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  • Women’s Tips for Coping with Stigma

    July 25th, 2014

    by Erin Seatter | @erinlynds

    “I have learned more about taking care of myself and tips on how to cope with stigma.”

    In early July, support workers Melissa and Sangam facilitated Peer Support Training Level 2, a follow-up to the popular first series of trainings held for PWN members interested in learning how to provide support to other women living with HIV.

    One issue tackled in the training sessions was stigma—“the way shame and blame takes away our honour, self-esteem, and respect as women living with HIV.”

    Women said that HIV-related stigma feels like hatred. It makes them feel alone, isolated, and lonely; sad, tearful, and depressed; scared, hopeless, and lost; ashamed, dirty, yucky, and unwanted; and angry “like a volcano erupting.” They described feeling bad, like they had done something wrong or were themselves a mistake. They mentioned experiencing physical pain, including in their hearts, and bodily shaking.

    Based on their experiences, women offered tips on how to cope with stigma to help other women navigating life with HIV.


    Tips For Coping With Stigma
    Written by women living with HIV for women living with HIV

    • Breathe! Take several deep inhales and exhales
    • Remember “it will pass” —the feeling will pass
    • Call a friend, a support worker, a counsellor, or a peer to talk about how you feel—be open and honest
    • Remember you are worthy of love and respect! You deserve love and respect
    • Ask an ally to talk to the person who made you feel stigmatized
    • Contact your local HIV service organization
    • “Fake it till you make it!” —Act how you want to feel (e.g., If you want to feel happy, act happy)
    • Educate yourself about the topic that is making you feel stigmatized
    • Speak out against stigma and help educate others by volunteering at your local HIV service organization
    • Be quiet and still
    • Ask someone for a hug
    • Eat good food
    • Create a “zen place” in the corner of your bedroom, and go there! This is a place for you—a sanctuary, a meditation altar, a comfortable place to sit, somewhere you might put a few special items you love (e.g., a stone, a shell, a book)
    • Squeeze a stress ball
    • Hug a pillow
    • Use traditional medicines (e.g., medicinal marijuana, smudge, cedar brushing, sweat)
    • Do self-care and release your feelings through activities—take a walk, swim, fish, camp, take a hot shower or bath, do beadwork, play a musical instrument, read, watch TV, go shopping, listen to music, take a nap, treat yourself, pamper yourself
    • Do some journalling
    • Connect with your spirituality – talk to your Creator, be in nature, pray, meditate
    • Challenge yourself to do something new

    Pregnancy Then and Now

    July 18th, 2014


    by Janet Madsen  |  @janet_madsen

    When I began working in AIDS support and education in 1993 (we used the term AIDS all the time, as it was a reality), pregnancy was something women were mourning. Once diagnosed, they were told by doctors flat out, “Don’t get pregnant.” Back then, we didn’t know as much as we do now about HIV, pregnancy, and healthy babies. What we did know is that about one in four babies born to moms with HIV would get it themselves. pregnancy_gaborfromhungary_morguefile

    In 1994, the results of the ACTG 076 clinical trial came out. Pregnant women using AZT (which would never be prescribed as a single drug nowadays) were significantly less likely to have babies with HIV than those who didn’t take it. Only 8% of these babies were born infected.

    Women began to have cautious hope and explore ways of getting pregnant safely. Babies were born healthy and thrived. Some families expanded to two or three kids.

    Fast forward to combination therapy, and the transmission risk for pregnant women’s babies is about 1%. Doctors routinely support women to plan their pregnancies and deliver healthy kids. With advances in HIV therapy for the moms, they can expect to see their kids grow up. Moms can be so healthy they may even become grandmothers, depending on if and when their kids become parents.

    And now we’re even considering whether babies can be cured. The “Mississippi Baby” hit the headlines first. Her mom hadn’t had prenatal care, so her HIV status was unknown until birth. She was given combination therapy within 31 hours of birth, and her mom was later lost to follow-up. Miraculously, when the mom reappeared in the health care system, her daughter still tested negative even though she hadn’t been on the treatment for some time. Sadly, she’s now four years old and has shown signs that HIV is rebounding. She’s been put back on treatment.

    Canadian kids treated immediately following birth are showing similar uninfected statuses, but they have not been taken off medication. Another who had side effects did go off treatment, and HIV established itself firmly, unfortunately. These results are making scientists really explore what HIV treatment can do for newly infected people. Could catching HIV soon enough and treating it aggressively be a way to a cure?

    There will be more on this at AIDS 2014, so keep your eyes out. Babies may lead the way!

    Photo: GaborFromHungary, MorgueFile