Love knows no limits
Patrick Abboud gets a glimpse of true love and commitment through the relationship of a serodiscordant couple.
Serodiscordance, also known as magnetic or mixed status couples, is when one partner is living with HIV and the other is not. It’s a term I’ve seen used in our community but I’ve not ever really looked into what it means purely because I’ve had no reason to – until now. One simple conversation with one extraordinary woman has shifted the way I see relationships forever.
There’s been a steady stream of media and projects that shed light on serodiscordant relationships amongst gay men but what happens when a straight ‘pos’ woman falls for a hetero ‘neg’ man?
Women comprise almost 10 per cent of the estimated 25,000 people living with HIV in Australia (2671 cases). From 2003 to 2012, women were diagnosed at a median of 30 years of age.
Today, HIV positive women are in many ways the invisible community within an already marginalised group. We don’t hear their stories or see their faces. Most women don’t disclose their HIV status because of the stigma and discrimination that comes with it.
And one beautiful soul that knows that better than anyone is ‘Sally’ – the woman who not only gave me reason to write this but has also shown me what unconditional love truly means.
Sally has just turned 50. Married to ‘Brian’ for 10 years, the two had three kids together. Everyone who knew them described their relationship as perfect – a model couple at the helm of a happy family that spoke goodness in volumes. That was all true until Brian got ‘sick’. He’d been sleeping with other men and using drugs intravenously throughout their marriage and somewhere in the 80s contracted HIV. Sally had no idea the whole time.
Admitted to hospital for pneumonia, Brian’s secret was unleashed and so too was the virus in Sally’s bloodstream. Not only had Brian been lying to Sally, he had put her and their children’s lives at risk. Treatment was nowhere near as advanced as it is today and HIV was still seen as a ‘death sentence’ then. Sally’s saving grace was the kids all testing negative. Here’s where my lesson in commitment and that old ‘in sickness and in health, till death do us part’ adage really hits home.
Brian died from AIDS-related illnesses 11 months after he was admitted to hospital that day. Instead of running from the pain and trauma, Sally stood by Brian. She nursed him at home in their bed until his final hour.
Left feeling betrayed, broken and lost, Sally says the only reason she found a way forward was for her children. I got the chance to meet a couple of them and the adoration and respect they have for their mother is incredible – an impenetrable bond.
Sally gave up on love temporarily but never on life. She’s remained positive in every sense of the word – her joy infectious, her illness a minor anomaly. And there’s one man she says she owes much of that to: ‘Ian’.
Ian (who’s HIV negative) came into Sally’s life about three years after Brian’s death. They met through mutual friends and despite Sally’s resistance, Ian persisted to win her heart and trust. They’ve been married for more than a decade now. Ian is a loving father to Sally’s kids and they’ve since had twins of their own – both born negative (yes, it’s totally possible now with the level of advancement in HIV prevention and treatment). Sadly, Sally faced yet another heart-breaking battle. One of her twins was born with a disability (completely unrelated to Sally’s HIV status) and died aged eight.
Sally and Ian powered through the tragic loss together and are now fostering several other disabled children. A beautiful family and a remarkable couple to say the least – they’ve inspired me to rethink what ‘relationship’ is.
Now, at the risk of leaving you with a cliché, I gotta say it – serodiscordant or not, love is a force to be reckoned with. If you’ve got it, hang onto it tight. If you’re scarred by it – let your guard down. And if you didn’t believe in it before reading this, I can only hope you do now.
* Names have been changed to protect the identity of subjects.
Patrick spent the past couple of weeks filming a short doco with Sally and her family. They bravely share their story on The Feed on SBS2. Tune in Monday, June 9, 7.30pm. Go to sbs.com.au/thefeed.