I remember asking my mom about birth control when I was seventeen. We were in the kitchen and I was helping to set the table--edging out Lil' Sis so that I wouldn't have to clean up after our meal. I was brave and daring. After all, she was chopping our salad ingredients with a ginsu knife likely bought after watching an infomercial. The knife froze. Even a window was open, the room started to feel warm.
No: where do you hear THAT?
No: Virgen Santísima, have you disgraced this familia by going behind the bushes before you're married?
Instead, Mami looked up and said, we'll talk about this when you're eighteen.
I turned eighteen and was off to college. I turned twenty three and I enrolled in a masters program. I moved to Washington, D.C. in pursuit of my professional dream as a correspondent firstly for Al Jazeera English then ABC News.
The conversation never came.
(The only one that approximated the ol' birds and the bees talk came from Papi who warned me that my Colombian boyfriend when I was earning a Ph.D. was after one thing and one thing only--my American citizenship!)
Let's make one thing clear: Mami is a woman of her world--an immigrant from Colombia, one of the most conservative and Catholic countries in Latin America. She met my father at the pristine age of fifteen. At a debutante ball, my mom was chaperoned by none other than my fierce, watchful abuela who literally controlled Mami's dance card. Una mujer brava, she multi-tasked to protected the family's reputation while hunting for worthy suitors who were husband material for her daughter. Papi persisted--for four years--and my mom married at 19 and had my brother at 20. Fifty-two years and three kids later, they're still married.
This background is important because it explains all the cultural and religious hocus pocus that kept any conversation about birth control as under lock and key as her daughters. My mom has always wanted the best for her daughters and under duress and sacrifice, made sure we had everything to succeed in life. Private School? Check. Year abroad? Check. Her idea that we were born in America and spoke, if not the Queen's, Yale English meant we had a leg up in life she didn't have.
We could do and be anyone we wanted to be.
Except have sex before marriage. As her dreams and modern life's influence on us in the U.S. clashed with her values, the silence around birth control became more severe.
Unfortunately, the silence is not exclusive to my family. 99 percent of adult women report using birth control, according to Bedsider.org--an online birth control support network for women 18-29 operated by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Yet in 2014, many young women don't have their facts straight. I believe this is largely attributed to the veil of secrecy around birth control. The results of this misterio? Chew on this fact: over half (59%) of all pregnancies to unmarried 20-29 year old Latinas are unplanned.
Raising awareness about and having access to birth control does not mean promoting promiscuity. Rather, it allows women and their partners to be in the driver's seat of when they're going to have a family. This is revolutionary, not just for young women who can opt to stay in school, pursue a career, launch a business, or pay off loans. It can change a family and a community's destiny--from pregnancy being accidental due to lack of information to being intentional with the ensuing benefits that planning affords. Access to birth control leads to stronger and healthier families and communities.
So how did I learn about birth control? Besides what I read in Cosmo, I learned from the nurse at my masters program. I still don't have children. But I have a BA from Cal, a masters from Stanford, and a Ph.D. from Yale. I've traveled extensively for work and pleasure. I became a national television reporter and now own a business that is creating jobs. My success and having a family is not an either/or situation. But I doubt I could have accomplished what and when I did, if I had had kids before I was ready and before having in place the unwavering support of a husband and a boss.
My mother would never say it but I know she doesn't dispute what's next:
There. I said it. Now I'm going to tweet and post it on my social media and I invite you to do the same.
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post for The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. All opinions and stories are my own.