One couple’s journey to adopting HIV-positive children (Part 3 of 3)

July 20, 2009 | 27 comments

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

I am honored to post the final installment of my interview series with a couple named Kimberly and Jimmy who are adopting HIV-positive children from Ethiopia. If you haven’t read Part 1 or Part 2, see the links above.

Q: What kind of life expectancy do your children have?

The beautiful thing about this question is I don’t have an exact answer for you. At least not in the way that people with HIV/AIDS used to get answers — answers along the lines of “you have a few months.” Or one year. Or a few years. Now, treatment is getting so much better, medical advancements are occurring so rapidly, that the medical community just doesn’t know for sure how to quantify life expectancy.

The best general answer for HIV-positive people on medication is now “near normal lifespan.” Which amazes me. I mean, how often is HIV still thought of as the worst possible disease you could get? And yet, in reality, HIV is not a death sentence but a chronic, manageable disease, one that’s often considered more treatable than Type 1 diabetes. In fact, one recent study projects that a 20-year-old HIV-positive person starting antiretroviral (ARV) therapy today can expect to live, on average, to the age of 69.

Why don’t more people know this?! I’m not sure, except that it’s perhaps a testament to the power of stigma — stigma that needs to be done away with, once and for all.

Q: What kinds of reactions do you get when people hear that you’re adopting HIV-positive children?

I will misappropriate a metaphor here because it describes so well what people’s first reactions typically are: “shock and awe.”

Shock is usually the predominant reaction, as most people simply have no idea that adoption of children with HIV is possible or that anyone would want to do it. The (largely) unspoken question that arises most frequently is “Why would you want to adopt a child who is going to die?” Of course, my husband and I know that with access to medical treatment here in the U.S., our children most likely will not die but live long, relatively healthy lives. Yet the vast majority of people, even educated people, are unaware of the facts about HIV and HIV treatment, and are thus simply stunned by the thought of adopting children with HIV.

Of course, there are those few people whose shock turns nasty. I’ve read plenty of blisteringly awful comments on the internet, but thankfully, we’ve had to deal with very little deliberate vitriol in real life. Because so many people are ignorant about the facts of HIV, most negativity we’ve encountered about adopting HIV-positive children stems simply from ignorance, not from prejudice. For example, “Could your child infect my child in school/at the playground/etc.?” (No. HIV cannot be transmitted through hugging, kissing, touching, sharing toys or objects, etc. Unless our children are doing IV drugs together on the swingset, transmission is simply not possible.) “Won’t you be a burden on the taxpayers?” (No. Before you’re allowed to adopt, parents must document their financial situations in full and prove that their health insurance will cover their children.) And so on. We’re always happy to inform people of the truth because it should alleviate their concerns. However, when people choose not to believe the truth, when stigma overrides fact, evidence, and all the best medical science of the last two decades, it can be frustrating.

Also frustrating, but in a different sort of way, is the “awe” reaction that we often get. In a sense, it’s just as uncomfortable as the shock reaction. Once people hear that we’re adopting children with HIV, most folks then view our adoption as some kind of extraordinary act. Even after we’ve educated them about HIV and how we’re not adopting children that will die in a year, people still react with amazement and a gush of, “Oh, I could never do that!” — as if my husband and I must be made of some stern stuff beyond the average mortal.

This could not be further from the truth! We are ordinary people — not wealthy, not powerful or influential, not even especially pious or exceptionally faithful. (I am no Mother Theresa, I assure you — and my husband would no doubt assure you of that, as well!) Rather, as I see it, we are ordinary people to whom God presented an extraordinary opportunity. And we ran with it.

Which is not to say that we’ve always run the race smoothly and straightly. While I have never doubted our call to adoption, throughout this process I have regularly doubted God about how the details would ever work out! Even when He has given me ample evidence of His faithfulness, I often find myself like the father of the spirit-possessed boy in Mark 9, crying out to Jesus, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”

And, thank God, He always does. Over and over again, He has shown us that we can rest easy in His character and how He wants us to live: fearlessly. “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him…There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (I John 14:16 & 8a).

Q: Are there any final thoughts you’d like to leave us with?

If my husband and I — everyday people who believe, yet too often need help with their unbelief! — have managed to stay the course, why not others?

More than anything else, I would like this interview to be an encouragement to other ordinary believers to pursue the extraordinary opportunities God presents them with. If that’s adopting a child with HIV, wonderful! But even if it’s not, even if your journey has nothing to do with adoption or orphaned children, my prayer is that you would feel encouraged to follow it.

Because I’ve learned that while perfect faithfulness should be what we all aspire to, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other faithfulness is often the best I can give, and thankfully, it’s often enough. You do not need to be extraordinary; you just need to keep going. As I daily remind myself, I may not know where the path I walk is headed, I may be fearful along the way, but I know Who walks beside me. And all roads walked in faithfulness lead to Him.

A huge thanks to Kimberly and Jimmy to sharing their lives with us. Please keep them in your prayers, and if you enjoyed this series, please leave a comment to let them know!

Photo of African AIDS orphans by interplast


  1. Lauren

    I have really enjoyed reading these interviews, and it has opened my eyes to these sweet children. My husband and I are looking to adopt and I had previousy only pictured us with your typical healthy babies. This has challenged me to think beyond that. Thank you.

  2. e2

    This was just wonderful–and such an encouragement to me! Thank you for your time and beautiful transparency. It surely did lift some of the "shock and awe" and just inspire joy in God's grace. We'll be praying for you and your new family!

  3. Krysta

    We are in the process of becoming foster parents (and hopefully adoptive parents as well through that process). We often get the "I could never do that but good for you" response. And I want to say, "Yes, you so could!" My husband and I are not special – we fight, we get frustrated, we lack patience – but we know God will supply for what we need (materially, spiritually and emotionally) to enable us to do what He has called us to do. Thanks for being an example.

  4. mrsdarwin

    A wonderful and informative interview. Thanks to you and to Jimmy and Kimberly for opening our eyes to the reality and possibility of these adoptions.

  5. Lucy

    I have to admit, this series made my heart sing. I have always wanted to adopt (even before I had my own children) and I do pray that this is a direction God takes us in the future. But in the meantime, I love hearing about people who are following God's call. I love her last paragraph. So true. Thank you for featuring this precious family and the work that God is doing through them!

  6. Bethany Hudson

    Thank you, Jen, Kimberly, and Jimmy. Thank you for sharing this, for dispelling doubts, for encouraging us all in our own walks with the Lord by so vulnerably sharing yours. God bless you and your precious children; I'm certain He means to.

  7. Amber@theRunaMuck

    Jennifer, I needed to hear this today.

    My unextraordinariness makes me want to quit sometimes. It's good to hear KEEP GOING!

    Thanks for doing this.

  8. Emily a.k.a. Smoochagator

    This section of the interview really opened my eyes. I had no idea that the life expectancy of an HIV-positive individual was near normal. It's amazing that medical advances and breakthroughs have transformed this horrible disease into a manageable chronic condition.

    I wish Kimberly & Jimmy, and their new children, all the best. And thank you, Jennifer, for sharing this story with us. By the way, do you mind if I link to this interview series on my blog?

  9. TheFeministBreeder

    This is very interesting and relevant to me. I often consider adoption, but then I feel like a bad person because I have a very specific idea of the type of child I would want to adopt (girl, baby, white/hispanic like husband & I, no medical issues, etc.)

    I'm not even sure if we'd ever qualify for adoption, and I know it's pretty expensive, but it is something we will look into. But I often get nervous that I'm not a good candidate because I'm not willing to adopt *any* child, no matter the impact on my family. That part makes me feel like a bad person.

    Anyway… very interesting stuff.

  10. elizabethe

    This was a lovely interview, thank you! I laughed at the "awe" response your couple gets "oh, I could never do that" because a woman said that to me not an hour ago. What did I do that so amazed her with my superpowers? I pushed my 2 month old baby in his stroller through a door by myself, without anyone holding the door open for me.

    I know she meant "deal with life with kids," but still. I didn't even have my 2 year old with me. Anyway, wonderful interview. I've always wanted to adopt a teenager or older child. Now to just convince my husband.

  11. Anonymous

    While I really loved reading this interview, and I applaud Kimberly and Jimmy and wish them the very best, I have more questions about the issue of adopting HIV positive children.

    First of all, how will they help their children as teenagers deal with issues of dating, and later, marriage and childbearing? This is particularly problematic from a Catholic perspective, of course, as the use of condoms is not permitted under any circumstances. Also, will their kids be able to obtain health insurance as adults?

    I was glad to read in the interview the fact that HIV/AIDS cannot be transmitted by casual contact–in fact, I was amazed that there is anyone out there who doesn't know this! However, I found this statement to be misleading, "Unless our children are doing IV drugs together on the swingset, transmission is simply not possible." While the possibility is extremely remote, the fact is that any exchange of blood between two people can in fact transmit HIV. There is a difference between transmission being impossible and being extremely remote. An infected child getting a nasty cut, or a puncture wound from say a safety pin, are just two instances that present a possibility of infecting another child who had an open wound themselves. The teenage child presents further challenges, as open mouth kissing can transmit HIV if each person kissing has open sores or cuts on the lips, tongue, or gums. I want to state again that I understand these possibilites are extremely remote, very unlikely, not probable, etc. But they are possible, and it is not entirely truthful to say otherwise.

    Again, I wish Kimberly and Jimmy the best, but I am curious as to how they would respond to the issues I brought up.

    –Elizabeth B.

  12. Anonymous

    A woman from my church adopted two girls from Ethiopia a few years ago: sisters, much older than the normal adoption age. They came to us speaking almost no English, and being rather shy. They are now one of the most treasured parts of our parish life: it's hard to imagine not watching Z giggling with her friends in the front pew, or seeing M happily toting babies around the parish hall during coffee hour. They are truly a blessing!

  13. Roxanna

    This was a wonderful interview. Thank you for sharing it with us.
    May God continue to bless you in this great journey!

    Do you have a blog where we can read updates about your life with your new kids? Just wondering.

    Thank you.

  14. nicole

    Thanks so much for sharing this story. I have read all 3 installments, and it is today's post, with its closing thoughts, that brought me to tears. Thanks so much.

  15. Jane D.

    I have so enjoyed this series, thank you. It is great to hear someone talk about the 'awe' bit as well, the one thing I find most difficult taking on my sisters daughter is people saying 'You are amazing' or ' It's such a brave thing to do'. For us we have no choice, or at least not a choice we could face the consequences of.

  16. Priya

    It is really amazing to know that you are adopting children who are HIV positive. I have heard before anyone adopting a HIV positive child. You two have certainly started a new era and have brought a new ray of hope for orphan HIV positive kids as well as the people working for them(because their morale will be boosted to know that there are some people who may adopt these kids and help them have a normal life).

  17. Laura

    I loved the series… it was so inspiring to read about her walk in faith… I've thought about adoption… I think it might be something I'm called for (but on the future as I'm in my early 20's and unmarried!)… I hope I hear, and respond to, God's call as determined as them… the best of wishes (and prayers) to Kimberly and her family

  18. Laura

    Kimberly and Jimmy (and Jennifer) -Wow, thank you for this series. It has really opened my eyes. I shared this information and witness with my husband, too, and we were both very inspired by what God is doing through you. Thank you again.

  19. Julie

    Thanks for this interview–I found it interesting, informative and inspiring!

  20. Ginkgo100

    It seems like the virus is overshadowing some of the other unusual aspects of your adoption. In particular, the fact that it is cross-cultural and cross-racial. My husband and I adopted a child from another country who is also of another race (he's East Asian, we're Caucasian). People sometimes ask me if my husband is Asian. Often they ask if my son is "Chinese" (he's not) or just call him "that Chinese boy." (Why do we think of race first when we are describing someone?) I find that most Caucasians will politely ignore the obvious differences in appearance, but Asian strangers are more likely to ask questions that seem, to me (a person withwhite-American cultural values), a bit intrusive. I wonder what kind of reactions you get having African children?

    I also wonder if you think "Oh, another adoptee!" when you see a child of the same race as your children. I certainly do, and I am somehow always a little surprised to see that they have Asian parents!

    Do you think kids who look like yours are somehow cuter or better looking than other kids? I also have a biological child, who is of course Caucasian. I found that when my Asian son was a baby, I only thought Asian babies were cute, and that Caucasian boys were not so attractive. Then when my Caucasian son was a baby, I thought Caucasian babies were more beautiful than anyone else. In reality, I just liked babies who reminded me of my baby. I'm not unique in this, right? Anyone else experience this?

  21. Kimberlie

    I just read this interview, all three parts. It is inspiring! I think it just solidifies in my heart what I believe God has been speaking to Christians. We are all called to help the orphans. I keep coming across people that have the same message being spoken to them about adoption. God is moving on behalf of the orphans right now in a way that I don't think has happened before. Or maybe it's just that international adoption is more accessible than ever. Wow! Yeah Jesus!!!!

  22. Lana

    I had the same reaction as Anonymous (#1) and Gingko 100: since HIV-positive individuals do have a fairly normal life expectancy these days, wouldn't other parts of their identity overshadow this fact? And, is the disease something you would even need others to know about your children, or would you shield them from public scrutiny by keeping it a "secret," out of respect for their privacy?
    These were some questions I found myself considering as I tried to envision my role as a parent of HIV-positive adoptees.

  23. Lisa-Jo

    This post is the reason I am following your blog. I am from South Africa and while my husband is American and we currently live Stateside, my whole family still live in SA. My parents adopted a little boy 4 years ago. He was two at the time and still hadn't learned to sit up. Today he is the strong, chubby, exuberant center of their family and my son's best friend in the world. He is HIV positive. The thing is, in South Africa today, if he hadn't been, that would have been the anomaly. HIV is not a death sentence. We plan for his future, not for his illness. We choose life. And that has made all the difference.

  24. Lisa-Jo

    This is Lisa-Jo again. Not sure why profile didn't display properly. Let's try this again.

  25. Lisa-Jo

    This is Lisa-Jo again. I'm not sure why my profile wasn't loading correctly. So, let's try this again.

  26. Heidi Saxton

    Oh, Jennifer, this is so lovely. Thanks for sharing it with us!

    I hope you don't mind … I've posted links to this series in the "Miracle Monday" section of EMN, to run on Monday.

  27. Cindy Hannah

    I love this interview. My husband and I are in the process of adopting a little boy from Uganda who is HIV+. While a few people know who have followed various blogs of others adopting from the same orphanage as us, most people do not know of his HIV+ status. We are leaning toward not sharing this information except with school teachers and administrators and health care workers.
    After reading your story, it makes me less afraid to share, but, still I want to do what is best for him in the long run, who knows?
    Thanks so much for sharing this story, ours is similar in many ways. I would like to be able to contact you. How can I?


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