Daniela Echeverry is a 23 year old Colombian woman who recently received permanent birth control. I spoke to her six months after her tubal ligation, and she sounded so happy and healthy, with no regrets about her decision. It was really interesting to hear from someone in a majority Catholic, South American country, where access to reproductive healthcare is really restricted – even though Daniela herself didn’t have too much trouble getting the operation she needed. Of course, I’m not a doctor, so if you’re considering a tubal ligation, or a similar procedure, please seek medical advice. I’m just here to support women embracing their choices, whatever those may be – you go, Daniela!
Daniela: I was really afraid of my own fertility. Because, as soon as I had sex, I knew that my period should arrive. But even though I knew that some people, they have their periods, and then they find out that they’re pregnant when they gave birth. So there were a lot of things that caused me a lot of anxiety. I think this procedure was and is the best thing for my body and my mental health. It’s the best choice I could have.
Zoë: Hey lovelies, welcome back to We are Childfree, a podcast that celebrates our childfree lives and shares our stories. Today I’m speaking to Daniela Echeverry, a 23 year old Colombian woman who was recently sterilised. I spoke to Daniela six months after her tubal ligation, and she sounded so happy and healthy – with no regrets about her decision. It was really interesting to hear from someone in a majority Catholic, South American country, where you might think that access to reproductive healthcare would be more restricted. But actually, it sounds a lot easier than in supposedly progressive countries, like here in Germany. If you haven’t already, please read the story of Monica, who was turned away by multiple German doctors when she requested a tubal ligation. I receive messages daily from many of you who are denied procedures that would benefit your lives, because, in our society, many doctors still believe that womanhood equals motherhood. But bodily autonomy is a human right. And if we can decide to have a child at a young age, then we can also decide not to. Daniela’s story gives me hope that some countries are moving in the right direction at least. If you’re considering a tubal ligation or other sterilisation procedure, please seek medical advice, because I want you to do what’s right for you and your body. I really hope you enjoy my conversation with Daniela.
Daniela: The first moment that I knew was when I was talking to my sister. And I traveled abroad, I went to Argentina, and then back to Colombia. And in Argentina, I met a lot of feminists, in the huge feminist movement that is currently at the country. So I came back with a lot of ideas. And I started talking with my sister. And I think at that moment, I realised, when she told me that I was a “NO MO” – a “no mother” – that actually, I could have the decision of not having children. And that was totally fine by me. So I will say really recent, because it was a little bit before getting the surgery done. So I will say that around two years, three years, maybe,
Zoë: Right, I see. And how old were you when you had the sterilisation procedure?
Daniela: 23. And that was six months ago.
Zoë: OK. I mean, yeah, it’s a young age, I guess, to have an operation like this. Only because, from the messages I received from so many people, it sounds really difficult for many, to have doctors listen to them. And you know, they’re often told, you’re too young, come back when you’ve had kids, or you’re gonna regret it or change your mind. So I’m really interested to hear about how was it with your doctor, when you first put out this idea that you wanted to be sterilised?
Daniela: OK, so the first time, I came back to Colombia, and I checked with my gynecologist, she mentioned that it was possible, and it was totally my choice. But I had to switch doctors. So then my next doctor was a guy. And he was a little bit more, I don’t know, like, let’s put it this way – h e started to ask questions, but at the end, he gave me the procedure. So he says, like, “Are you sure?” And I’m like, “Yes, I’m completely sure”. And he would be like, “But are you completely completely, completely sure?” “Yes, I am”. “But what if you meet Mr. Right?” And I was like, “OK, um, yeah… what?” So it was really weird to receive that question, but I just told him… I don’t know. Like, I just told him at that moment, that I was more afraid of having the surgery done and the surgery not working out, instead of actually meeting someone, and then wanting to have a biological child. So at the end, he gave me his approval. And I’m really impressed that in other countries, it’s really more difficult than here. I think, with what I’ve heard, and what I’ve read. So yeah, it really shocks me.
Zoë: Yeah, I’m also surprised. I mean, here in Germany, I’ve had so many women contact me saying they couldn’t find doctors to do it. It’s a relatively progressive country, but it’s also very conservative. So I feel like because we have, our government is a Christian political group that feeds into many aspects of society. And one of those aspects is, it’s much harder for women to access the operations that they want, like abortion, sterilidation – here in Germany, it’s illegal to have it on a website, if you’re a doctor that you do abortion procedures and sterilisation procedures. So, in Colombia, how easy is it to say access the information about sterilidation? Is it on websites for doctors? Or did you have to kind of do a bit of research?
Daniela: I first found about it by mistake. I read an article in a magazine of young people doing it. But it’s actually everywhere, at least in Bogota – I know in other cities, it’s different. But in Bogota, it’s like there’s an area where you can find a lot of clinics that do abortion procedures. And advertising here is quite direct. And it’s like “We do abortion procedures”. So it’s really big, and it’s in capital letters. And the sterilisations are not so common to find. But if you google them, you totally find them. You’re going to have information but like what you don’t find online is like young people having them. That’s actually a taboo a little bit still.
Zoë: So what about the actual procedure? How complicated was it? Were you scared before you had it? Or was it something that you’ve done a lot of research on and you knew you were ready for it?
Daniela: I actually was really scared to have the first appointment with him, because I didn’t know if I needed to quote the law – because there’s a law that says that people older than 18 can get the sterilisation, and the government pays for it. So it’s basically for free. And I was really afraid that I might need to quote the law so he could hear me out, and I could get his approval. But that was more frightening than actually going to the appointments to have everything checked out before the procedure and also the same day of the surgery was really easy. I couldn’t eat breakfast. So that was like the hardest thing for me because I love constantly eating – it’s my thing. And I went really early, around 7am. And I was with a bunch of people. They don’t only do tubal ligation procedures, they also do vasectomies. So they were around two men, and the rest of us were women – around 30 people.
Zoë: Oh wow.
Daniela: Yes, a lot.
Zoë: Gosh, I’m kind of really surprised at how many women were there. That’s incredible. I mean, why do you think, do you think it is a popular thing for women to really be thinking about, in Colombia? You know, because it sounds like, it’s much more open about, you know, abortion and tubal ligations. It sounds like it’s a much more easily accessed kind of procedures. So I’m really intrigued about the contrast between, you know, say countries like Colombia and say, Germany. It sounds very different.
Daniela: It is a little bit. But, also, Catholicism here is really big. And it’s kind of funny, because people actually prefer to have tubal ligation, instead of maybe having an abortion or an unwanted child. So I think people do have tubal ligations, but after they had at least one child or something. So young women were there, young women without children were there. But also young women with children. So you can find a lot of different people with different living situations. So yeah, I will say that it’s a little bit more open, but it’s still a bit of a taboo.
Zoë: Right. Okay. Yeah, that’s super interesting. So then tell me a little bit about you know, your childhood – so where did you grow up?
Daniela: I grew up in a hot city, because we don’t have seasons. So when it’s summer all the time, you can find more people with superficial thinking. So back there, they will ask you at the age of six, “How many children do you want to have? Do you want to have any children?” So you say yes, because you basically see it everywhere – you see teenage pregnancies, you think that you want children, but you don’t want that question when you’re six years old? So you just reply, “Yes”. And yeah, growing up like that, um, it’s quite complicated.
Zoë: Yeah, I can’t believe anyone is asking a six year old, whether, you know, when they’re going to have kids or whether they want kids. I mean, that is mind boggling.
Daniela: Yeah, it is.
Zoë: I mean, I guess that maybe is coming from that it is, you know, quite religious. So it’s just the thing that you know, women do, there. They’re just, they’re going to want to have children. There’s no question about it. It doesn’t feel like a choice, really.
Daniela: Exactly. But the good thing with the pandemic is that, like the the family concept changed. So now people understand if you don’t want to have any children – this world, the moment we’re living right now – so they’re a little bit more open-minded in that scenario.
Zoë: That’s good, at least. So there’s one silver lining to the pandemic. So then, you know, tell me a little bit about your family. What about your mother? How did she react? I mean, does she know about this decision to be sterilised?
Daniela: Yes, she knows – I told her my decision. And she thought that I was going to get the procedure denied. So she wasn’t taking me so serious, until I asked her to please drive me the day of my surgery. So that’s why she realised that OK, she’s really doing it. But she’s been always supporting with my lifestyle or my ideas. And yes, I’m really glad that my family took it really well. My sister, my dad and my mom.
Zoë: Oh, that’s amazing. So they’re so supportive. That’s great. And, you know, tell me a bit about your mother, you know, how is it for her generation? I mean, how was it for her, as a mother, you know, was she a full time mum, or did she work?
Daniela: So yes, she worked. So basically, my mom and my dad split up for about six years, then got divorced. And then they went back together, around five years ago.
Zoë: Oh, wow.
Daniela: Yes. So she’s always been the hard working mom that provide for the family. So I don’t know, I guess that she been in that role? She knows for sure that, if I’m not choosing to follow her path, then she’s also okay with that.
Zoë: Yeah, so she knows how I guess difficult it can be. And unless you’re fully into the idea of having a child, I just yeah, I think it’s sensible to really think about, what is your life going to be like, when you have a child and maybe, people maybe don’t think about the reality as much as they should. And I can imagine, many mothers kind of look at how their lives, how difficult their lives were and, and they wouldn’t want to push that onto their children. If it’s not something they’re 100% into. So then tell me what was it like growing up in Catholic school, what was that, like?
Daniela: We have the basic sex education possible. It’s like, “OK, this can happen. You can get pregnant when you have sex, but you should try to wait until you’re married. And that’s it. Thanks for coming”. That was some of the classes, other classes were a little bit more serious, with a lot more information. But anyways, it wasn’t that complete. Like I, I think that people nowadays, you can you can learn more of sexual education, watching TV shows and listening to YouTube videos instead of your teachers.
Zoë: Yeah, it seems to be the world over, that sex education in most schools is ridiculously terrible. When I think back to my own sex education, it was probably about like, three classes. And, kind of like yours, you know, maybe it was more this is the reproductive organs, but nothing that really kind of helps you really understand your body and what you’re going through and giving you real practical advice to look after yourself. It’s much more about scaring people.
Daniela: Yeah, exactly. And besides the bad, or the lack of, sexual education, we also grew up a lot with traditional family values. So there were a lot of anti-LGBTQI+ communities and things like that. So it was, I met really good people, but the rest of it wasn’t that fun, actually.
Zoë: Yeah, I imagine gender roles are very set there – kind of, you know, this is what men do, and this is what women do. And it’s probably quite traditional?
Daniela: Exactly. And they are coping a little bit more with gay people, but male gay people. Like lesbians or bisexuals or other type of sexual orientations, they don’t cope that good with them. So, it’s still a bit of a topic.
Zoë: So why do you think that is? Why do you think they are more accepting of gay men than gay women?
Daniela: Because they have more visibility, I think on social media or, yeah, even the soap operas. I think Ugly Betty was originally Columbian. So everybody loves Ugly Betty and everybody loves the gay person that’s there, but you don’t see a lesbian or bisexual there. So you learn to fear them or believe that they are different. Also with transgender people, they’re also like, it’s really, it’s almost impossible to be transgender in Colombia, because they might kill you. And we have a really bad situation with the transgender community.
Zoë: Yeah, that is heartbreaking. I mean, I know how difficult it is for transgender people here in Germany. So I can only imagine what it’s like, for people in places like Colombia. This is the thing, this is why we need representation – we need to see all different types of people out there living their lives. And media needs to help with that, because like you said, if people see it in, you know, a film or TV shows – just having representation just helps tell people, you know, this is this is OK, there’s nothing to be scared about here.
Daniela: Yes, and it’s like, it could be really different ways. It could be social media, or it could be movies, the things that you just mentioned, I think that they’re important, because people are less afraid. And people subconsciously think that it’s something normal, they’re normalising it. So I agree with everything that you just mentioned.
Zoë: So tell me a little bit about, you know, the feminist groups that really kind of helped make the decision more clear for you with getting the tubal ligation. Tell me a little bit, how did you discover those groups?
Daniela: I found them by accident, on magazines, or on Argentinian magazines, too. So they were people like me, maybe younger too. And they were saying why they felt so confident about having the decision of getting sterilised. Usually, a lot of millennials mentioned the environmental situation that we’re facing. And I think that that’s a valid reason too. But I wouldn’t say that that will be my number one valid reason. But yes, I read a lot about those groups and in podcasts, really, what I could find in podcasts was tubal ligation, but in women around 30. I couldn’t find any representation of younger women, or men too, having sterilisations at the age of 18 or so. So that’s what I wanted – we need more representation.
Zoë: Yeah, I mean, I’m really interested to know, then why was it important to you, Daniela to have the surgery, you know, to make this kind of step to say, “This is something… I don’t even want to have a risk of being pregnant, I want to be sterilised. I’m not going to take birth control, I’m going to take this ultimate step”. You know,what was the thinking behind that?
Daniela: So as soon as I can remember, I’ve done different birth control methods as fast as I can. And then listening to a podcast, I discovered that the word tokophobia, that means a fear of pregnancy and childbirth. So that really clicked. So I thought that maybe that is what was going on with me. Because I really didn’t want to risk anything. For me, I think this procedure was and is the best thing for my body and my mental health. I just, yeah, I think that’s the best choice I could have.
Zoë: Yeah, because, I mean, this is why we need women to be able to, you know, have full bodily autonomy because you know how you’re feeling what is right for you in your life. And for a doctor to just say, deny something, because you’re too young in their eyes, or because you might meet someone, it’s really not allowing you to have control over your life. And, like you said, if you are anxious every time, maybe every month – is your period going to come? – just having that that worry and stress about becoming pregnant. I mean, that’s a horrible way to live. So I’m really grateful that you know, some doctors are really, really listening to people and allowing them to take control over their life because you know what’s right for you.
Daniela: Hmmm correct I was really afraid of my own fertility. I actually found out about that recently. Because, as soon as I had sex, I knew that my period should arrive. But even though I knew that some people, they have their periods, and then they find out that they’re pregnant when they gave birth. So there were a lot of things that caused me a lot of anxiety. And yeah, also, I grew up a little bit watching MTV’s 16 And Pregnant, that show came out when I was 14. And I went to Catholic nuns’ school. So that didn’t help either, because sex wasn’t. And so I had so many mixed ideas in the process. So I just, I really believe that my fertility was something unwanted for me. So I just didn’t want to have different birth control methods, if I wasn’t planning to give birth at all. So I was just hoping I was just thinking, like, “Let’s get this over with, and let’s still use condoms. And let’s live my life this way.”
Zoë: Absolutely. I mean, otherwise, you would be on contraceptive pills for 30 years. And it’s chemicals that we put into our body. And I mean, I don’t know how you were, but I was, I was terrible on the pill. It wreaked havoc with my body. And when I finally came off it, it took me about a month to actually feel back to normal. So it made me realise just how horrible some of these chemicals are in our body. I mean, we have to do it. That’s the sad thing. You know, we need to have contraceptives, and for us the pill is, you know, one of the better ways to do it, but pumping hormones and chemicals into our bodies is not fun. No one likes doing that.
Daniela: Yes, I know. And I actually am not as consistent as you, so I couldn’t get on the pill. Because I knew that that wasn’t going to work for me because yeah, like I can’t remember to take the same pills the same exact minute and second. Yeah, no, it wasn’t my birth control method. Yeah, but I tried the IUD instead. And it was awful for me too, because I had painful cramps. And I also had discomfort during sex. So if you see it this way, it was a good birth control method. Because I haven’t had enough desire of having sex. So that’s why if you don’t have sex, you don’t get pregnant. So that’s what – I don’t know, I just really didn’t feel like that was the right method for me.
Zoë: So then it’s been six months. I mean, how do you feel?
Daniela: I’ve been having a little bit of painful cramps, period cramps. But that’s it, they last around one day or so. But I don’t. I don’t feel different. I feel less afraid when I have sex. That’s correct. And I will say that that’s it.
Zoë: That’s amazing.
Daniela: Yeah, nothing has changed basically. I just did something, I stayed over one week, recovering. And I feel that my life has been the same. But I’m less afraid, of getting pregnant and getting in a situation that I can’t control, like having a child.
Zoë: Yes. So then what would you say to someone who would say, you know, “What if you you regret the decision to have the tubal ligation?”
Daniela: I think I would totally regret more having a child and having to look at them every day, instead of never having a child in the first place. So if you had a surgical procedure, then yeah, it’s done. You can’t change that. It’s really expensive. You can try. But I will be happier to cope with that decision instead of being a mom, and actually regretting being the mom.
Zoë: Yeah, and it feels like, there’s another person involved when you have that child isn’t there?
Daniela: Psychologically too.
Zoë: Yeah, you’re right. Absolutely. And I mean, this is the sad thing in society that mothers are just not, they’re not even able to voice any ounce of regret if you know. And, let’s face it, we’re humans, we will face regret no matter what decision we do, there is always the possibility of regret – whether you’re childfree, or whether you have a child. But you know, let’s stop saying that women should be ashamed for feeling regret if they have a kid. It’s just an impossible standard to set for so many women.
Daniela: Exactly. And before going to the procedure in the first place, I actually thought about regret a lot. “Like what if I regret it?” So I read a lot of books, I listened to a lot of podcasts. And one of the books that I read was Regretting Motherhood, by Orna Donath. And, actually, that’s where I got the idea that regretting motherhood was more important for me, instead of regretting a tubal ligation. So I just know that I might be in a position, in an uncomfortable position with a child, but I know for sure that I would just prefer to be in an uncomfortable position with myself if I had a tubal ligation. So I just don’t want any accidental or unplanned pregnancies, even though I still use condoms every time I have sex. And I just feel that that’s the decision that I’m really comfortable with. I just prefer the regret of not being a mother instead of the regret of having a kid.
Zoë: Yeah, that makes that makes complete sense to me, Daniela. Yeah, I think so many people will listen to that, and it will give them strength, if they’ve been maybe worried about this, you know, “will I regret this?” That’s such a powerful way to view it, you know?
Daniela: Yes, yes. There’s always the other option of the coin, like having kids, not having kids. And when it comes to regret, that’s where I stand – I prefer that regret, the regret of not having instead of the regret that having
Zoë: So then tell me what what has, this decision to not have children, what has it meant for your life?
Daniela: It means that if I get to date in the future, I will date differently. It means that right now, I’m really lucky enough to be dating someone that’s already childfree, and I see a long term relationship with this person. And it also means that I have at some point to deal with a lot of uncomfortable questions. But every time I answer a question that is uncomfortable for me, or is something repetitive, I’m reassured of my decision of not having children at all.
Zoë: And what is your dream future? What do you see in 10 years? What would you like your childfree life, what would you like it to be like?
Daniela: I would like to build a community, not only with women, but also with a lot of spiritual people, I would like to have a wellness centre with different types of group therapy. So we can get the community together, and we can slowly make impact on our friends or on the people that we just met. You know, so I have more of a little bit of a spiritual side. I know it might not sound like it but yeah, that’s my interest.
Zoë: I love that. That sounds amazing. So your dream is to yet empower other women, and, yeah, build a community with them. I love that idea. I mean, I think having strong women in your life, it helps so much, just being able to have other other strong role models who are out there living, enjoying, their lives, embracing their lives, it matters so much. I mean, this is why I am just loving the community that is being created with We are Childfree, because every person I speak to is so kind of, you know, strong, and every time I finish having a conversation with them, I just feel so empowered, you know? And it’s just, we need those kinds of connections in our life and, especially childfree people because you know, when your friends start having kids, sadly, it can change relationships. And it’s really important to always have some, you know, strong female representatives in your life, who have your back, who are cheering you on. So I really love that idea, Daniela, that would be amazing.
Daniela: Yeah, thank you. I don’t know, I just think that, um, I don’t like visibility in social media, I am more of a reserved type. But I do know that building a community, it’s more important, and I think that actually telling a story, actually having people that agree with you or disagree with you, and they actually get inspired by your own story, it’s more important than the fear of having exposure in social media.
Zoë: Yeah, I agree. I mean, I’m very grateful for people like you and the other people I’ve interviewed and photographed, that they are sharing their stories, because, you know, having that representation out there in the world, it does empower you, it helps you to see that, “OK, I’m not alone. I see other people doing this, and they’re happy and they’re fulfilled. So there’s no reason why I can’t be”. So it’s just so important for us to have our voices out there.
Daniela: Yeah, exactly. And it’s really good, and it’s really positive that you have this community. and we can find new voices of people all around the world, that think a little bit differently from the other people that we know, that we met. But also, we have some similarities and we don’t even know each other. I think that’s really powerful.
Zoë: So powerful. Yeah, I mean, every woman, or person I talked to, I’m just like, okay, you’re just a badass. I honestly love talking to people, yeah.
Daniela: How cool.
Zoë: So then, you know, if you had any advice to others out there who are listening who maybe are unsure about… maybe they they’re intrigued by having a tubal ligation, but they’re scared thinking about, you know, maybe what it means for their life. You know, what kind of advice would you give to other people who aren’t so sure about their decision? Can you give any advice to them?
Daniela: Oh, yes, always change doctors, if you’re feeling uncomfortable with the one that you have. Don’t settle for small things. Always look for the person that you feel comfortable with. Because at the end of the day, no one can tell you what to do with your own body, even if it’s someone that attended med school.