications. This is such a blessing for her to already be receiving treatment. She is a happy, healthy little girl. We met with a pediatric infectious disease doctor and her team today to discuss what the treatment will be for our little girl. They are very optimistic that she will continue to do well with treatment. We are lucky to have them so close to us! They are a wonderful group of doctors, nurses, etc. and the nurse practitioner is even an adoptive mom herself!
As far as the adoption process goes not much will change. The good news is that because we are going to be requesting a specific child it looks like we will not have to wait in line to submit our dossier. This means that as soon as we receive our I-171H and get everything over to Ukraine our facilitator should be able to submit our dossier right away. As long as that is before the end of May, we will not have to redo any of our documents! The not so good news is that my time in Ukraine may be longer than I hoped. At the end of the adoption process when we go to apply for our child's visa we will have to submit a special waiver for her to receive her visa. This is because she is HIV positive. This waiver has to go to the CDC and the USCIS for them to sign off on it and then back to the embassy for them to issue the visa. This could add anywhere from a few days to 2 weeks onto the end of my trip.
Do I feel like I need to announce to everyone that our child is HIV positive? NO. The reason I posted this here is because I want to give anyone a chance to ask any questions, etc. that they might have. I don't want this to be treated like a secret or like something that is wrong with our little girl. I don't ever want her to feel like something is wrong with her. This is not her fault or because of anything she did. She deserves the chance to know the love of a family, the chance to have a childhood and the chance to have a future. I am by no means an expert on HIV, but I am learning as much as I can. I would love to hear any questions, comments, concerns that you have. Obviously we will have to take some normal precautions, but it is nothing that will impact the quality of our little girl's life or our life. I understand that it might be hard for some people to understand why we would want to adopt a child with HIV. I am not asking you to understand or agree with our decision. What I am asking is that you respect our decision and accept it. We understand that there are no guarantees that our little girl will remain healthy, but there are also no guarantees that any child will remain healthy for their entire life. All we can do is the same thing we do for Morgan - pray every day that she remains happy and healthy and deal with anything that might arise in the future.
Here are a few facts about HIV:
- HIV can NOT be spread through casual/household contact. HIV is not spread through hugging, kissing, shaking hands, sharing toys, sneezing, coughing, sharing food, sharing drinks, bathing, swimming or any other casual way. It has been proven that HIV and AIDS can only be spread through sexual contact, birth, breastfeeding and blood to blood contact (such as sharing needles).
- HIV is now considered a chronic but manageable disease. With treatment, people who are HIV+ can live indefinitely without developing AIDS and can live long and full lives.
- People who are HIV+ deserve to be treated with love, respect, support and acceptance as all people do. If anyone wants more info on transmission, there is great info on the Center for Disease Control website.