I'm a mother and a refugee: I also have HIV

Lebo is a woman from Africa, living in Scotland. She sought asylum in Scotland and has been granted refugee status.

We asked her about her life and going through the immigration process as a mother, and a person living with HIV.

This story is only one of many that has been shared with us and it does not represent the experiences of all people living with HIV. If you have a different story, we'd like to hear it - please do get in touch.

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“I got tested for HIV five years ago just after I came to the UK. I was pregnant and because I was from Africa, they wanted me to get tested for HIV as part of my pregnancy checks.

“I was shocked when they called me to urgently come to the hospital after the test. I went there and I had my midwife, my nurse, my consultant and two other people in the room. I was really scared when I saw all of them and I thought there was something wrong with the baby.

"I concentrated on taking treatment, so my baby would be ok"

"Then they told me 'You’re HIV positive'. My first question was 'Is the baby going to be fine?'. They said 'We're going to put you on treatment and that's going to make sure that he's fine and then we're going to give you a C-section. And then your child is going to get tested for one and a half years to confirm he’s negative'.

“I don't know how I did it, but I just concentrated on taking my treatments, so the baby could be alright. And after the one year and six months and he was confirmed to be negative, I was happy he was ok.

"But then I really got scared and depressed. I thought ok, he’s ok, but I'm going to die. Who's going to take care of my baby? I just totally shut down and I went into depression silently. Just like that.

Getting by through the immigration process

"Some politicians have said recently that people with HIV shouldn't be allowed into the UK. I'd say to them: walk a mile in my shoes. I honestly can't believe the ignorance. I hope they know their own HIV status! HIV can affect anyone, even British politicians born here in the UK.

“At first HIV was an issue during my immigration process. When I went to my interview I had to tell the worker I had HIV, because they ask you if you're on medication. And she told me I was lying. It affected me, making me really depressed. Eventually my lawyer had to write to them to prove I had HIV. It's a very long, hard process and it really had a big impact on my mental health.

"I had to try and stay sane through it all for my son, hiding all the trouble I was going trough so he could know a normal life. Ultimately I had to change a lot of things and start to heal because I'm a mum - I had to think more of my son all the time. As a mum you've got this person whose looking up to you every day and it gives you a reason to wake up and take your medication. And now, even though he doesn't know what my medication is for, he’ll sometimes say before we go to bed: 'mummy, you didn't take your medication'. He knows that I live on medication. And when he's the right age, I'll explain to him what the medication is for.

"HIV doesn't make me who I am"

“After a while I started going to college and I started wanting to know more about this HIV, and I realised I’m not the only one in my situation. I did courses on HIV and sexual health, and I just started being open about it and I think that was the start of the healing process for me. I stopped feeling sorry for myself.

“I have seen people who still scared to say that they are HIV positive. If you see them in the clinic, they are hiding under magazines. And I'm kind of over that. Honestly, HIV doesn't make me who I am, I'm just a person.

"So that was part of the healing process for me, to be open, to talk about it with others and be involved in things to help make a difference. To turn my past and make it a positive experience for me. I won’t let it take over my life.”

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HIV Scotland is collecting the experiences and stories - like this one - of people living with HIV from across Scotland, to inform our work and to raise awareness about the reality of life with HIV.

We take confidentiality seriously and do not share any information without express permission from the individuals we talk to.

If you would like to share your story, or if you have questions about living with HIV, please do contact us.