Cibulka’s qualitative study examined 15 women ages 20 – 38 from the St. Louis metropolitan area, all of whom are HIV-positive and who expressed a desire to be mothers. Cibulka, who interviewed the women three times over the course of three months, got the idea for her research through her part-time work as a nurse practitioner at an area clinic which provide health care to individuals with HIV infections.
“Right now, the medications are so effective that with appropriate care, the chances of the child becoming infected are less than 1 percent,” Cibulka said.
Cibulka discovered there was no common theme among the women regarding their pregnancies. She was, however, able to recognize three patterns: women who were “aching” to become mothers, women who were postponing motherhood for non-HIV-related reasons (such as a desire to finish school, save money, or for lack of a suitable partner), and women who were conflicted about their desire because of the risks involved. Six of the women fell into the first category, six into the second, and three into the third.
“From a clinical practice perspective, it’s important to know that ‘accidents’ are probably not the case,” said Cibulka. “These women were actually planning; they had that strong of a desire to be mothers.” Cibulka says the women often do not disclose their intentions because of the stigma surrounding mothering and HIV, and their fear that they would get a negative reaction from their healthcare providers. “They feel they can’t talk about their desires and ask for help with the process.”
Cibulka’s research also debunked some stereotypes associated with HIV-infected women. All of the women in her study were infected through heterosexual sexual relations and not through intravenous drug use. In the case of one engaged couple, the man had infected the woman without either of their knowledge and after they were engaged. Seven of the women were in discordant relationships where the partner was HIV-negative.
Cibulka has a five year follow-up plan to see how many of the 15 women in her study become mothers. Since she concluded her research in 2005, four of the women already have become pregnant. Her report on the “Conception Practices of HIV-infected women in the Midwest,” has been accepted for publication in the November-December issue of the Journal Association of Nurses in AIDS Care.