Novemeber 17, 2011
by Heather Hendrick
We told her she has HIV today. 22 years old. Four months pregnant. Homeless. Desperate. Hopeless.
It doesn't sink in. How can it? This bad news needs time to pile in...squeeze in...like the last person on a crowded tap tap. Just when you think nothing else could possibly fit, one more person pushes in and finds a seat. The bad news. The newest bad news. It takes time to push its way into her mind, pushing all the other bad news in her soul aside, making room for more.
"I have HIV?" She is trying to understand.
Instant. Tears. Face a mess. Overcome. She tries to leave the room. Run away. We hold onto her. She sits. Head falls into her own lap. Her body broken. Heaving. We try to comfort her. We all cry. A room full of tears. We hurt for her. We hurt for Haiti. This land of unlimited impossibilities. We hurt for women. The way they are used. Sometimes the only way to survive is to be dehumanized and devalued...to give yourself to a man who you know has many other women. We hurt for this hemorrhaging planet. We cry out for hope.
I cry for her and I cry knowing three years ago, I would have sat in my smug, safe little world and arrogantly judged women "like this" who can't quit having sex. I cry with new eyes. I weep for this small piece of grace I find in this room heavy with grief. I was wrong, and I could have died never knowing it. Grace. What grace. Why me, God...why all this grace towards me? Why is she dying and you give me grace? Why are you healing my judgmental, harsh heart...a heart that turned people into numbers...people into diseases...people into epidemics...forgetting they are people....real people....precious people who sob, who cry all their tears out when they are told their test is positive? Why are you healing my disease in the same room where she just learned of hers?
We hurt with this scared, young mother. The stigma for people with HIV is terrible in Haiti, so it's possible she will not tell anyone. No one will know how scared she is. No one will know that the person they saw yesterday is not the person they see today. Today she is different. Today everything changed. I can't imagine getting this diagnosis and not being able to go home and cry for days. Most likely she cried out all her tears behind the closed doors of our exam room because she won't be able to cry them in front of her family or friends. She will carry this secret and this shame.
We have one other woman in our program with HIV. I'm not sure how the saddest thing and the most beautiful thing can exist in only a few square feet, but today it did. None of the other women in our program know that this woman they sit in class with every week is HIV positive. Yet she agreed to talk to this young mom who just found out she is infected. She risked a great deal to share her secret with this sad, hurting woman. Through tears she told her story of hope, strength, and survival. My heart swelled up wild with love and admiration for both of these women. Their stories are painful, living, heart-wrenching, heaving, beautiful, courageous, and yet somehow we find a way to squeeze all that humanity into a black and white statistic, write it down on a paper, and fight about it. How does this happen?
I go to bed with a heavy heart. Asking God for mercy...for this woman that we crushed and held today...and for all of us who have ever sat a million miles away and judged her. God please. Have mercy.
Aaron and Heather Hendrick are living in Haiti working for Heartline Ministries. Heather is a midwife in training and a breastfeeding counselor. At Heartline they are fighting the orphan crisis in Haiti by empowering women with the skills they need to be successful parents. They offer prenatal care, safe births, health teachings, and child development classes for women. You can find Aaron working alongside a group of Haitian men teaching them a trade and equipping them with the information and guidance they need to be leaders in their homes and communities.