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Children And Mothers


new internationalist
issue 250 - December 1993

Children and Mothers

Living with HIV, in the intimate relationship that a child shares with its mother or carer, creates extremely intense emotional pressures. None of the contradictory emotions can be rationalized. Both adult and child live on a roller coaster of love and judgement, support and fear, comfort and alienation. All this is fought on a secret battleground; discretion is essential if the child is to retain contact with the outside world that is not ready to understand what this illness means. One woman said, ‘My child is a miracle and a blessing. If I’d first learnt about HIV, she would never have been conceived.’

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I told my parents Daisy was dying, but I couldn’t tell them what was wrong. She became paralysed and I wanted to prepare them. I just said it’s a disease of the central nervous system. Having to lie was awful. I really needed my mum at that stage. She’d always been there for me.

Gradually, Daisy stopped speaking. She became paralyzed so that she couldn’t sit up. She was in great pain, she had impetigo all over, she had thrush, she’d get diarrhoea. She got pneumonia in the end. But the thing that kept me going right up until three weeks before she died, the one thing she could do was kiss. And at night when I’d be carrying her, she’d be going kiss kiss like that, as if to say, ‘It’s all right, Mummy’. That just kept me going. And her eyes. The last three weeks she was more or less comatose, but now and again you’d see something in her eyes.

My children were absolutely fantastic. My daughter would carry Daisy around on her shoulders, to give me a break. And my son was the only one who could get her to sleep: he’d sit rocking her little chair. And the two little ones, they did everything – they changed her nappies, they did everything.

I had told them that she was going to die. I said, ‘Daisy’s not going to live to be grown up’. And it was strange, because they were just so involved, they gave her so much love. They were amazing.


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My husband died in 1988 and left me with five children, six months to ten years. The baby nearly died. With him dead and me infected, life was surely not on my side.

My parents-in-law wanted me to divide every little asset in the house, from plates and pans to the bed. A few days after the burial, my father-in-law was looking to sell my sewing machine. Since some sympathizers were still around, I told them and he cooled down for a few days.

I had a set of oxen and a plough and one day, while I was at the hospital, I came home to find the children telling me ‘many uncles and grandpa came for the oxen. They said they are taking them to keep somewhere.’ I discovered where and why they were taken. If I kept digging with the plough, I would be very rich food-wise and I wouldn’t run away. So I should starve with the children, face real hardship and that would make me run away, leaving them to remove whatever they wanted. But I remained strong and people helped me with my work and, thank God, I now have something to feed the poor kids.

Then they wanted to sell a bull, again without my knowledge. Soon after, they wanted to sell one of the three pieces of land which according to my late husband, was to be for his three sons. This was too much for me. I had to apply for a letter of administration. The case was heard, but up to now it has never been judged. I have tried to consult my lawyer but all in vain. I was really stranded. Thank God, since the court day, they have not sold much, as they also fear a bit. One of my bulls was stolen and I believe they are the ones, for some evidence was proved. I believe the money was used to bribe the magistrate to delay the whole thing.

However, to their dismay, I am still well and strong. So what they now want to do is to poison me. They have so far tried two people, both of whom came to tell me. This has given me a lot of worries. Because God made money and money can make men mad. One day they may land on someone ready for the money.

For credits and notes for these pages, please see lives.

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New Internationalist issue 250 magazine cover This article is from the December 1993 issue of New Internationalist.
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