I’m often asked why I decided to move across the country to work for Planned Parenthood. Ultimately, the reason was simple; it’s personal.
When I was 16, living in rural west Texas, I learned firsthand why it’s so important that women have access to birth control from high-quality health centers. I learned the hard way.
I was in love, with big plans to go to college and see the world, so I decided to head to a local clinic to find out how I could get on birth control. We didn’t have Planned Parenthood in my town.
I remember walking into the center, alone and scared, trying to remain optimistic. I knew that I was being smart and taking care of myself. But after my name was called and I was led into the back room for my “consultation,” the woman who was helping me asked “Aren’t you X and X’s daughter?” followed by an arched eyebrow and a look of judgment. I was stunned.
My first Pap test and vaginal examination was rough and left me in tears because I was made to feel ashamed and uncertain. I never went back, and I didn’t take my birth control consistently. I relied on condoms, and luckily they worked.
Because it was difficult for me to access the health care and contraception I needed as a teenager, I’m working to ensure that all women have the information, education, and care they need to make personal medical decisions, including whether and when to have a child. I didn’t have access to Planned Parenthood when I was younger – but I’m making sure the next generation does.
I know I’m not alone in considering teen pregnancy prevention a major priority. Four in ten Latina teens will experience at least one pregnancy before the age of 20, and are one and a half times more likely than white non-Latina teen moms to have another child while they’re still teenagers.
May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at New York University conducted scientific polling to explore Latinos’ attitudes about teen pregnancy. We found that Latinos see this as a major issue — and believe teen pregnancy is even more important for Latinos than for other groups. Latinos also believe that teen pregnancy prevention should be a shared effort throughout the community, so parents, schools, faith, media, and the government should all help.
I feel the same way. I’m now the proud mother of a beautiful baby girl, and when she gets older, my husband and I will have the talk with her — in fact, there will be many age-appropriate talks over the years. I hope she will also receive comprehensive sex education in school, and that there will be positive role models for her in the community and the media. If she ever decides she wants birth control, I want her to feel empowered to make the decision that is right for her, with all the information and support she needs.
This month, let’s continue the conversation about teen pregnancy and what communities can do to support Latina teens. Join Planned Parenthood and Latina on May 15 at 12 p.m. EDT for a Twitter town hall to address teen pregnancy, using #Latinachat.
Vanessa Gonzalez-Plumhoff is the Director of Latino Leadership and Engagement at Planned Parenthood Federation of America.