#JudgeMaughnDontTakeOurKids

Dear Judge Maughn, 

My name is Rachel Moats and recently I came across a story about Donna Branom & Henry Calderon that left me terrified and heartbroken. You see, I myself have a beautiful daughter and I am HIV Positive. I was diagnosed in March of 2013, I had contracted the virus from my best friend. We had unprotected sex and he was unaware of his status. (I tell you this only because I’m worried that you may have a preconceived notion that people with HIV must have done something terrible to become infected.) That is not the case. 

Learning to live with the virus and accepting myself with the virus is a very long soul searching process. I liken it to the grieving process. Only it’s your old life you’re grieving and now you must learn how to accept your new life with HIV. I have accepted who I am and my new life that has came along with the diagnosis. I run my website wearehiv.org along with a Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and I am a blogger at Poz.com. I use these platforms to spread knowledge about HIV and also to help end the stigma associated with the virus. I am a member of the San Diego HIV Planning Council and also the SCAT Rep for PWN-USA, San Diego chapter. I am the Business Development Manager for an HIV Specialty Pharmacy and I spend my days educating people on the risks of HIV while encouraging them to stay in treatment and convincing others to simply get tested. I work hard everyday to educate people about the risks of HIV and to end the stigma that is so deeply connected with the virus. But most importantly I am a Mom.

When I first read Henry’s story it was posted in one of my HIV Groups on Facebook. Honestly, I took it with a grain of salt as you cannot believe everything you read on the Internet. Plus I wanted to make sure he wasn’t some type of pedophile with skeletons in his closet. 

After reading the story that was done by Jade DeGood via KWCH-TV, I am confident that Henry Calderon is a decent man who just happens to be living with HIV. What I am not confident about is the judicial system in which children would be removed from their mother because her fiancé is HIV Positive. There is virtually no risk of the children contracting the virus. He would literally have to stop taking his medication and have his viral load returned to detectable status, then he would need to have sex with the children or share intravenous needles with them. This does not seem like a likely scenario considering the whole world knows he is HIV Positive and he would be taken to jail (if he made it that far). 

I urge you to educate yourself and others. I myself grew up in a small town in Kansas and couldn’t imagine the stigma and fear I would have to face if I were living there now. By removing the children from their loving home it will only perpetuate the stigma that I work so hard to get rid of. Please take a few minutes and do some research. The CDC has a plethora of information that you may find interesting and informative. 

Also, no one is immune to contracting the virus. What if you take the children from their mother and God forbid their father ends up HIV Positive? Where will the children go then? Foster homes? Lastly, what if one of your children contracted the virus and their kids were taken away? How would you feel then? I hope you do the right thing and drop this case like a hot potato. It’s the right thing to do. I wish you the best of luck your honor.
Positively positive,
Rachel Moats 

  

If you would like to show your support to Henry & Donna please click here and sign the petition to help them get their kids back! 

National HIV/AIDS Long-Term Survivors Awareness Day    June 5, 2015 

Today I attended the Long-Term Survivors Day celebration at Christie’s Place. It was, as it always is, a very awe-inspiring event. First of all I absolutely love connecting with all of the survivors whom are also warriors! Spending a few hours with my previous coworkers is always a big plus too! They are just a big group of angels. When you are with these women you are bound to be inspired. We ate, we talked, we laughed and most importantly we connected with each other. 

We also had the pleasure to listen to the most amazingly real woman I’ve ever crossed paths with, Dr. Neva Chauppette. She has worked in the field of substance abuse, mental illness and HIV since 1988 and she is a licensed Psychologist. I feel you need to know what she specializes in and how that correlates with many of the women who were in attendance today. Many of these brave, strong, courageous women have fought most of, if not all of these battles in addition to their HIV status. 

As I was standing near the front of the room I was able to soak in every word she spoke. You know, I do this often, I listen to people speak at least a few times a week. Most are doctors talking about HIV, care, new medications and mostly how important it is to be adherent to your medications. Don’t get me wrong these talks are important and I do enjoy listening to them. But, Dr.Chauppette didn’t talk about all of the clinical stuff today. She talked about something just as important. She talked about making better healthier decisions for your best possible life. She talked about love and relationships and that just because we are HIV+ it doesn’t mean we don’t deserve the best possible life. She reminded us that we should never settle for anything less than what we deserve. She said a lot today, and honestly she spoke to my soul. About fifteen minutes into her talk I found myself in tears. Not just a couple of tears but unrelentless never ending tears. 

So much was put into perspective for me today. I have only been HIV+ for two years and although I realize time heals all wounds I’m no where near being “healed” but I am well on my journey and I will never give up! 

As I looked around the room realizing that most of these women have been warriors and survivors for 15, 20, 25, and even 30 years, I was met with a deep appreciation and understanding for just how hard they have fought to be here today. I hope they know that not all of my tears were shed for myself. Most were shed for them and the trials and tribulations they have endured during their journeys with HIV. I hope they know just how much I respect and appreciate each and every single one of them. Without all of these amazing women my journey would be so much more difficult.

Thank you to all of the Long-term survivors for never giving up and for showing us newbies that there is still hope to be had and lives worth living.

  

A Letter to My Best Friend, My Person, My Family

Dear You,

I’m writing you this letter today because sometimes, well most times I am better at expressing my feelings when I write them down. Often when I try to talk with you my thoughts get all jumbled together and I leave out the most important parts of what I want to say. I hope that through my words in this letter you will understand just how important you are to me.

The past couple of years have not been easy to say the least. We have been forced onto a journey that neither one of us ever imagined we would go on in this lifetime. It has been rough emotionally, mentally, spiritually and socially. Getting a HIV diagnosis is not something either of us ever planned for and definitely not something we knew how to deal with. But here we are, two people bound together by a virus. I can still remember the day not long after we found out that we were positive when I had the realization we were no longer just friends, we were family. I knew then, you would always be a part of my life. I would never leave you and I would always be there for you because that is what family does, they never leave. Even in your darkest days at your darkest hours they stay. I hope you know that I will always be here for you, I will never leave you.

I know we have taken opposite paths in our journey. I, being the outspoken advocate that can’t get through one day without talking about my status and you being quite the polar opposite. In fact, the only people who know your status are the ones that know me best. The ones there was no way of keeping it from because our lives were too intertwined. I often wonder if it upset you that I told them? If it did you never expressed any anger towards me. Actually, you have always been very supportive of my being public about my status. You have listened to countless hours of me being a blubbering mess and that, my friend, has not gone unnoticed. I hope you know just how appreciative I am for all of your support. You deserve an award for listening to me when I couldn’t even articulate a feeling I was experiencing. You never once said you didn’t have time to listen and I always knew I could count on you to answer the phone. There was a period of time that you were the only one I talked to, the only one I felt comfortable sharing my fears with, the only one I knew would understand my unspoken words. If I am thankful for any part of this journey it is that I’ve had you to walk it with me.

I could go on forever with this letter but I won’t. We both know the trials and tribulations we have had to go through and what our friendship has gone through. I want you to know that even though I get angry with you sometimes and I want to punch you in the face I will always be here for you. I may not have chosen the same path as you but I understand why you chose your path. I love you.

Forever Your Friend, Your Family, Your Person,

Me

What Christie’s Place Means To Me

Today I write this with a heavy heart.

When I was diagnosed HIV Positive in March of 2013 I very quickly learned how little services there are available to HIV Positive women.  The nice woman at Planned Parenthood had very little information for me but she did hand me a short list of organizations in San Diego that provide services to HIV Positive people. There was only one place on that list that catered to women, that place was Christie’s Place. I’ll never forget that day as long as I live. It was a Saturday and unfortunately all of the organizations were closed for the weekend. I called every phone number on that list and I left a message on every voicemail praying for a call back. I was so very, very scared. You see, I had made the terrible mistake of googling HIV and the first thing that popped up was a photo of David Kirby. He was lying in a hospital bed, his body nothing but a skeleton. He was taking his last breaths. I’ve never been so scared in my life. I just knew I was going to die. It was the longest most horrible weekend of my entire life.

First thing Monday morning the calls came pouring in. The organizations were finally returning my calls. One after another they told me that they only cater to the LGBT community and that there was nothing they could do for me. I think the third call that came in was from Christie’s Place. It was the sweet voice of a woman named Jay telling me that she would help me. She would help me figure it all out and everything was going to be just fine. She explained to me that she was a Peer Navigator and although at the time I had no idea what that title meant I very quickly made an appointment to meet with her, I had so many questions. That same day I went to meet with Jay. I was an emotional wreck. I remember pulling up to the address she had given me and thinking that it looked like a house. That was oddly comforting, I guess I expected a building or someplace much more clinical looking. Anyways, I went inside and told the lady at the front desk I was there to meet with Jay and then I took a seat in the lobby. Actually, it was more like a living room, complete with couches and carpet and there were even pictures of people with their families on the wall. Jay walked around the corner and introduced herself then she asked if she could give me a hug. I’m not typically the hug a stranger type of person but it was the best hug I had ever had in my life. I remember thinking this woman knows I have HIV and she still wants to hug me? I needed that hug more than I have ever needed a hug. I think in some ways that hug may have saved my life.

That day I met with Jay and Heather (both Peer Navigators) and together they explained to me what having HIV meant and that I was going to live! I wasn’t going to die after all! They both told me that they too were HIV Positive and they were doing just fine. They explained to me that I would just need to take medication and I too could live a healthy, fulfilling life. I remember looking at them and thinking they both looked so “normal” nothing at all like the man in the photograph. Jay went on to help me figure out the healthcare part of things. She even helped me find a doctor, schedule my first appointment and went to my first doctor’s appointment with me! From that moment on they were both, just, always there for me. Anytime I had a question or needed a hug I could call Jay or Heather and they would just… be there. That is when I finally figured out what a Peer Navigator truly was and how amazing and instrumental they are to a person newly diagnosed HIV Positive.

I grew very familiar with Christie’s Place. I went there to get help with my health insurance and ADAP enrollment. For a while I went there for therapy and when I was ready I started attending the Tuesday night support group. I was so scared and nervous to go to that support group alone I asked Jay to come with me and she did! She sat right next to me and I felt so relieved and thankful to have her there. I still go to the Tuesday night support group, every Tuesday actually. Christie’s Place became my second family. It was a place that I felt safe and I felt like I belonged there. When you are newly diagnosed it is very hard to feel like you belong somewhere, it is also very important to feel like you belong somewhere.

It wasn’t long after my diagnosis that I knew I wanted to do something to help people with HIV. I developed a passion in my soul to help people. I didn’t know how I was going to do it but I knew that I was going to do something, anything I could to help. I started my website, wearehiv.org and that fulfilled some of my desire. I even helped a few people get into care and helped others to find places that provide HIV testing. I remember the first time I helped a woman all the way across the country get linked to an organization much like Christie’s Place. When that woman emailed me to let me know that she had been to the doctor and got her meds I felt a feeling I didn’t even know I could feel. Knowing that YOU helped someone save their life is monumental. Still I wanted to do more…

Four months ago Heather sent me an email and told me there was a Peer Navigator position available at Christie’s Place. I knew at that very moment I wanted that job and I would do any and everything in my power to get it! Working for a nonprofit organization does not pay much monetarily but it is so very rewarding! I often say helping people is better than any paycheck you could ever receive. After a lengthy interview process I got the job! I was over the moon with excitement. I would finally get to comfort other people at quite possibly the worst time of their lives and I couldn’t have been happier. Plus, I would get to give out hugs to people that really needed hugs, and to me that was amazing! I’ve been here at Christie’s Place for three months now and I have loved every second of it. I have met amazing, inspiring women that I now could not imagine my life without. I have learned so much about HIV and the people living with HIV. I have been deeply touched in a way that I had never expected. The passion in my soul had finally been met. Until, today…

Today, I and another Peer Navigator were informed that a large chunk of the funding for Christie’s Place was lost and we will have to go part-time starting March 15th  and very possibly lose our positions altogether because they can no longer afford to pay us. That is why I am writing this today. Christie’s Place is an amazing resource for women living with HIV. If they do not have the funds needed for the work they do then ultimately it will be the women that need the resources Christie’s Place provides the most, that will lose out.  So I am asking for your help. If you can help please do so! Being a woman living with HIV is hard and without all of the services Christie’s Place offers it will be so much harder. I honestly cannot imagine where I would be today without Christie’s Place and Jay’s amazing hugs!

Click Here To Help Christie’s Place

 

Dear Rachel

WeAreHiv.Org:

My beautiful, amazing, loving, extremely talented friend wrote this letter to me today and I wanted to share it with all of you. I am so very lucky to have such amazingly supportive people in my life! I absolutely love her and her little family with my whole heart! Thank you Annie and Mike for always being there for me. I truly could not imagine my life without you guys!

Originally posted on Just Me! (and Him) (and Them):

“I went to the doctor to refill my birth control and…” We were in San Diego visiting family and of course you, our dear friend. I didn’t know what to think when you said you needed to talk to us privately, but I was pretty sure that you were going to tell us you were pregnant. Mike and I exchanged a glance and I knew he was thinking the same thing. I let out a mental sigh. This was not a great situation for you to be in. Sure, you could raise a baby on your own, but it would be so hard! You have no family in San Diego… Before my mind wandered too far, I noticed your eyes. That look in your eyes. Regardless of your situation, a baby wouldn’t make you look like this. Such nervousness. Sadness. A little fear? What could possibly be this hard to tell us? I tuned back in…

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