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Brenda's Journey
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Summer 1997

Brenda's Journey
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The assistant charts Alex's length; a nurse appears and takes over. "I need you to undo everything," she says to Brenda.

Brenda starts to pull off Alexandra's jacket. The infant, startled, makes a little aaaah sound, trying to decide if she wants to cry. Her legs draw up into a ball.

Once the baby is undressed, the nurse carries her over to the scale. Alexandra is awake now, waving her skinny arms purposelessly in the air. The exam over, Brenda dresses Alexandra and carries her into another room.

A few minutes later, Deborah Wafer bounces into the room. The nurse practitioner heads right for the baby and scoops her up. "Hi there!" she says in a loud, cheerful voice.

She turns to Brenda. "She's a beautiful baby. How are you feeling?"

"I feel great," Brenda says. "I've been walking since the third day."

"Did you get the tubal ligation?"

"Yeah."

"It must have been a hard decision."

For the next 20 minutes, Wafer and Brenda talk over many things. Brenda's medications and how she's doing on them. Her sadness over not being able to breastfeed. The hormonal changes she's going through. The baby's vaccination schedule and the tests for HIV Alexandra will have in the coming weeks.

As of this writing, Brenda's baby has tested negative four times. Two more tests will determine her status conclusively; she has an excellent chance of being OK.

Brenda's journey with the virus is just beginning. Because she feels a responsibility to educate other women about the disease, she is participating in a training program for counselors at Women's Link, a nonprofit agency in Culver City that serves women with AIDS.

She is grateful for Wafer and the other AIDS practitioners she's met who've come to occupy such a large presence in her life. "You feel all these people are working for you and other people like you," Brenda says. "To them, it's like a fight, a war. It's not that they feel sorry for you. They feel you have the right to live."

Mona Gable is senior writer of UCLA Magazine.

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