The following post originally appeared as part of UNAIDS’s “Faces of an AIDS-Free Generation” campaign.
My name is Koketso Mokhethoa. I am 24 years old and I was born with HIV.
As a child I was in and out of hospital for ten years. I learned about my HIV status when I was 13 years old. My mother passed away in 1995 and my father soon followed, in 1999.
Despite being born with HIV I was raped and assaulted by men when I was a teenager. I never once imagined that my first sexual experience would be rape, but sadly that is my reality. I was visiting my boyfriend with a friend. When we arrived at his place, we found that he was not in the house. Instead, a few of his friends were there. They told us they would take us both to him, but they took us to house I didn’t know. They knocked, beat and raped us.
I couldn’t focus on anything after that because I was traumatized by the fact that I was living with HIV from an early age and I was raped. To make things worse, the rapists were never charged. We never got any kind of justice for our mental and physical suffering.
For most parts of my life I hated men because of the rape incident. When I looked in the mirror I hated myself for being HIV-positive. I was not a victim of stigma because my status was never revealed to a lot of people. However, I had an enemy that was living within me. That enemy inside my head was winning the battle, because it dragged me to undermine myself. It made me not to love myself and gave me the energy to hate everyone else around me.
I was ready to die. Until Tyron came into my life to give me the love and hope I needed to live. He became my support system. I lied to him about my HIV status until I couldn’t continue with the lie. I told him the truth about myself and he chose not to believe me. He held me by the hand and said, “You look so beautiful. HIV only happens among people who are skinny and unappealing. It is impossible for you to have it.” I looked him deep in the eyes and never uttered a word.
I had to prove to him that any individual could carry this disease, so I invited him to one of the support groups that I had recently joined. He just sat there and never said a word. I was worried that I could lose him because I loved him and he was so good to me.
Even when the truth sunk, he stood by me. He told me that, sooner or later, he would love to start a family with me. I told him that I couldn’t have babies because that is what I was told by doctors over and over again. One day we attended the support group together again. After the session I went to the doctor for a check-up and the doctor said, “Your CD4 count is high and your viral load was undetectable. At this moment you can try for a baby. It is risky but highly possible for you to get good results.”
We took our chance. I fell pregnant and continued to adhere to my medication. Nine months later, I gave birth to a baby girl who is free from HIV. Keabetswe is the reason why the past year—since she was born—has been the best year of my whole life. I hope my story becomes an inspiration for many women living with HIV and for the world.
I now work as an HIV counsellor at the Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg and I am an ambassador for the South African National AIDS Council. I always advise woman to go for HIV testing and know their status. I say to them, “Know your status so that you can get help before the virus becomes too powerful to treat.” If you live positively with HIV, you can experience joy and life just as you have always dreamed it.