Why We’re Letting the HIV Cat Out of the Bag

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Instead of hiding from the ugliness of an HIV+ adoption, Shannon Dingle explains why she wants to face it head on.

One of the hardest questions in HIV+ adoption is “who will we tell?”

Legally, we only have to tell medical professionals. As our child with HIV grows up, that child will have to tell sexual partners too. (How I pray that each of our children will only have one, knowing the guidance laid out in the Bible and understanding first-hand how sweet it has been for Lee and me to not know those experiences outside of our marriage!)

If you’ve read my blog, though, you know that we live our lives out loud. We share about cerebral palsy and epilepsy and autoimmune disorders and depression and more. We might even overshare from time to time.

That doesn’t mean we have to share about HIV, though.

We’re choosing to.

Why? Well, for starters, we don’t think it’s shameful. We don’t want any of our children to grow up thinking that it is.

We know our children will face the ugliness of this world. Jocelyn might get teased for being too tall or too loud. Robbie might get mocked about epilepsy. Zoe could be ridiculed for her body moving differently because of CP. And one of our children might face stigma due to HIV.

Who am I kidding?  All those “might”s are probably more like “will”s.

Instead of hiding from the ugliness, we will face it head on. It will hurt at times. Our hearts will break.

We’ve prayed for over a year about whether or not disclosure is the right decision. It is for us, but we understand why other families make a different decision. You can’t go back. Our advice if a family is on the fence about disclosure: don’t do it. You can always tell later, but you can’t untell news like this.

We’ve done research – talking to doctors and our elementary school’s principal and other adoptive parents and friends with HIV. We’re not naïve. We know we’re choosing a rough road. (For several reasons, though, we’re not sharing which one of our three is HIV-positive, so admittedly we’re not fully disclosing.)

We might lose friends. We might get uninvited to birthday parties, like other families did. We might have to stand firm in the face of the world’s ugliness. 

One reason we’re doing this? We’ve seen the whole “it takes a village” thing play out in our family, as so many of you have helped us raise our children by serving in children’s ministry and coming alongside us in other ways. We don’t buy the idea that secrets stay secrets; especially with five other young children, details get shared, whether or not we want them to. In other words, we fully expect that our HIV+ child’s status will get shared, whether intentionally or not. By disclosing now, we can face the realities of disclosure proactively. We can allow people to quietly excuse themselves from our lives – from our village – if they are uncomfortable with our child’s HIV status. Our hope is that we can absorb the blows for our child, facing both gentle questions and harsh comments as they come. If ugly reactions or party un-invitations come too, Lee and I want to be on the receiving end, sheltering our darling one from that pain as long as we can.

We are thankful for friends – like you, hopefully – who will stand with us, and we’re willing to answer any questions you might have.

 

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