A lot of people want to know about your choice of profession. It’s not just the fact that you are HIV positive, but it’s almost as if that pushed your decision to go into obstetrics. Can you tell us about that? I mean what advice would you give to young women in a similar circumstance who want to go into medicine?
Brittany: It’s hard to answer that because it isn’t a simple answer. I think you have to put yourself in the position I was in. I mean, everything in my life changed in an instant. I was this famous singer who was loved all over the world and I had nobody to help me. Much of it was of my own doing after I left the hospital. I stayed away from everyone and everything. I sat in my home and calculated my next move. I had money and connections and neither helped me. It was when I got the diagnosis of HIV that I flew to Paris and saw Stephanie. If it weren’t for her, I truly think I may have simply given up.
“What do you mean?”
Brittany: I didn’t know how to move forward from that piece of paper; that diagnosis. I didn’t know how I would ever hide this and I knew, in order to survive, for me at least, I had to do just that. Stephanie gave me hope that I could get this disease under control and she helped me believe that maybe I could start over.
“So how did you? Start over?”
Brittany smiled: One day at a time. I put all of my energy into getting accepted into an accelerated medical program in London that pushed graduation and specialties up by two years. It was all my life would be over the next six years and that was just what I needed. I cut my hair and for the first three years, I wore a brown wig. I had to hide myself because I was so recognizable, but it was soon obvious that I fit in as one of the class and nothing more. Who would ever guess that the top selling vocal artist was now in med school? It was the perfect cover and the perfect place for me to hide. It’s where Brittany became who I am and where Barbara was buried.
“But there must have been drawbacks to med school. I mean, getting through classes where you needed to practice on students must have presented a problem.”
Brittany: Yes, it did. Before I was accepted into the program, I was interviewed intently by the board and I had to divulge my HIV status.
“That must have been hard.”
Brittany: I feel very strongly about full disclosure. I entered into medicine knowing I would have to be open about my diagnosis, but there was a lot I could still control. I did my labs at times that were prearranged with the techs and I had a lot of friends who helped when I needed to use a guinea pig. It wasn’t really the school that gave me issues, but the professors and specialists when I moved up in the program.
“What kinds of issues?”
Brittany: Mainly questioning my choice of specialty. I was told over and over that I would never get a job because the risk to the hospital was simply too great. I was a liability before I even stepped foot in an office and it was a fight I hadn’t really planned on taking on.
“How did you get through it?”
Brittany: When I graduated, I began volunteering at women’s centers and helping women with trauma and sexual abuse, as well as women who were HIV positive and pregnant. I never divulged what happened to me, but I was able to give the women I saw a sense of dignity and hope for the future. When I finally began to make a name for myself, I was asked to assist on a difficult case of a woman who was extremely high risk and in her third trimester. She had been told to end the pregnancy because of the danger to her health and she refused. I was asked to consult to try and convince her to have the abortion, but we ended up meeting and talking and I thought she would be a candidate for an experimental procedure I had been working on. I convinced her to try the meds and it worked. She was able to carry almost to term and she delivered a healthy baby and lived to be a mother.
“And that helped open doors for you?”
Brittany: In a way. It allowed me to finally have the credibility my disease took from me. Before that, people saw my HIV before they saw my capabilities and after, they came to me because of my skills and nothing else. It allowed me a place in the conversation and I got my first job as an obgyn for HIV positive women.
“That was in London?”
Brittany: Yes, I only worked in London until I came to Michigan to help Jack and Stephanie. I hadn’t set foot on American soil since my attack and I don’t think I ever realized just how far I went into hiding. Some of it was conscious and some not so much.
“You had your own practice in London, didn’t you?”
Brittany: Yes. I was lucky because I had enough money to buy office space. I hired my own staff and was very up front with my patients. You would be surprised by how tolerant people can be. There is a ton of prejudice and I had many doors slammed in my face when people learned of my HIV, but there were others who were educated and knew I was the best choice for them. I had many years of great work there.
“But you decided to come back for Stephanie?”
Brittany: Yes and no. I didn’t have to move all the way back here to help them, but I think in some ways I felt like it was time to face my past. I just never realized how much my life would change by coming here.
“Are you happy you came back?”
Brittany smiled: I have Tommy and Naomi in my life and I found a brother I never knew existed. I have nieces and a nephew and more family than I ever dreamed of. How could I not be happy with that?
“You also uncovered some pretty dark secrets.”
Brittany: They needed to be uncovered. I was wrong in how I hid from the truth of what happened to me. I allowed those men to live their lives free of punishment. I gave in to my fear and I was wrong. As painful as it was and still is, the right thing to do was to get justice. I also helped expose Janet and Chris for the monsters they were.
“Is there anything else we should know?”
Brittany: This life is hard. I’ve seen the absolute worst and I’ve lived through it. I think, if you believe in your worth, things will eventually turn around. If you had asked me in 1999 if I would be sitting here today talking to you like this, I would have told you it was the most ridiculous idea ever. I know I will never stop running into people who think I’m crazy for going into this field, or for giving up music, but really, I can only worry about what works for me and my husband and daughter. I owe it to them to be happy. I owe it to me to be happy.
For the first time in a long time, I have everything I could ever want.
Who would you like me to ‘talk’ to next?