Mother Without Child: Contemporary Fiction and the Crisis of Motherhood

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This strategy facilitated a dynamic, iterative relationship between data and methods Backett , and embryonic themes identified through intermediate analysis were incorporated into the second interviews. For example, the interviewer felt that refusing the offer of a drink would not be misinterpreted.

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In one instance, a niece who was unaware of her aunt's condition, was in a bedroom, and the interview stopped each time she entered the interview room. Five respondents preferred to meet at voluntary organisations. This decision often reflected frequent use of the organisations, but one respondent seemed ashamed of her home in a deprived area, associated with drugs. Two of these interviews took place in communal spaces. In one, a worker was present, at the respondent's request, which may have influenced her reflections on the services provided, and accentuated her concern to present herself in a good light.

Seven respondents chose to be interviewed at home, several commenting that this would make them more at ease. However, all took care that the interview could not be overheard. The intensity of this concern was illustrated by one respondent's horrified reaction when she thought, wrongly, that the young son of her neighbours had been listening through the letterbox.

A broadly grounded theory approach, as distilled by Seale : informed much of the analysis. Aged between 26 and 44 at the time of the first interviews, the 12 respondents had been diagnosed between and , and had known of their diagnoses for between seven and 13 years. Although none reported current street drug use, six respondents had histories of injection use, three of whom were receiving substitute prescription. The other six respondents, were often critical of drug use and emphasised having been infected by partners, who had not always revealed their history of drug use.

All but three women were brought up in peripheral, deprived housing schemes, associated with Scottish injection heroin use in the early s, and several had experienced multiple bereavements among family and friends. Hazel reflected:. There was 23 of us [. These benefits had enabled some of the respondents, none of whom were homeowners, to move into private tenancies in less deprived areas, reinforcing their concern that landlords should not learn of their condition.

Seven of the respondents had one child, four respondents had two children and one, three children. The children's ages ranged from seven to 22, and all but four were minors.

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In relation to the study of HIV infection specifically, this sample does not reflect current UK conditions in two main respects. They seemed to use the interviews to establish and reinforce their claims to be good mothers, by emphasising their determination to place their children's interests before their own. Many respondents recounted being diagnosed while pregnant, counselled to have late abortions and instances of gross insensitivity by maternity staff.

While the events recollected had occurred several years previously, there was no mistaking the raw emotion they still evoked. The medical staff played a big part in how I felt in my whole being regarding HIV [. I was 19, [. One woman commented that her children would be better off without her. Years later, several women found certain issues difficult to negotiate, suggesting continued discomfort. Respondents also attempted to negotiate the threat posed to their identities as good mothers by the association of HIV transmission with drug use and sexual activity in other, more direct, ways.

Although not asked about drug use, those respondents who had never used drugs, emphasised this fact, whereas previous drug use hung heavily over the narratives of those who had.

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Orla, who had spent 15 years living a transient life, related:. It's been hard, it has been hard [. One time I went [back] on the street but it only lasted a week, and then I thought [. Changing for the sake of their children formed an intrinsic part of these narratives.

She's seen stuff in her early years. In addition, all but one respondent emphasised their willingness to sacrifice personal relationships in the interests of their children. I've really [had] nae sex life at all [. Most respondents were single, however, and pointed to their wariness of new relationships, emphasising the potential danger to their children from violent or indiscrete partners see Melvin : I'd have to explain to them that I was HIV. And if it was to be a short relationship then they would tell someone else [. And I says no [. The potentially fatal nature of HIV infection seemed to pose an even greater threat to their identities as good mothers than its associated stigma.

Throughout the interviews, the respondents rarely spoke of periods of illness in exclusively individual terms, often attributing their determination to look after themselves, comply with arduous treatment regimes, and, in some cases, resist suicidal thoughts, to being mothers:. Last year when I was ill [. I needed a blood transfusion, [. If it wasnae for my daughter I would have gave up Ella.

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Orla was to be discharged from hospital the day after her interview, following serious illness. The precariousness of her health was a recurrent, poignant theme of her interview:.

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The turn against motherhood

I'm like a cat with nine lives. I'm fully blown AIDS now. So that's it. On several occasions however, almost within the same breath, she exhorted herself to keep going until her daughter reached 16, and mentioned plans to stop smoking as part of making sure she succeeded. All but one respondent highlighted their determination to survive, an aim which, like Orla, they expressed in terms of surviving until their youngest child's 16 th birthday.

For example:. My future has been from the day I found out, my hope has been that I make it to [daughter]'s Then I've done my duty as a mother Nina. My daughter that worries me. I just think so long as I can still be here when she's 16 Ella. This aspiration reflected a strong cultural perception that this age marks the end of childhood, and, consequently, of children's need for their parents:.

As Kathy explained:.


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Nina's youngest daughter turned 16 in between her two interviews. In her first interview, she recounted her concern at this approaching milestone, and how she intended to cope with it:. A friend [. But I've learnt now to make it when she gets to 16, to make it And to do it that way, because that's what's keeping me going. By her second interview, she had been told that her combination of drugs no longer seemed to be working and her daughter's birthday had become a major source of anxiety:. Indeed, being the mother of a minor child appeared to provide a moral justification for their continued existence, while potentially no longer being needed as a mother seemed to provoke fears of no longer serving any useful purpose.

All these elements seemed important for understanding the threat occasioned by their potentially fatal diagnosis.

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It will start, however, by raising the thorny issue of children caring. Periods of acute illness, during which the respondents could not care for their children, posed a further threat to the women's identities as good mothers. Particularly difficult to assimilate into this identity were any experiences of being cared for by their children see also Aldridge and Becker The respondents who discussed this issue expressed profound ambivalence. Marina, for example, seemed uncomfortable with receiving help from her children, but was touched by their concern, and felt they had wanted to be involved:.

It's wrong for kids to be carers [. This issue was particularly upsetting for Barbara, who was both ill and socially isolated at the time of her interview. One such dilemma was posed by the chronic fatigue associated with their condition. For example, in response to a question probing what she had found most difficult since her diagnosis, Tracey emphasised:. However, the respondents did point to ways in which they tried to reconcile their concern that their children should experience normal childhoods, with their need, discussed previously, to survive.

It's scary for him [. Be there [. Like other respondents, she recounted trying to resolve this conflict by sleeping while her son was at school and taking up services for her son, such as a buddy:. I've got the enthusiasm but [. Some respondents had completed the emotionally difficult process of making a will and used bereavement counsellors to try to prepare their children emotionally for their potential death. These women preferred to emphasise less formal preparations for the future, such as educating their children to look after themselves.

I'm really hoping that they dinnae go the same way as me [. Mothers whose children were older, were concerned to educate their children. Asked what had changed for her since diagnosis, Rhona said:. Life's been more important to me since then ehm. This response to a very general question illustrated the importance of this aim to her concept of good motherhood. Similarly, when asked what she had found most difficult since her diagnosis, Kathy emphasised:.


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Knowing that I had something and I felt so guilty. They missed a fair bit of their young lives [. I forced things on them about sexual issues. We moved your item s to Saved for Later.