On her own since she was 15-years-old, Eva Fields was orphaned and supporting herself by her sixteenth birthday. “I was taking better care of myself than my elders were,” she admits. “But, I wasn’t making the right decisions.” By 17, she was pregnant with her second child and told she had tested positive for HIV. Thankfully, her son was born healthy, but she knew things were only going to get tougher from there. Instead of giving in to the fear and the pain, Eva chose to educate herself about HIV and AIDS. She focused on staying positive and helping others learn from her experiences and mistakes. Fields always believed she would never be able to have more children, but with medical supervision, she was able to conceive her third child, a healthy baby girl who was born HIV negative. Her story is powerful and a true inspiration to all women who have ever had to face an unthinkable diagnosis. In honor of National Women’s Health Week, we talked to Fields about protecting our bodies and our children and the importance of spreading awareness.
ESSENCE.com: You told your now-husband your status on your first real date. How courageous! Why did you decide to do it that way?
EVA FIELDS: It was scary, of course. Any time, as a woman, when you meet the one, you have those attractions and you don’t want to lose someone because of a societal stigma. Society as a whole puts a bad label on anyone who’s HIV positive. I just felt it was time to let him know and that if he cared about me enough he would either accept it or not. It was my responsibility as a woman and as an adult to let him know. We were on a lunch date and before he decided to take that first bite, I just told him. For me, it’s never been difficult to tell anyone my status. It’s difficult getting turned down and feeling rejected. That’s what makes it hard for anyone HIV positive wanting to date someone that’s HIV negative.
ESSENCE.com: What was his reaction?
FIELDS: He was like, “Okay.” Just like that. I asked him what he meant by “okay,” as I prepared to put my guard up, and then he said, “Okay. I’m educated. I have the real education, and I’m very educated on the subject.” I felt very blessed. In the past, I had come across people who were not educated and reacted terribly. I can’t blame them. Sometimes, as human beings, we fear the unknown.
ESSENCE.com: Was dating after your diagnosis always a challenge?
FIELDS: Challenge is an understatement. It was always very, very difficult. Being single and HIV positive is tough. You always come with a stamp on your back. People sometimes think they can’t touch you or hug you. I’ve been thrown out of so many places. But, as an adult and an educator, you have to overcome that stigma. That’s what the Greater Than Aids campaign is about. You have to take responsibility for yourself and learn about yourself.
ESSENCE.com: What's your philosophy on HIV/AIDS education?
FIELDS: If I get one person to listen and understand what’s going on then I know I’ve accomplished more than enough. Over the years, it has gotten easier and more progress is being made about talking about HIV and AIDS on a more constant basis. The more we do that, the more progress we will get from it. The youngest positive person that I talked to was newly diagnosed at 12 years old. Being the new parent of a young girl myself, I knew it was time to really speak out to people of all ages and educate them.
ESSENCE.com: What do you teach your children about safe sex?
FIELDS: I’ve never sugar coated anything. When I found out my status, I immediately began talking to my son about it. My main thing was definitely to insist that they use protection – always. Being a nurse, it was easy for me to introduce them to what different STDS look like and what they can do to you. They learned this when they were seven or eight. To this day, they take those memories and lessons into the life they’re living currently. As a parent, we don’t want them to have sex, but we can’t be with them 24/7. So, I give them the tools to make the right decision.
ESSENCE.com: What do you feel is the right time to educate your children about sex?
FIELDS: I say that as soon as they start watching music videos, it’s the right time. Let’s be realistic: Music videos and sex are everywhere. If you can give your kids a tablet, then it’s time to talk to them about safe sex. Children are very smart. As parents we have to be there to talk to our children about safe sex. If not they’re gonna learn from popular mainstream images.
ESSENCE.com: How have you remained so positive and kept your life so full?
FIELDS: It’s a struggle every day. I’m African American. I’m a woman. And, I’m HIV positive. But, my children give me the motivation and my family has been very supportive of my decision to share my story and stay positive. To any man or woman who is newly diagnosed, know that it’s not a death sentence. There are all kinds of programs available for support. But, you need to find a support system; be it in your church or through your family and friends.
Eva is a spokeswoman for Greater Than Aids and text4baby, an organization that allows women to sign up and receive free health and safety information by texting BABY to 511411 through their pregnancy and up until their baby’s first birthday. Visit text4baby.org and GreaterThan.org for more information on where and how to get tested and spread awareness.