The Fear in Me: Adopting a Child with HIV

August 5, 2016 a father's perspective, August 2016 - Infectious, Dads, HIV, Infectious 2 Comments

I’m an accidental parent.

To be more precise, I’m an accidental adoptive parent of two children with special needs. No, my two adoptive kiddos didn’t just show up one day in a basket with a note tied to it (although, I’m sure that would have cut down on paperwork and the timeline). But I never had adoption on my radar, so in reality, I never wanted these two kids to be my two kids. To be sure, these children, like so many others, needed to be a blessing to someone’s family – just not mine, please. My family was complete.

Little did I realize that while I thought my family was complete, I would be shown that it wasn’t.

My accidental story begins about 10 years ago…

Like many within the adoption community, we had experienced a significant number of pregnancy loses. I say “we” because while my wife suffered much physical trauma and emotional trauma, I suffered equally. You see, being a fixer is one thing I’m really good at. In fact, I’m the king of the wanting-to-fix-your-problem-guy. Honestly, I’m pretty good at it. My wife was broken with loss, sadness, and confusion, but I couldn’t fix her. That’s hard for a husband. While I don’t pretend to understand the depths of her losses, they were mine too, compounded with a person whom I wanted so much to fix, and couldn’t.

Mercifully, the story didn’t end in despair. We were blessed to eventually have two biological children who, with the exception of both sharing the elusive genetic trait of saying dad 47 times an hour, are relatively healthy.

Great, I thought. We finally have our family. Complete. Moving on, so I thought.

Like many adoption stories, it’s the wife who approaches the husband about adoption. Our exchange was no different. I was under the impression that God had “completed” (what does that really even mean I would later ask?) our family, especially after such a difficult time forming one.

We were done.

I’m good with two, thank you. I mean, with two, you can do a man to man defense. Anything else requires zone defense and an increased level of teamwork. But God moved in my heart equally and so I thought hey, we can do this. I can do this.

Let’s allow God to move our hearts to the child who he has in mind.

And there, in a small, blurry picture she came first to us. Cleft lip and palate along with an infectious disease was her diagnosis.

Wait, what?
Infectious disease?
Sorry, I can’t do that.
I can love anyone, I can tolerate differences, I can be patient with a delayed-motor-skilled child, but I cannot do infectious diseases.

Now before you assume that it’s due to a lack of compassion or love, or simply poor education, it’s not that simple.

It was culture.
The culture that was so a part of me which has been drilled into my very fiber since birth. I mean, look at the word: infectious.
That’s a scary word, and we are taught to be afraid.

But being medically-minded, my wife convinced me that it just meant a world with some extra precautions. And besides, I thought, it’s not one of the diagnoses that carried a social stigma. No problem.

So in a blur that seemed to take an eternity, filled with mounds of paperwork, agency fees, and trip planning, we brought back our daughter.

She was, and is amazing. Amazing. Perhaps the most amazing part for me after we returned home from China was that she had a misdiagnosis and did not have anything other than a repaired lip and palate.

Whew, I thought. Now I can relax. I don’t have to think about an uncomfortable topic or stigma.

But what happens when a little boy catches your attention? And of course by that, I mean my wife’s attention.

There he is, frail, most undoubtedly needing affection, better food, a place to be himself.

Of course we can adopt again! We’ve got the space, and we are getting good at going into debt. And I cannot, by the way, think of a better reason to go into debt. Sign me up. When do we go and get him?

Wait….he’s also got an infectious disease?
Okay, last time I prepared myself for the unknown, so I guess I can do this again.

Now growing up in the 80’s, I remember Magic Johnson’s story and how afraid everyone was of this diagnosis. It meant AIDS. It meant a life cut short. It meant being afraid of the very letters. It was, and continues to be a culture afraid of this disease. And knowing that we were falling in love with a boy with HIV scared me.

What about my other children?
How could I keep them safe?
What would my extended family think?
What if he gets a cut?
What if…

These are all legitimate questions.

Medically, when controlled with proper medications to where the viral load is what science calls undetectable, there is virtually a zero percent chance of catching HIV from a person who is infected. Not a lesser chance, not a really small chance, but zero chance.

I can thank my wife for the education that was so mercifully applied. Medically, I had no reason to fear my son’s disease. Simply treat him as you would any kiddo.

But I was afraid.
Afraid of him.
Afraid of the disease, the stigma, the medications, just the thought of so many people dying over the years from AIDS.

I hesitated.

In my brain, I knew that my other children would be safe, his friends would be safe, his future spouse could also be safe. But in my fear, I was still afraid to bring him home.

And as much joy as he brings me today, there are still times that I’m afraid.

To this day, I struggle with the question: What kind of parent would let fear interrupt the opportunity to have a child change him for the better?

Because that’s what adoption does.

It’s not about saving a child, it’s about being God’s hands and feet. It’s about embracing the what ifs, and willing to risk a little fear and letting God bring a little boy or girl, or teenager into your family to complete you.

My son has been part of our family for about two years now. After getting home with him, I would like to say that my knowledge of the disease kept my fears at bay. And yes, it almost always does.

However, the culture in me that has been afraid of HIV for so long gives me pause occasionally before drinking after him, when sharing food with him, when wiping sweat from his forehead after having a really fun game of tag outside.

The moments are getting less and less frequent, but they still happen. It’s a constant intention to ignore the disease. The fear of HIV had screamed itself into me, and the rest of the world, for so many years before modern-day treatments. It still requires effort to tune it out.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m a bad father for having to remind myself he is no different than a healthy child in terms of how I should interact with him physically, or how I should love him.

Somedays I think I am, but most of the time, I try and look at how far I’ve come with allowing God to work in me to accept someone who has my fears in his bloodstream.

In full disclosure, there is still much fear.

But now, I’m not afraid of him, but for him. I’m afraid because of the stigma that still exists, even though he won’t infect anyone…. ever.

I’m afraid that one day he will choose to disclose his diagnosis to a friend, or a co-worker, or a girlfriend, and they will reject him.
I’m afraid that if people knew and dismissed him, they would miss his creativity, or his complete selflessness and bravery unmatched by any human being I have ever met.
And I’m afraid, not just for him, but for those who won’t see past his disease and will miss an encounter with a spectacular child of God, who will one day change the world.


So yes, I’m a recovering, loving father who occasionally still fears the disease. But I’m much more afraid of what my life would have been like today if I had let my fears control God’s desire to have my son complete me.

I will always have the “DNA of fear” in me, and maybe I will never quit pausing from time to time when I remember the disease in my child before we share ice cream.

But I am trusting in God’s ability to provide just an ounce more grace to tip the scales.

And then, I’m digging in…

= guest post by Scott

2 responses to “The Fear in Me: Adopting a Child with HIV”

  1. Julie says:

    Really beautiful text! It’s full of love…

  2. Wendy Watkins says:

    Thank you for the post that said so much of what I’ve been thinking and feeling! This is one Special Need that I am willing to discern more now. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2024 No Hands But Ours

The content found on the No Hands But Ours website is not approved, endorsed, curated or edited by medical professionals. Consult a doctor with expertise in the special needs of interest to you.