A Narrative Exploration into the Experiences of Mothers living with HIV in Ireland

  • Denise Proudfoot

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Health (DHealth)


Mothers living with HIV (MLH) are the focus of this narrative study. HIV is increasingly seen as a chronic illness because of medical advances in its treatment. Much research with HIV positive mothers is situated within the dominant biomedical discourse focusing more on outcome rather than experience and, while valuable, it fails to provide insight into their subjective experiences. In Ireland, women represent a third of the newly diagnosed HIV population (O’Donnell, Moran and Igoe 2013), many of whom have children, and migrant African-origin women represent a significant percentage of these new diagnoses. However, no research has examined contemporary maternal HIV experiences within an Irish context. This is an important fact considering the changing nature of HIV and that most HIV positive women are prescribed Highly active antiretroviral treatment (HAART) during their pregnancies and so give birth to HIV negative babies. This study explores the HIV maternal experience as the psychosocial impact of being HIV positive persists even though it is increasingly seen as a chronic illness. The original contribution to knowledge of this thesis is to provide insight into the experiences of mothers living with HIV in Ireland.My study involved adopting a narrative approach to interviewing a purposive sample of eleven HIV positive mothers living in Ireland who were at different points on the motherhood trajectory, and were from both high and low HIV prevalence countries. The analysis of this study’s narratives drew on a combination of theoretical perspectives including HIV stigma frameworks (Campbell et al., 2007, Herek 2002), social capital theory (Putnam 1995), medicalisation and HIV normalisation.The interviews reveal the centrality of being a mother to the study participants and how being HIV positive affects mothering. Being an HIV positive mother means protecting children from HIV from the moment of diagnosis , during and after pregnancy; minimising the impact of HIV in everyday life; having an awareness of the persuasiveness of HIV stigma; and managing HIV disclosure. Peer support was a significant factor for these mothers and all were members of an HIV support organisation in Dublin. Linking the findings of this study to wider theoretical literature allows for a greater understanding of the lives of HIV positive mothers in the HIV normalisation era and accentuates the multidimensional impact of maternal HIV infection.
Date of Award25 Feb 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorAlan Buckingham (Supervisor) & Prof Corinne Squire (Supervisor)


  • HIV positive mothers
  • narrative analysis

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