By Desi Rubio, November 2015 Issue.
Andrew and Victoria Pulsipher have enjoyed building a life and a family together in their San Tan Valley home. Andrew, an online blogger for Huffington Post and stay-at-home dad, and Victoria, who works at a stem-cell research facility in Gilbert, love being parents to their three smart, spunky and healthy children.
Their life seems normal enough; however, this normalcy is a result of years of research, education and doctor visits.
What makes the Pulsipher family’s story unique is that Andrew is HIV positive and the rest of his family is HIV negative.
Andrew, 34, was born HIV positive. Both of his parents carried the disease and died from AIDS when Andrew was a young boy and he was raised by his aunt and uncle in Aurora, Colo.
Andrew describes his childhood and adolescent years as challenging.
“When I was little I sometimes had to take 12 pills a day, which is a nightmare for a child,” Andrew recalls. “I had to learn how to be independent so fast.”
Growing up in the ’80s, Andrew explains the stigma around HIV and AIDS was depressing. The lack of research and evidence surrounding the longevity of a HIV-positive person was unlikely. This forced Andrew to believe people died quickly from disease.
Andrew admits accepting that he may not have a future and often lived in survival mode.
“I didn’t take anything seriously, especially in school, so I would just play video games and hang out while never telling anyone about my disease,” he explained. “And I lived that way for a very long time.”
But this mindset changed the day he met Victoria.
Family and Future
“We were dating five months when Andrew told me,” Victoria recalled. “And, although I didn’t know much about the disease at the time, it didn’t hinder the relationship. If anything, my reaction was more empathetic.”
Around the time they began discussing the possibility of marriage, Victoria started accompanying Andrew to his doctor appointments, and they slowly began sharing these conversations with close family members.
After receiving support from their families, Andrew and Victoria were married. And, shortly thereafter, they visited a local hospital for a presentation on sperm washing as an option for reproduction.
According to aids.gov, “sperm washing is a process in which a man’s sperm are washed free of HIV before being inserted into a woman.” This allows a couple to conceive without transmitting the virus to the mother or unborn child.
After the presentation, the Pulsiphers decided this process was worth a shot. And, as a result, they successfully conceived their first child, who was born HIV negative.
Suddenly, their fears turned into hope and the possibilities seemed endless for the young family.
A few years later, the Pulsiphers moved from Colorado to Arizona. It was also around this time that Andrew’s regimen of pills was working so effectively that the disease became undetectable in his blood.
When HIV is undetectable, Andrew explained, the chance of transmission is less than 1 percent.
“We knew we wanted more than one child but couldn’t find a facility that would conduct the sperm washing,” Victoria said. “So, we did research and balanced a checklist of risks versus what we wanted.”
With doctor’s supervision and support, Andrew and Victoria welcomed their second and third child into the family – both were conceived naturally and born HIV negative.
Turning a Negative into a Positive
Earlier this year, Andrew and Victoria made a bold decision to share their journey to parenthood with the world in an effort to break down the stigma attached to the disease Andrew has lived with all of his life.
They took a casual family photo that displays each family member sitting on a couch holding signs revealing their HIV status. Victoria and the children are holding signs that read “HIV negative,” while Andrew holds a sign that reads “HIV positive.”
The photo is captioned, “Having a NEGATIVE family can be the most POSITIVE thing in your life.”
The photo went viral and since it was posted May 10 to Andrew’s Facebook page, it’s been shared more than 19,000 times.
The decision to share this unique family photo was made in hopes of dismantling the negative stigma HIV has carried for too long. The Pulsipher’s story has been told via many media outlets in recent weeks and on Oct. 25 Aunt Rita’s Foundation will present the Pulsipher family as the first family chair of the 2015 AIDS Walk Arizona & 5K Run.
“I’m a heterosexual man letting people know this is not a gay disease and it does not care what color you are or who you love,” said Andrew. “HIV doesn’t play favorites and it is a real world issue, [but] I am not something to fear.”
Today, the family of five aspires to remove any negative misconceptions the public may have regarding HIV and reproduction.
“This disease is no longer a run-for-the-hills, contagious disease,” Andrew explained. “If you have it and are getting treated for it, you can live a totally normal life”.