As a young woman in a predominantly conservative country, I had always thought that birth control was an option available only to those with money or who are accepted by society to use, like married women. I’d hear horror stories of friends who go to OB-GYN’s in private hospitals to get proper prescriptions, only to be turned away and lectured not to use birth control because premarital sex is unacceptable. For a country that is supposedly gender-friendly, it can get hard to be a woman.
Enter Likhaan Center for Women’s Health, which aims to give women what we are deprived of in this society—a choice. Founded in 1995 by a group of feminists, political activists, community women leaders, and health workers, the non-government organization has been providing free, accessible birth control to women of any age or economic status, and family planning and reproductive rights education.
Places like Likhaan sound almost too good to be true in our conservative society, and so I had to find out if there really is a place where women can seek help without fear of being turned away.
Likhaan currently has seven branches operating around the Philippines (Manila, Malabon, Navotas, Pasay, Quezon City, San Jose del Monte Bulacan, and Eastern Samar). For this visit, I chose to go to their HQ located in Quezon City.
The cab I took went into a residential subdivision, and I arrived in front of an unassuming white house tucked in a corner. I would have missed it, if not for the small sign on the gate. Upon closer inspection, the sign also had a list of the clinic’s available services tacked underneath it.
A staff member met me with a smile at the gate after I rang the door. She asked what I was here for, I said birth control. Without any further questions, she led me to the lounge area outside of the clinic. I passed by the living room-turned-office area on the way to the clinic at the back of the house. They had a huge whiteboard with a calendar, which was filled with scheduled birth control drives, educational seminars, and many meetings, all written in red ink. Likhaan seemed to work non-stop.
Another patient was being assisted in the clinic when I arrived, so I had to wait for my turn. Meanwhile, women of all ages seemed to come through the doors. They were all greeted with the same smile from the attendants, no matter who they were. Likhaan felt like a place free of judgement where women, especially those affected by our society’s conservative ideals, could truly focus on being given a fair choice about our health and well-being.
I was called in by the nurse on duty after a 20-minute wait. His name was Andre Dela Cruz, and he had been working with Likhaan since 2015. Before that, he worked at a private hospital. Aside from being a professional nurse, he is also an advocate of family planning and sexual and reproductive health. Even after being on-duty for over six hours and entertaining a constant stream of patients, he was very much open to answer any questions had, so I asked him everything a first-timer would want to know.
Will my visit be discreet?
Yes. Consultations and procedures are done one-on-one and behind closed doors. Records of your visit will be kept confidential.
Do I need to be 18 and above to receive contraceptives?
Wala naman tayong age limitation when it comes sa pag-avail ng contraceptives natin as long as gusto ng isang babae na gumamit ng contraceptive method, regardless kung may anak siya o wala. ‘Yun ‘yung ginagawa natin. Nandito lang naman ang Likhaan para mag-offer ng choices. Nasa babae parin kung ano ‘yung gusto niyang gamitin.
Do I need prescriptions?
‘Yung mga clinic namin is manned by trained midwives and trained nurses to provide contraceptive methods. Hindi kami nag-re-require ng prescription. Basta kami, ang ginagawa namin is nag-co-counsel kami kung ano ‘yung gusto niyang gamitin. Right [then and there], pwede namin ‘yun ibigay immediately kung ano ‘yung choice niya.
Are pills considered abortificents?
Kapag nag-ta-take ka ng contraceptive methods, hindi naman iyon nakakalaglag ng baby kasi it’s hormonal. Synthetic hormones pa rin ‘yung content niya. So basically, kung ano ‘yung hormones na meron sa katawan mo, sinu-supply-an lang din natin ng synthetic effect ‘yung hormones na galing sa contraceptive pill. ‘Yung mga maling paniniwala na iyon ay kumakalat nga dahil sa mga fake news, lalo na sa social media, na hindi naman na-ve-verify kung tama ba ‘yung shini-share nila.
Hormonal contraceptives will stop my period. Is this unhealthy?
May mga klase kasi tayo ng birth control na ginagamit na talagang pinipigilan ‘yung mens. So, kahit mag-stop ‘yung mens, it won’t affect naman ‘yung mismong katawan ng babae. Wala namang magiging masama doon. ‘Yun din ‘yung isa sa kino-correct namin na thinking ng kababaihan na kapag babae ka, dapat lagi kang may regla, at sa tingin nila, kapag ‘di nagre-regla ang babae, ay hindi rin lalabas yung dumi sa katawan. ‘Pag may ginagamit kang contraceptive method, hindi siya masama. It varies depende sa type ng katawan ng babae how to adjust. (Additional reference: “There is no known benefit [to stopping your period], but there’s also no known health risk,” says University of Saskatchewan’s director of research in obstetrics and gynecology, Dr. Roger Pierson)
On birth control, what are the available options?
Maintenance: One pill every 24 hours. One pack lasts for one month.
Effectivity: Fully effective after 10 days and stays effective with correct use.
Possible side effects: Weight gain, mood swings, lighter periods, lessened period cramps and PMS symptoms, acne-clearing, sore breasts, nausea, change in sex drive, headaches, dizziness
Maintenance: One injection every three months.
Effectivity: Fully effective after 7 days and stays effective when shot is taken regularly.
Possible side effects: Change in appetite, mood swings, seldom to no periods, sore breasts, nausea, change in sex drive, headaches, dizziness
Maintenance: One matchstick-sized rod implanted in the upper arm.
Effectivity: Fully effective after seven days and stays effective for up to three years.
Possible side effects: Irregular periods, change in appetite, mood swings, sore breasts, nausea, change in sex drive, discoloration or scarring of skin over implant, headaches, dizziness
Copper intrauterine device (IUD)
Maintenance: One small, T-shaped device is inserted into the uterus. This contraceptive is non-hormonal.
Effectivity: Effective immediately and stays effective for up to 10 years.
Possible side effects: Heavy periods, stronger cramping and backaches
Art by Renz Mart Reyes