Womens Health

Stigma and the Desire to Conceive

Greater Awareness

One out of every four women testing positive for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) plan to become pregnant and mother children, but age is a factor. Participants in an Ohio State University study who discovered they were HIV positive before the age of 30 said they wanted to become pregnant four times more often than those who were older when testing positive for the disease. These findings point to a need for greater awareness in clinicians treating HIV-positive women of childbearing age who may require counseling on this issue.

Longer survival rates for those testing HIV positive are a factor in the phenomenon. Clinicians shouldn't assume that HIV-positive women would not want to conceive and bear children say the authors of the study.

A Manageable Disease

74 women filled out questionnaires exploring women's HIV disclosure decisions and mental health. Says study co-author Shonda Craft, "It became obvious that this is a disease that is manageable for women."

The decision of whether or not to have a family is part and parcel of the development process for young women and this study proves that women who are HIV positive are no different in this respect, with age a major factor in the decision about whether or not to become pregnant after HIV diagnosis. Almost 40% of women aged 30 and under chose to conceive while only 11% of the over 30s opted to become pregnant.

Fear of transmitting their disease or other concerns such as the preservation of their own health were influential issues as were the opinions of medical personnel involved in their care.

The medical community has found ways to reduce the risks for both mother and child. Women who have been diagnosed with HIV should take antiretroviral medications throughout pregnancy and during labor and newborns should be given antiretroviral medication for the first 6 weeks of infancy. Caesarean delivery can also reduce the transmission of the virus to the infant, but whether or not caesarean delivery is recommended depends upon the state of the mother's health and the level of the virus in her blood. When mother and baby receive optimal care, the risk of transmission can be as low as 1%.

There are risks associated with conception for the HIV positive woman, her partner, and her fetus. Even if both partners are HIV positive, an infected male partner may transmit a different strain of HIV to his partner, causing problems for both mother and fetus.

The study contained a surprising statistic; women with poor self-image due to their HIV-positive status were the ones who most wanted to become pregnant. The authors of the study theorize that pregnancy may offer therapeutic benefits against the stigma of HIV.

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