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Women in Belize Tell Their Stories
Over the course of a month in San Ignacio, Belize, I spoke with women about their experiences in their relationships and in their communities with regard to family planning. These women, whose ages ranged from 24 to 50, were open and generous when sharing their stories. We talked about a variety of things, like where they learned about sex and their experiences with pregnancy. Although their lives were different, there were similarities in every woman’s story.
When I asked Crystal, who was 24 years old, where she turned for information about sexual and reproductive health, she sighed and said, “Google.” Crystal didn’t have any children, but shared with me that she’d seen a lot of her friends panic when they learned they were pregnant.
“I think most for people, it’s more of a scary situation, rather than a joyful one,” she said. “They wonder what they’re going to do, and if the father is going to sustain the child.”
A Creole woman named Irene agreed. She’d become pregnant unexpectedly at 22 years old. “I really wasn’t making any decision,” Irene said, but took action after giving birth. She spoke to her sister, and then to a doctor. She started taking birth control pills to prevent another unplanned pregnancy.
“Being a single parent, I had to do something,” said Irene. “I thought it would be better not to have a lot of kids.”
When Teresa got pregnant at 19, she was pressured by her religious family to married the child’s father. Although she wanted to use contraceptives, her husband refused, saying family planning teaches women to make decisions that are the right of men. Teresa eventually left him and chose surgical sterilization.
Adela’s husband was also opposed to her using contraception. “My husband said I didn't have the right to plan anything. He said if I had any time to plan, it was because I was having an affair. Two of my daughters were born in the same year. I was very unhappy.”
Maggie also became a mother as a teen, but when we spoke she was almost 50. Maggie didn’t learn about contraception until after she’d had eight unplanned pregnancies. She told me she wished she’d known how to prevent pregnancy earlier because being a single mother was hard. Maggie’s difficult experiences encouraged her to talk openly with her children about sex.
“My mom wasn’t the sort of person to teach us about birth control, and she wanted to choose a boyfriend for me who I didn’t like,” said Maggie. “I always advise my children, ‘Don’t have a lot of kids, and use birth control.’ My second daughter is 20 and doesn’t even have a boyfriend. But it’s her choice not to have a boyfriend. I don’t stop her. I just tell her to be wise.”
All of the women I spoke with wanted a better future for their children. They believed strongly that their children—especially their daughters—should have access to sexual and reproductive health and services, and the right to choose loving partners. Most of all, they hoped that the next generation of women could avoid the obstacles they had faced in their own lives.
The names have been changed to protect the privacy of these women.
Charis Davidson is a doctoral student in the department of Health Promotion, Education, and Behavior at the University of South Carolina. She is passionate about gender equality, sexual health, and using qualitative research methods to help people tell their stories.