Coming out of hiding
Sophie Jayawardene will be celebrating a "coming out" of a different kind at the Auckland Pride Parade tomorrow.
The 50-year-old has been hiding from the world since a routine check-up in 1989 led to the HIV diagnosis that changed her life.
A pregnant Sophie had moved from Zimbabwe to New Zealand a year earlier and was thrilled to be starting a new life with her husband and two children.
Doctors advised the Mt Roskill resident to end her six-month pregnancy due to concern the virus would harm her unborn twins.
She made the agonising decision to have an abortion but remained too scared to tell anyone about her illness.
It is suspected Sophie contracted the disease from a blood transfusion or contaminated needle.
Hiding the truth from her husband took a toll on her marriage and the couple eventually separated.
It wasn't until her health deteriorated in 2001 and after spending years in Auckland Hospital believing she was going to die that she finally revealed her condition to children Rohini and Knowledge.
"I couldn't say what I lived with, before that I had to play a happy mother and wife in the day and then at night I would cry.
"When I was diagnosed Rohini was three years old so it was important that I protected my children."
Nobody should have to live like that, she says.
Last year the public speaker released a book, Sophie's World: Journeys of the Lost Soul, about her experience living with HIV and began to tell friends about her condition.
"I came out of the closet. I have lived in New Zealand all this time but nobody knows who I am because I hide.
"Finally I said to myself that's enough."
The support she has received has been unbelievable, she says.
Sophie and daughter Rohini now run a non-profit organisation creating awareness and supporting people living with HIV/Aids.
Rohini says they will be marching in the Auckland Pride Parade to spread the word and celebrate that you don't have to be ashamed of who you are or what you live with.
"The main message is conversation. A lot of people don't want to talk about it so they don't have a lot of information about the disease."
Sophie says without conversation many people will remain unaware that the disease affects a lot of heterosexual women.
"Go and talk to your daughters, talk to your neighbours. If I had known 25 years ago that people weren't going to crucify me I would have told everybody."
The Auckland Pride Parade begins at 4pm on Saturday and runs the length of Ponsonby Rd.
Go to aucklandpridefestival.org.nz for more information.
- Central Leader
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