Birth in the Age of AIDS: Women, Reproduction, and HIV/AIDS in India

Birth in the Age of AIDS: Women, Reproduction, and HIV/AIDS in India

Birth in the Age of AIDS: Women, Reproduction, and HIV/AIDS in India

Birth in the Age of AIDS: Women, Reproduction, and HIV/AIDS in India


Birth in the Age of AIDS is a vivid and poignant portrayal of the experiences of HIV-positive women in India during pregnancy, birth, and motherhood at the beginning of the 21st century. The government of India, together with global health organizations, established an important public health initiative to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child. While this program, which targets poor women attending public maternity hospitals, has improved health outcomes for infants, it has resulted in sometimes devastatingly negative consequences for poor, young mothers because these women are being tested for HIV in far greater numbers than their male spouses and are often blamed for bringing this highly stigmatized disease into the family.

Based on research conducted by the author in India, this book chronicles the experiences of women from the point of their decisions about whether to accept HIV testing, through their decisions about whether or not to continue with the birth if they test HIV-positive, their birthing experiences in hospitals, decisions and practices surrounding breast-feeding vs. bottle-feeding, and their hopes and fears for the future of their children.


Saraswati was 24 years old and living with HIV/AIDS when I met her in 2004 in Namakkal, a nondescript town nestled below the Kolli Hills in the state of Tamil Nadu and the hub of the South Indian trucking industry. She told me the story of her hiv diagnosis, her pregnancy, child’s birth, and early motherhood experiences.

Saraswati hailed from a nearby village, and her father, like many of the men in her village, worked as a lorry driver when she was growing up. At the age of 17, after she had completed the tenth standard of school, her marriage was arranged to her mother’s brother’s son—a common practice in Tamil Nadu. Her husband was 22 years old at the time of their wedding, and he too was a lorry driver who spent much of his time on the road away from home. Saraswati moved in with her husband’s family after their marriage, and, to everyone’s delight, within a year and a half she was pregnant and would soon give birth to her first child: a son. By the time this son was 18 months old, Saraswati was a widow.

Saraswati discovered her HIV-positive status when she went to the hospital for her first prenatal visit in the fifth month of her pregnancy and was tested for hiv, although she was not informed that the test was being done until after the fact. the medical personnel urged her husband to also be tested, but he refused. Soon afterward, Saraswati discovered that even before their marriage, her husband had been taking medicines from Majeed’s Fair Pharma clinic in Kerala—medicines that Majeed claimed would cure aids. Armed with that knowledge, Saraswati and her parents conspired to get her husband tested on some other pretense, and it was revealed that he too was HIV-positive. Despite all this, her husband and in-laws accused her of having infected her husband.

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