Today is December 1. It is the first day of Advent. It is also World AIDS Day. Not coincidentally, when we lit the first candle of the advent wreath this morning in my faith community and spoke words about prophecy and hope, my mind was taken back to moments of hopeful waiting around this particular topic. As I came of age in the 1980’s, my generation was tossed into the midst of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. I have written in this blog several times on this topic, because the people that I loved…and lost…were so formative to the person I still am today. As I start this new advent mini-writing project, I find myself standing at this particular door of fearful…and yet hopeful…waiting which I remember vividly.
I sat up on the exam table, waiting. It seemed like endless painful hours had passed since the nurse said something about a problematic lab value. She had no idea about the fear her statement inflicted in me. I had been tested so many times before: in college, making a pact with my friends and sticking together at the clinic, again after the guy I had been married to slept around and I finally found out, after my forays post-divorce back into the dating world, other times simply because I needed to exercise my right to know what was happening in my body. Knowledge is power. I was only 19 when the first person I knew and loved died from AIDS. I learned to talk about getting tested for HIV openly, with anyone. With potential partners, this was a topic of conversation practically on the first date. Actually, I was so adamant, I did bring it up on the first date. It wasn’t a moral judgement on the other person. It wasn’t a suggestion of what we might do on that date. It was about just being real, bringing the issue front and center so there would be no doubt. It was just necessary, a life step like clicking one’s seatbelt. Get tested. Use condoms. Don’t pretend HIV isn’t real.
I thought all these thoughts as I sat there, feeling such a mixed conundrum of hope and fear. This tiny, tiny spark of life growing inside me needed a host…a mother…who was 100% healthy. So, I had scheduled this test again even before trying to get pregnant. Life intervened, though, and here I was, already a few weeks pregnant by the time my pre-conception visit came along. I sat still, and tried to be calm. It could be any lab value that was off. Why was I so afraid? Could I actually be joyful…or hopeful? I thought back to my friends I had loved, and lost. They also had to wait, and they had to take in news they didn’t want to hear at the end of that wait. I waited with a few of them until the end, fighting their disease. And I felt them near me in that moment, waiting with me and telling me not to worry, that I would be OK.
Then, it hit me: survivors’s guilt.
The words “don’t worry” rang from my head to my heart. I would never, ever stop thinking it could just as easily have been me. I am no better than anyone else. I sit. I wait. I worry. I have hope. I have survived, but I have always wondered, why not me?
The nurse came back in. “I’m sorry it took me so long. And, I hate to tell you this…”
I closed my eyes and swallowed hard, fearing the worst,
“…because I know you are a vegetarian, but I really think you may need to change your diet for this pregnancy. You are already anemic, and your blood iron is very low. That is probably going to get even more challenging as you get further along. Everything else looks good, though, and your HIV test is negative.”
Anemic. Low iron. I laughed out loud, like my biblical namesake once did during the start of her own pregnancy.
I thanked my spirit guides, the beloved friends who watched over me, who understood the secrets of my mind and my heart in those still, small moments of waiting. It could have been me. But, it wasn’t. Now, there were nine months of hopeful waiting about to begin….