Contradicting maternity Living with AIDS # 409
A cry, a smile and a dance often accompany the birth of a new-born. But in the age of HIV/AIDS, a cry, sadness and worries often characterize motherhood. This is according to experiences shared by pregnant HIV-positive women in a book entitled ‘Contradicting Maternity’.
The book explores the realities of motherhood in the context of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Drawing on interviews with pregnant HIV-positive women attending ante-natal care at a Johannesburg hospital, the book gives a rare account of the fears and hopes that such women go through from pregnancy to motherhood.
‘The title is about all the contradictions that go with these multiple identities of learning that you’re HIV-positive, which is associated with such negative consequences in a lot of people’s minds and learning that you’re going to become a mother as well’¦ the identity that’s much more idealized, particularly, by friends, family, people one knows. It’s really about the contradicting experiences and emotions, but also the contradicting social meanings of both HIV and motherhood’, says the book’s author, clinical psychologist and Associate Professor at the University of the Witwatersand, Carol Long.
In the interviews that Long did with the women, she picked up a common over-riding factor: A feeling of guilt brought on by their HIV infection.
‘For example, there was one woman who was very worried that her baby might be HIV-positive, and even after she got tests back saying that her baby was HIV-negative she still felt that guilt and she felt that her baby might be harmed in some way’, she says.
For some, the guilt was self-condemning and judgmental.
‘There were women who wished they weren’t pregnant in the first place. They were also, on the whole, very clear that they didn’t want to become pregnant again ‘ just in case their babies did become HIV-positive. They were very disapproving of women who knew that they were HIV-positive and still became pregnant.
But there were also some women who did know they were HIV-positive and they wanted to continue living, instead of dying, and so, they made a choice to become mothers. There was one woman in particular, who said that she could still be pregnant. This was something that was very important for her. The words she used was she wants ‘people to know that you can get some of the things that you want’,’ says Long.
Coupled with the guilt that they might pass on HIV infection to their babies during delivery, the women expressed their fears that they might infect their babies through breast-feeding as well.
Research released last week by the Department of Health shows that 29.3% of pregnant women in South Africa have HIV.
The survey was conducted among 34 000 pregnant women attending public sector ante-natal clinics. Long, author of Contradicting Maternity, says the experiences shared by the women in her book illustrate the importance of further roll-out of prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission interventions. There is also a need for the escalation of ARV interventions to keep women healthy so that they can be around for their children.