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I was born in the beautiful pueblo of Cuitzeo, Michoacán, Mexico. My parents brought me to Chicago at the age of 7 months and raised me where I live now, in the Pilsen neighborhood. I attended my neighborhood schools — Cooper Dual Language Academy, Jose Clemente Orozco — graduated from Benito Juarez High School, and obtained my RN license in 2012.
I believe it was faith that brought me to the work I do today.
I remember at the age of 18 going to visit my cousin who had her first baby and was breastfeeding. She had a doula for her birth, who was present during my visit. Her doula invited me to a birth doula training. I decided to participate in this training and was mesmerized by the birthing process.
Shortly afterwards, I was part of a support group for women trying to obtain their certification as doulas, as well as supporting other women prenatally, during birth and the postpartum period. It was called Chicago Birth Weavers, led by Gladys Arana. We met every Sunday morning to discuss topics that impacted our community and to work towards our certification process. Through the Chicago Birth Weavers, I met my wonderful doulas, Sandra Morales, Mirna and Gladys. I also had the honor of working with families, providing childbirth classes and doula support. I remember the first birth I ever witnessed and what a miracle it was.
Early on, I witnessed how women were treated during birth and experienced it first-hand myself. I also realized how lucky I was to have doulas during my first pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding experiences.
Through that same group, I was invited to participate in the Breastfeeding Peer Counselor training by HealthConnect One, since I was successfully breastfeeding my son. I was nervous and excited to meet other women who believed in breastfeeding as a healthy start for our communities. The trainers were welcoming and nurturing. It was not your traditional classroom instruction at all. The facilitators made us feel at home and really cared about what we had to say.
A few months after I completed training in the summer of 2000, Wandy Hernandez contacted me about working as a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor at Cook County Hospital, now Stroger Hospital, and I was encouraged by Bertha Condes to apply for HealthConnect One’s part-time Peer Counselor Coordinator position. I was hired in March 2001 as the Peer Counselor Coordinator, which soon became a full-time position. I had the honor of training women as Peer Counselors from 2001-2009 and working with different organizations to implement our community-based peer counselor program.
Working with Breastfeeding Peer Counselors and the communities they serve has taught me what books and a lectures cannot. It is these experiences I treasure so dearly, so close to my heart. Working on the messenger and messaging project for umbilical cord blood donation, and for the Communities Putting Prevention to Work and Healthy Places projects, continue to validate the experience of barriers in our current healthcare policies, systems, environment and the lack of community engagement that our Breastfeeding Peer Counselors have continuously shared over the years.
It is a privilege when communities allow me, again and again, to engage them, listen to their experiences and affirm them. It is amazing to witness the impact of Community-Based Doulas and Breastfeeding Peer Counselors and the success of our families, given the current institutional barriers they face. I look forward to continuing our social justice journey alongside Community-Based Doulas, Breastfeeding Peer Counselors, families, partners, and allies in Birth, Breastfeeding and Early Parenting.
~ Brenda Reyes, HealthConnect One Program Manager
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