Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
It’s always nice to come across good news for a change, so I was excited to see this article on MSNBC about how more families are adopting HIV-positive children (don’t miss the great video at the bottom). Up until recently, I didn’t know that anyone could or did adopt children who were HIV positive. I assumed that it was too difficult, too risky, too expensive and maybe even illegal; and, sadly, I was also ignorant of the sheer number of HIV-positive children out there who need homes.
Then I met a local couple who, after a long and careful discernment, felt called to welcome two HIV-positive children into their home (they shared their story with me here). Ever since then I’ve followed the lives of my local friends and some bloggers I discovered who are raising HIV-positive children, and through their stories I’ve learned a lot about the subject. Seeing the lives of these families has dispelled a lot of the misconceptions I used to have on the subject, and I thought it might be helpful to write up a summary of some of the facts I found most surprising and interesting for those who might be as unfamiliar with the subject as I was:
1. HIV-positive orphans often have almost no chance of being adopted in their home countries
Even though there’s still plenty of misinformation about the subject here in the United States, our understanding of HIV/AIDS is much further along than that of many countries. Unfortunately, many of the areas of the world where there are the highest numbers of HIV-positive children needing homes are areas where people with the disease face the biggest stigmas.
2. Children with HIV who have access to good medical care usually have normal life expectancies
HIV is no longer considered a terminal illness, and is thought of by the medical community more as a chronic condition like Type I diabetes. According to the National Institute of Health, the life expectancy of HIV-positive people who have access to medical care is about the same as non-infected people.
3. There has never been a case of someone contracting HIV through normal household contact
You cannot get HIV from sharing food and drinks or using the same bed or toilet as an HIV-positive person. You also can’t contract it from changing diapers, hugging, kissing, or from bathing or swimming with someone who’s infected with the virus.
4. Modern drug therapies can render the HIV virus almost undetectable
My friend who is the mother of two HIV-positive children tells me, “On average, only one week after beginning HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy), 90% of all HIV in the body is gone; within one month, 99% is gone.” Related to the above, this also makes the disease much less likely to be transmitted, even in cases of blood contact.
5. It is usually possible to get health insurance for HIV positive kids
In most situations, it’s required by law that health insurance cover adopted children the same as biological children, regardless of pre-existing conditions. Also, employer-sponsored group plans usually cover HIV. In addition, most states offer assistance for the medical care of HIV-positive adults and children.
6. The laws have recently changed to make it easier to get HIV-positive children in the country
It used to be the case that adoptions of HIV-positive kids were complicated by the need to obtain a I-601 waiver, but a recent change in the laws took HIV off the list of the Centers for Disease Control’s List of Communicable Diseases of Public Health Significance. This means that parents adopting HIV-positive children can expect similar timeframes for the visa process as there would be with any other adoption.
7. You can see pictures of HIV-positive children currently in need of homes
One thing that made me really begin to pay attention to this issue was seeing pictures of kids with HIV who are currently in need of homes, like the ones here at Project Hopeful. To look into the eyes of a little human being, rather than simply reading about statistics and data, made me understand why an increasing number of people are opening their hearts and homes to this challenging but deeply rewarding call.
8. Regular people (not just saints) adopt HIV-positive kids
One thing I’ve noticed about all these families is how normal they are. As you can see from the list of testimonials here, many of the parents of infected children had never considered such a thing before, and had plenty of fears and hesitations. My friend once told me of her decision to go this route: “I’ve learned that while perfect faithfulness should be what we all aspire to, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other faithfulness is often the best I can give, and thankfully, it’s often enough. You do not need to be extraordinary; you just need to keep going. As I daily remind myself, I may not know where the path I walk is headed, I may be fearful along the way, but I know Who walks beside me. And all roads walked in faithfulness lead to Him.”
Obviously, adopting a child with any kind of significant medical needs is a special call, and not something that every family is meant to do. But I’m glad to see the word getting out about the possibility of HIV-positive adoption, so that nobody overlooks this choice for expanding their family out of a simple lack of information.