Page last updated at 12:16 GMT, Wednesday, 3 December 2003

'I hate knowing I will leave my son'

As part of a BBC series on Aids, people living with HIV from around the world tell their own stories in their own words.

Niza, 32, lives in Mexico City with her parents and her beloved 10-year-old son.

Niza at her computer
Niza co-ordinates services for women with HIV

One of the best things I ever did was to become a mother - my son is the beautiful result of unprotected sex.

But it wasn't just having a baby. With his birth came responsibility - his upkeep, his education, taking care of him and bringing him up on my own.

He is the wonderful person who has been my companion these last 10 years.

Through him I have learnt to love life, cling on to my dreams and face battles. But 28 August 2000 was the worst day of my life. It was when I was told I was HIV-positive.

I had had unprotected sex and I decided to have the test.

I thought it was best to do it, get a negative result, then be careful in the future. I wasn't prepared for a positive result. But who is?

Emotional distance

I hate knowing that I will leave my son behind and miss out on his growing up into the wonderful person he is already becoming and will be in the future.

It's really difficult to keep going.

I was diagnosed with HIV in January 1991 at the age of twenty five. Twelve years later I am more surprised than anyone to still be here
Jon, England

It's such a big responsibility for him. I believe he is the only one who will stick by me, whatever happens.

I've seen so many people drift away when I thought they would be with me in the most difficult times. When I told them I had been diagnosed HIV-positive, not only did they put emotional distance between us - but physical distance too.

Luckily I have my parents, my brothers and sisters and some friends. They stick around, even though they don't always understand me.

Finding ways and means

What's a typical day for me? I'm an active member of an organisation working for people with HIV and Aids.

I'm the only woman there and I'm responsible for co-ordinating services for women.

I'm really happy because after a year of working with other HIV- positive women, we have finally managed to form a group of women and we are going to create a little enterprise which will enable us to be self-employed.

Niza's son at his computer
Niza says her son always sticks by her

That way we can generate an income for ourselves and still continue our medication, keep going to the doctor and look after our children.

I've met five other women who not only share my experience of living with the virus but who also want to fight for better lives for ourselves and our children.

Today we started developing our ideas and discussing what we will have to do to get going.

The idea for this group sprang from our economic situation, few people want to employ us once they know we have HIV or Aids, and we can't not tell them because then we wouldn't be able to get medical help.

Rediscovering sex

Once a friend from another organisation asked me to go to a meeting with him and speak about what it's like to live with HIV. I agreed to go.

I didn't really think much about what it would be like or what I would say. I didn't know how I would be received. All those participating were gay men.

I talked about how it feels to have renewed healthy, pleasurable control again over my body - using a condom, because I know I have to use one, or never have sex again
It turned out very well, I felt quite comfortable and I learned a lot from things they shared with me. They said lots of nice things and wished me all the best.

They asked a lot of questions, such as "how did you feel when you were told you were HIV-positive?".

I told them that although I knew the difference between living with HIV and living with Aids, I still couldn't help thinking that I would die the next day and that I wouldn't be able to be a mother to my son, that I had let him down by getting myself infected.

I told them how I was scared in case I cut myself and saw my own blood and about how I didn't want anyone touching me because I was angry with myself.

First this was because I was scared - then it became the norm to keep my physical distance from people.

I told them how I stopped expressing my sexuality and about how I started to do so again once I had found someone who made me feel alive and secure - using protection, of course.

And I talked about how it feels to have renewed healthy, pleasurable control again over my body - using a condom, because I know I have to use one, or never have sex again.

This is another aspect I have managed to overcome while learning to live with HIV.

Saying goodbye

I have found out that our uncle, my mother's brother, died last Saturday.

He was very ill and had been suffering a lot. I was upset that he'd died and that he and my Granddad hadn't been able to sort out their differences before he passed away.

My uncle lived in Guadalajara and Granddad in Mexico City. He got there just as the ambulance arrived.

I don't want that to happen to me. I want to be able to resolve all the differences I may have with others.

The following comments reflect the balance of views we received:

I consider Niza to be very brave; she dwells with her illness in a remarkable way. Everybody out there with HIV should take an example from her life. HIV does not mean the end of the world, it simply mean you have to live another life. Niza you are very brave.
Maha Narine, Georgetown, Guyana

I too resolve to never again have unprotected sex with a new partner
Erica, Minnesota

After having unprotected sex recently and getting a negative HIV result back (thank God), and now having read Niza's story, I too resolve to never again have unprotected sex with a new partner - not to sound like a teenager or anything, but no glove, no love! Keep it safe!
Erica, Minnesota, USA

Niza, your story has shaken me to the foundations. I'll never involve myself in unprotected sex. Thanks for the bravery.
Ronald, Kampala, Uganda

We need more people with your guts in Latin America
Jorge, London

You are an amazing woman. Keep up the work! We need more people with your guts in Latin America.
Jorge, London, England

Niza I like your attitude. You must be strong for yourself, your son and for your family, I know it's not easy but keep it up, we will always pray for people like you. You are unlike my husband, who is angry with everybody around him because he can't take that he is going to die one day and leave people he loves behind. By sharing your story with us you make people like him strong and know they are not alone and they must also fight for life. Thank you and good luck.
Sindiswa Nohamba, Cape Town, South Africa

It's really uplifting to read your story as I found myself in the same situation two years ago. I've resigned myself to the fact that I'll probably not live to be a grandma because of one instance of unprotected sex with who I thought would be my future husband. Turns out, he swung both ways and knew he was infected before the act. Still can't bring myself to tell family or friends because they all think I'm the Perfect Mom. I have the perfect job; he goes to the perfect school and participates in all the right activities. We live in the perfect neighbourhood and are surrounded by the right friends. Little do they know, I pray every night that my meds will sustain me long enough to see my wonderful son graduate from high school. Once illness sets in, I'll execute the perfect plan to remove myself from his life in an "acceptable" manner without ever telling anyone of my IMPERFECT behaviour.
The Perfect Mom, Houston, Texas, USA

Niza, highest praises for all that you have overcome thus far. Be proud of who you are - not everyone takes as strong of an approach as you have in your life. I admire your courage and perseverance through a most daunting obstacle. Warmest wishes and support.
Stefanie, Georgia, USA

Her story puts a face to this devastating disease
Alma, Dallas

Niza's story is a great reminder of the perils of unprotected sex. One time is all it takes. But her story also puts a face to this devastating disease. Best wishes to her and her son.
Alma, Dallas, Texas, USA

I really commend you Niza. This could easily be me, but thankfully I have been lucky. Sometimes I think once is not enough! I can't contract HIV just like that! How wrong can I be? I hope this will be a turning point in my life. No condom, No sex! Full stop. Best wishes to you and your son.
Pamela, London, UK

I think you're very brave to be doing what you're doing and that you can admit you have the infection is great some people do not have the guts to even admit it and then purposely pass it on to everybody who they sleep with. Well done.
Sasha Griffiths, Wales

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