Katherine, age 56 / Adelaide, Australia


I always wanted a big family, you know – four to six children. My career was in childcare. I found out that I was positive and pregnant at the same time. My partner came with me, and we found out that he was also positive. And they basically said three things to us: “Don’t tell anyone,” which was easy to keep a secret, because we were keeping secrets about our drug use, and he said, “and of course, you’ll have to have a termination.” And that was very hard to hear.

I had the termination against my better judgment. And two months later, I was pregnant again. And I went back and said to them, “Look, I’m pregnant again, but I’m having it. It was meant to be.” And, um, they just thought I was crazy. It took two years before we knew her status, and that was really hard – watching them take blood from, you know, a tiny little baby – so innocent. And it was just before her second birthday we found out she was HIV-negative. And we were just over the moon, but throughout that two years of waiting, we had lots of feelings of guilt.

The third thing that they said, “Oh, sorry, you’ve got six to twelve months to live.” So, I made sure that my kids knew my mum really well, because I thought she was going to raise them. I never allowed myself the pleasure of thinking, you know, what would their graduation be like? What will it be like when they, you know, have a family? I never allowed myself to think of that, because I didn’t think it would happen.

It was not until I hit prison that I actually stopped, took a breath, and thought about my life, and thought, what a goddamn mess. And it was my kids that were suffering.  When I got out of prison, I thought, right, well, that’s my drug-using life behind me. Now I’ll live in society as a straight woman.  Within three months of getting out of prison, I was working at the HIV Women’s Project as the peer support worker, and I’ve been doing that for 19 years now.

I suppose there’s a bit of grief around having not had more children, or been able to have more children. When I had my second pregnancy, they tied my tubes. And I look back now and think, uh, well, I suppose I could’ve had more children, but then I’m just grateful that I had two, because some of the women I work with chose not to have children, thinking they would pass the virus on. I really try to not have regrets.

I had to work hard to not think of myself as, oh, I’m getting old, and this aches, and I can’t – this doesn’t work. And even on bad days, I could still struggle, and feel like you’re worthless, and you’ve got nothing to give. But then I just think of my grandson, and how much I have – and want to share with him, and teach him. I just love seeing my daughter be a mother. And you start to see so many traits. I see traits in him that are in, you know, me, my daughter, my mum, my dad. So, um, that’s really nice.

I’ve got a partner who I’ve been with for 33 years. My son’s 31 now. At the moment, he’s not talking to us, but my daughter lives across the road with our grandson, and, she gives me unbelievable strength.  And just, say, getting home from, you know – well, having a hard day or getting home from doctor’s appointments or something – seeing his face, and hearing his little voice going, “Nan, Nan,” it just – ah, I – the joy, I can’t explain, you know – makes me tear up just talking about it.