Friday, August 1, 2014

Book Review and Discussion of Positively Negative: Love, Pregnancy, and Science's Surprising Victory Over HIV

Positively Negative: Love, Pregnancy, and Science's Surprising Victory over HIV is a book that made me bend my "I don't write book reviews" stance. I am asked regularly to review books, but it's not something I like to do. Since liking a book is very subjective, one I may dislike may be another's favourite - but I do make exceptions when I think a book is a must-read.

Positively Negative: Love, Pregnancy, and Science's Surprising Victory over HIV by Heather Boerner, is about couples that want to have a biological child, but the male is HIV positive. It's a short book - you can read it in one dedicated sitting if you want. But don't be fooled - Boerner uses her words wisely, weaving scientific information with real couples who have to make life-changing decisions.

When I graduated as a nurse in the early 80s, we just started to see our first patients with AIDS in the Montreal-area hospital where I worked. The fear was everywhere as healthcare professionals learned how serious the virus was and how the virus spread. Unfortunately, this was also the time when it was considered to be a "gay disease" and a "promiscuity disease," which delivered a whole other set of problems and issues.

HIV and AIDS forever changed how we worked with patients. When I studied nursing, we rarely ever used gloves. As students, we were only allowed to don gloves if we were going to be giving intimate care or had to clean up body fluids. Otherwise, gloves were forbidden because the skin-to-skin, the contact, was considered vital for a good connection with the patients. With HIV and AIDS, this changed. We were told we needed to assume that all patients were infected - universal precautions, it was called. If we treat all patients as infectious, we reduce our chances of being caught off guard and becoming infected ourselves. We were told to wear gloves whenever we touched a patient - even if giving a back rub. While I see the practicality in the advice, it changed how we saw and treated patients - and this way of thinking stayed with me all these years.

I don't work clinically any longer; I don't work with people who have HIV or AIDS. As s result, I've not really thought about it very much since those early days, other than when I read news stories. So when I bought Boerner's book, I wasn't sure what to think. I had the pleasure of meeting her in March and I listened as she talked about the project and what it meant to couples who shared their stories. I do remember thinking that breezy Denver night, "I never realized that having a biological baby with an HIV positive partner was even an issue to be discussed." I have to admit, I was taken aback at how little I knew of the topic and I waited for Boerner's book to be published.

The urge to have a baby is very strong among many women and it's no different for some who have HIV positive partners. And until recently, the risk of allowing such a pregnancy was unheard of - or it wasn't discussed. Boerner's book follows the paths of two couples who did go ahead and have naturally conceived children. She speaks with experts on both sides of the debate, and another mother who made the decision without medical advice or interventions.

It is well written, well researched, and worth your time. Let me know what you think if you read it.