The following post originally appeared as part of UNAIDS’s “Faces of an AIDS-Free Generation” campaign.
My name is Lorraine Mashishi and I am living with HIV.
In 1994, my two-week-old baby was admitted to hospital. I was a new mother and this was supposed to be a happy time for me; instead it turned out to be heartbreaking and confusing. He was admitted for three weeks, and then discharged after the doctor gave me a note. You know how doctors write. I had no idea what was on that note.
I took my son home and just two weeks later he was crying and struggling to breathe again. Naturally, I went back to the hospital. This time the doctor asked me why I came back. He said, “Why did you bring this child back here? What must I do with a baby that has AIDS?” That is how I found out about my HIV status.
I wondered how I got the virus. Weeks later my baby died. Back in the day, I used to compete in beauty pageants. There was this guy that I knew. He was dating one of my friends. Whenever I would bump into him he would tell me that he liked me. I was surprised, because he pretended to be in love with my friend.
One night I was on my way home from the competition, he saw me walking in the streets alone and he offered me a lift. I got into his car. Instead of taking me home, he decided to take me to his place. When we got to his place he started ripping my clothes off. He raped me.
The next morning I went to the police station and opened a rape charge against him. After a few weeks the docket disappeared and the case was dismissed. I had to get on with life and heal from the emotional trauma. But my HIV diagnosis years later made me go back to that horrible experience. I was confused because I wasn’t entirely sure how I got infected with HIV.
I informed the father of my child about my HIV status and he said it was his fault. He had known that he was living with HIV even before he started a relationship with me. When he told me this, you know, I could not even be angry because I felt that I had my own issues to deal with. Plus I still loved him. He passed away in 2001, just after he started taking antiretroviral drugs after living for so long when treatment was not yet available in South Africa.
I felt so lonely when he passed away because I believed that he was my soulmate. Time went by and I stopped caring for myself because I was convinced that I was also going to die soon. I told my mother that I was dying of AIDS. She supported me all the way. Helped me pray and prepare for what was coming. But I was afraid of telling my stepfather. I was afraid that it would jeopardize the relationship he has with my mother.
When I told my neighbors about my condition, they supported me and offered their help. One night I was at home with my stepfather. I was extremely weak. I couldn’t eat or sleep. So I had to tell him the truth about why I looked so sick. He never said a word to me. I thought he was going to kick me out of his house. The next morning he woke up very early and left the house without telling anyone. He came back home later in the evening and said to me, “Tomorrow morning, you and I are going to the clinic.”
We woke up early the next morning and he carried me on his back to the clinic. The nurse did a few tests and put me on treatment. My stepfather saved my life. Life goes on. Now I am married to a man who truly loves me for who I am. A friend linked us up. We have a son, Siphesihle. His name means beautiful gift. That’s exactly what he is. His father and I planned to have him and I made sure that I adhered to my medication so that the virus in my blood was undetectable. This feels like a fairytale sometimes. I have the sweetest husband and my miracle is my little boy. My HIV-free son.