Babies: `I'm very optimistic - I felt my child would be all right'

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The Independent Online
Gill Hickman was luckier than some. She knew she was carrying the Aids virus when four years ago she decided to try for a baby.

"When I discovered I was HIV positive in 1989 I thought it was a death sentence. Later I realised it wasn't, and that if I had a baby, it wouldn't definitely get ill. I was 38 and I very much wanted a child."

When Malachai was born she avoided breast feeding to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to him. But she turned down the offer of AZT while she was pregnant. "I am anti-drugs. I wondered what the side effects would be. I am an incredibly optimistic person and I felt really confident that Malachai would be all right."

He was. He is clear of the virus and mother and child are both well. Ms Hickman believes pregnant women should be offered an HIV test but they should not be pressed into it.

"It has got to be explained sensitively and thoughtfully because the implications are so serious. Women have to think about the implications for themselves as well as their children."

Some children born with the virus remain healthy for years while others develop serious Aids-related illnesses within months. With the development of new drugs they are surviving longer - to 15 and 16 - but a question mark remains over how long they will ultimately live.

Fear of prejudice means most affected families seek anonymity. Paula Harrowing, of Body and Soul, the Aids charity for families, said children had been bullied and abused at school, and neighbours had turned nasty, after information about their HIV status had leaked.

"One man with an infected child told the neighbours because he wanted support. He came back from work and found the family cat nailed to the door with a note saying `don't come back'. Very few of those affected will take the risk of revealing they carry the virus."