Her Husband Gave Her HIV: Renee Burgess' Story

I conducted this interview last year and I sat on it because I wanted to make sure I built my audience wide enough to make sure enough people could be impacted.  In honor of National HIV Testing Day, I couldn't imagine a better time to share this story. Ladies, I can’t stress the importance of being secure in self, being patient, and taking your time to get to know the person you want to be intimate with or even marry.  No one knows the future and sometimes you feel as though you may know someone but still run into severe heartaches and disappointments. There is nothing in life that is guaranteed except how you respond to certain situations. 

 

In my moment of restlessness, I stumbled across this post from a woman named Renee Burgess. Ms. Burgess (better known as Ladybyrd or Byrd), created a post that garnered over thousands of emoji reactions and hundreds of shares.  When I read the post, I could see why it received so much attention. It was the 10th year anniversary of her contracting HIV from her husband.

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Yep, you read that right. Her HUSBAND. The man that many of us single women are pulling our hair out over, praying, and hoping that God brings to us quick, fast, and in a hurry. The one that you can’t wait to throw away those endless boxes of condoms and birth control for. The one that promised to love, honor, and cherish you in a room full of people and your creator.  How could this happen? Why did this happen?

She provided tons of facts in her Facebook post. The fact that they were initially friends first. They never had unprotected sex until after they were married. The fact that she found out about her status during her prenatal checkup while she was pregnant with twins.  This is a woman who went through the steps that we are told we should go through and was still ultimately burnt. I found her story compelling and utterly shocking.  What’s even worse, many were making judgmental and victim blaming comments in response to her post. Many had not been in her shoes, yet for some reason, knew they wouldn't, couldn't end up like her. 

Some of these women (or mean girls as I called them) had not been in engaged or even in the position to be asked to be someone's wife. Yet, they used the “this is what I would have done” phrase as a way to blame her.  As if she should feel bad that the man she married deceived her by misusing the trust that they had built. As if taking away her options was her fault and she deserved what happened.

That’s the problem with putting your business on social media. It allows the world to view your pains with their “perfect” eyes and point out where you failed, as if hindsight was not 20/20. Ms. Burgess didn’t care.  She had a story that was important and she had to tell the world.  Regardless of the impact or damage it may do to her reputation, her goal is to share her story and educate people on STDs including HIV.

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I had to contact her and reach out to her to learn more about her. I needed to know more about her incredible story and life after. I was utterly impress that though people judged her, she maintained her composure.  She never called anyone out their names (though she would have been well within her right) and honestly, reiterated facts way longer that she should have.

When I reached out to her she was so forthcoming in our conversation. I was no longer a stranger but that cool girlfriend. It was as if we had known each other for years. There was no stone unturned.  A normal person would have tons of pauses.  Perhaps they would have  broken down a few times as they recounted the heart wrenching details of their situation. She wasn’t afraid to share that they did take STD tests prior to their wedding but trusted her fiancée when he told her that he was clean. 

She didn’t mind sharing that she was pregnant with twins when she discovered her status.  Nor that when she found out that he tried to shame her into staying with her due to her being infected and used the infamous abuser phrase of “Who want want you now?” She shared that he had slept with several women unprotected, possibly infecting them with HIV as well. Young women, whose lives were just beginning but now are faced with a new obstacle to overcome. 

Ms. Burgess was so inviting with her conversation because she’s had so much practice speaking on her situation. When you talk to her it isn’t a “woe is me” type of story but a story of great deception that later led her to finding a higher calling.  I think many have focused on the details of how it happened to her, but I want to focus more on life after being infected.  

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Many people still believe HIV to be a death sentence and probably have thought to themselves, “If I am ever infected, I will kill myself.”  Ms. Burgess did the complete opposite.  She enriched her life by wanting to educate the public on how she’s able to live with HIV and to also understand the real deal behind HIV, while learning to keep yourself and others safe. She has writing several books that are available on Amazon such as Married: But it could happen and HIV all around me.  She’s launched her own nonprofit organization called LadyByrd Live Foundation, inc. created for charitable and education purposes by providing support groups, condom distribution, and other services in her quest to educate the masses.  She is also a public speaker who interacts with people all over the country by telling her story as a cautionary tale.  

Although she has been infected with HIV, it hasn’t stopped her dating life either.  Very open about her status, Ms. Burgess had since remarried and had a new addition added to her lovely family. Unfortunately, the union did not last, but gave Ms. Burgess additional life lessons to share with her audience. Through her years of education, she has learned different practices on managing her disease and how to protect others from contracting HIV while still enjoying intimacy.

 

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In my interaction with Ms. Byrd I learned a few things.  That no matter how much you may plan for something, shit can still happen. There is no exact path in life. There is no one right way to get to where you want to go. Bad things can happen to good people and that can suck. The better thing I learned is that there is light after darkness. No matter how dark it gets, there is still something that will come to you and light your way out of the darkness if you let it.  (That’s the key phrase, “if you let it”) She could choose to be bitter and hate life, men, and everything else. However, she chose to continue to push through and live for herself and her 4 children.  What’s even bigger is that not only is she living for self and her family, she has chosen to live for all those who are infected but just can’t see any way out of their despair.  For those people Ms. Burgess is their light on a dark path hoping to make it back home.

 

If you or anyone you know needs to get tested for HIV or AIDS check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for locations and times near you. 

 

 

Please check out Renee Burgess Facebook Page and her books here on Amazon.com for more on her journey and work with the HIV/AIDS community.