Health

I found out I had HIV when I was pregnant. But in 2023, stigma is more harmful than the virus

Victoria Roscow found out she had HIV when she was pregnant. This World AIDS Day, she shares her story from the initial shock and shame to teaching the world about HIV and working to end stigma

Victoria Roscow, 29, was shocked when she found out she had HIV when she was pregnant two years ago. Her TikTok videos busting myths have gone viral and she is on a mission to end stigma this World AIDS Day and beyond. She shares her story with The Big Issue

My early pregnancy was rough. I was throwing up constantly. I was faint and fatigued and people told me it was just part of being pregnant. I had no idea I had HIV. 

When I was six weeks pregnant, I found out my platelet count was weirdly low at a routine antenatal blood test. They didn’t know why. 

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The doctor told me at a routine scan a few weeks later. I was HIV positive. I burst out into tears and went into complete shock. I don’t remember seeing the doctor’s lips moving or hearing his voice.

It just wasn’t something that was on my radar. When you’re pregnant you think of miscarriage or preeclampsia or gestational diabetes. You have all these other health things going on in your mind that relate to pregnancy – but not HIV. 

Victoria Roscow when she was pregnant two years ago. Image: Supplied

It came out of nowhere. My doctor asked me: “Do you want your husband to know?” There were hangover effects from Covid so I had been taken away from my husband Brad and we were separated for hours. 

I was like: “Definitely. Get him in here.” They pulled him in and I’m in tears. They told him and he immediately grabbed my hand and squeezed it. He said: “Don’t worry. We’re in it together.” I’m sure he was stressing out internally, but he seemed calm. 

HIV has a lot of stigma around it. There is a huge lack of education. It’s treatable and livable. That’s not something I was previously aware of. I didn’t have much exposure to HIV or AIDS or the treatment before being diagnosed. 

I thought I was going to die. I genuinely thought: “This is it. I’m gone. That’s the end. You’ve got a ticking time bomb now.” 

That first week of being diagnosed was the hardest. We had to drive an hour and a half away to another hospital as the sexual health clinic wasn’t open at mine. 

I had to have my full blood count done, and I didn’t have any more information for that first week after the diagnosis. We were completely in limbo. I didn’t know if my husband was positive either or if the baby would be safe.

Roscow and her two-year-old, Harrison. Image: Supplied

Viral load is really important, meaning the amount of the virus that’s in a person’s blood. Most people with HIV have it within the hundreds of thousands. But mine was really low. It was just 6,000, which the doctor said is peanuts.

We were debating for a while whether to tell anyone at all. People didn’t need to know, but for me it felt like it was adding to the stigma. It felt like not telling anyone was fuelling those self-stigmatising thoughts. 

So we started by telling my family and my husband’s parents. It was really nerve-wracking. I thought that they would look at me differently. It was a huge worry. I felt very physically sick before. They were shocked. I think the hardest bit to handle is when you see someone physically recoil. But they took it well and were all very understanding. 

We found out that my husband was completely healthy. I got treatment quickly and was undetectable within as little as three weeks. I worried about the baby all the way through the pregnancy. 

My driving force when I was pregnant and HIV-positive was that if I take treatment, I’m healthy and he’s healthy. I had a C-section in the end, and the risk of transmission is higher than in a natural birth. I was so glad that once the birth was over my baby Harrison was born negative. 

Roscow, her husband Brad and their healthy toddler Harrison. Image: Supplied

As soon as he was born, all these thoughts of being an HIV mum and what he’s going to think when he’s older came out. I really struggled. Even though he’s negative, I still had to give him medication for weeks. It was hard to do. Psychologically, I felt like I was doing something wrong to him. 

I did a lot of work to sort through the feelings and thoughts and emotions. I had a lot of help the whole way through from my husband. He’s been really supportive. Harrison is perfect. He’s a healthy tantruming toddler. 

I have a TikTok where I talk about my HIV and that’s helped a lot to ground the feelings and just stick to the facts. It was a way of me trying to come to terms with the diagnosis. No one knew me on TikTok and it was a safe space, but somehow the videos went viral and it just grew. People started asking questions and I answered them and slammed all these myths. 

It’s a health condition and it’s very easy to treat. I take three tablets a day and it works for me very well. I have a blood test every six months just to check my viral load and make sure it’s still undetectable, and that’s it. I’m probably healthier than I have been. 

World AIDS Day means a few things in 2023. It still has to be a day where we commemorate and honour and remember those who were lost along the way, because it has taken a lot of lives, whether by illness or their own hand. But it’s also a day to reflect on where we are with it now and where we need to be. 

The goal is zero transmissions. It’s a day to reaffirm that goal and reflect on how we as a society are viewing HIV. Stigma is more harmful than HIV.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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