Birth Control Empowered Me to Build the Career and Family Life That I Wanted—On My Own Terms

I was born in Bogota, Colombia to traditional Latino parents who valued family above all else. But when I met my husband in my early twenties, I was making my way in a highly competitive field—so we delayed starting a one of our own.

My father, instead of asking me constantly when I would give him grandchildren, always told me to travel the world, and to live life fully before settling down. Many Latina mothers would have urged their only daughter to have children early; my mother never pushed me. Her support of every life choice was always without judgment and helped to provide the strength I needed to embrace my ambitions, focus on the issues I cared about in politics and make a difference while pursuing the career I wanted. While both my parents encouraged us to follow our dreams, my mother instilled in us the value of an education, taught us to be self-confident, and stressed in me the power of financial independence.

While my parents provided the emotional support I needed, birth control actually allowed me the opportunity to decide if, when and under what circumstances to get pregnant. I was in my late thirties when I decided to start trying, and I was thankful that I was able to get pregnant very quickly. Soon after the birth of my son, we decided to started trying for our daughter. At 40 years old, I found myself with two small children, a loving husband and partner and a demanding career—and it was exactly where I wanted to be.

Birth control provided me with the ability to live my life on my own terms. Every young person, regardless of who they are or where they live or what their circumstances may be, should have the same choices I had. Unfortunately, for too many young Latinas, that is never an option.

National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice activists at a pro-choice rally outside the Supreme Court. (NARAL)

Coming from traditional Latino families, young women are often encouraged to start families early, and they often lack access to the full range of contraceptive methods available. Teen pregnancy rates for Latina and Black women are still more than twice as high as their white counterparts; in addition, women who make less money and have less education are more than five times as likely to have an unplanned pregnancy. To compound these already existing challenges, more than 19 million women in need of publicly funded contraception lack reasonable access in their county to a public clinic that offers the full range of contraceptive methods. These locations are commonly referred to as contraceptive deserts.

Thanks to my mother’s constant support, and the ability to plan out when I would have my family, I have enjoyed an amazing career bringing awareness to the issues that impact the Latino community I love. But it is without question that my professional life would have been different if my children had come earlier in life. I am thankful that my parents never judged my decision to delay having a family. With their support, I was able to build my professional career and guarantee financial independence for myself and my children. But even moreso, I am thankful for birth control—and the ways it empowered me to determine not just my family matters, but my economic life.

Birth control has only been around for 45 years—and in that short time, women’s contributions to the workforce have been significant, and more and more women have exercised their rightful choice to delay pregnancy and focus on school and career. Imagine where we’ll be in the next 45.

I hope that one day my daughter finds herself, in whatever career path she chooses, surrounded by women and men who love and support her—and understand that ultimately only she should have the power to decide if, when and under what circumstances to get pregnant.

Maria Cardona is principal at the Dewey Square Group. She is a CNN and CNN Español Political Commentator.

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