Mothering at a distance and disclosure of maternal HIV to children in Kingston, Jamaica

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Existing guidelines (WHO, 2011) advise caretakers and professionals to disclose children’s and their caretakers’ HIV status to children, despite a lack of evidence concerning the potential implications in resource-constrained settings. Our research uses feminist Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) to explore the experiences of HIV positive mothers in Kingston, Jamaica, focusing on their lived experiences of talking to their children about maternal HIV. This paper will focus on the concept of mothering at a distance and how this presents additional challenges for HIV positive mothers who are trying to establish emotional closeness in relation to talking to their children about their HIV. Using Hochschild’s concept of emotion work and examples from the interviews, we highlight the difficult contexts informing women’s decisions when negotiating discussions about their HIV. Women may choose full, partial or differential disclosure or children may be told their mother’s HIV status by others. Disclosure policy, we argue, reflects Anglo-Northern constructions of the family and parenting which may not adequately reflect the experiences of poor urban mothers in low and middle income countries. We argue that policy needs to recognise culturally-specific family formations, which, in Jamaica includes absent fathers, mothering at a distance and mothering non-biological children. This article reflects on the experiences of an under-researched group, poor urban Jamaican women practising mothering at a distance, using a novel methodological approach (IPA) to bring into relief unique insights into their lived experiences and will contribute to the global policy and research literature on HIV disclosure.

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