By Briana Finneran
Art by Autumn Rain
As far as near-death experiences go, I’m almost a little miffed mine started off so mind-numbingly mundane.
I wasn’t fighting off a horde of men who were twice my size and armed to the teeth as they tried to mug me, using the nifty trick my father taught me involving my thumbs and their eye sockets in a desperate attempt at self-preservation. I wasn’t staring down the barrel of a gun as the result of a hero complex that probably should belong to someone a little bit braver and a whole lot bigger. There was no bear, no shark, or hell, even an oversized house cat I could morph into a tiger during retellings that was trying to eat my face off. Almost dying, it turns out, looked a lot like the start of your average Midol commercial: my lower back was just a little sore, my mood slightly soured by a malaise so many of us experience like clockwork each month, my pants impeccably unscathed despite the blood leaving my body from a land down under. It even had the peppy music in the background to lighten the mood courtesy of the house party I attended the night before. It was incredibly innocuous, par for the course I had started 8 years prior with my first period, and easily shooed away with the normal platitudes: just take something for the pain. Just relax. Just accept the hand you were dealt as the proud owner of a functioning reproductive system.
As a relatively healthy 20-year-old, dying was already the furthest thing from my mind or itinerary; I just wanted a drink or five, some laughs shared with friends, and to go to bed. I wanted to pop both painkillers and the zits that cropped up on my chin and jawline and change my tampon every 6-8 hours for a week before going back to normalcy. I wanted to take my final exams, bring my laundry home to mom, and get fat over the holidays as per tradition. What I got instead was a ruptured ectopic pregnancy—the one-in-a-thousand risk of an IUD placed 3 months prior, gallows humor to carry me through mine and my family’s worst nightmare, and pain that had ratched up to searing and unbearable levels, making just going to bed to sleep it off a pipe dream. For a little extra kick while I was down, I also got a professor who tried to make me come in to take that aforementioned final, telling me she was busy too—her with grading papers, me with having emergency surgery—and a boyfriend who went back to school the day after I was cut open and scooped like a cantaloupe, smiling in the holiday photos taken with the newspaper staff I missed so much like nothing had even happened.
But I was one of the lucky ones, believe it or not. My mother—a nurse with a service record as old as myself—heard my discomfort in my voice in a way only mothers can and insisted I come home when I was perfectly content to just stay in my dorm room and be miserable instead. My gynecologist—always incredibly accessible—answered the phone on the first few rings and laid out the probabilities and courses of action clearly: wait and see if the pain goes away or take a pregnancy test and get to the hospital immediately if anything looking like a positive result popped up. My father—an EMT and EMS instructor entering his 23rd year—dropped everything to partner up with my mother for the first time since their separation, neither allowing me to wallow in the shame I felt as if I had somehow failed both them and myself and advocating for me as I was poked and prodded once we reached the emergency room. And best of all, my doctors—somehow almost all from my alma mater—used scientific facts and best practices to diagnose my ectopic pregnancy, to soothe my hysterical apologies as I cried and vomited when my Fallopian tube burst during my sonogram, and to get me through the surgery that followed with no complications whatsoever, other than the horrendous rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” my family was treated to as I came out of anesthesia. It was far from the white dresses, salad-eating smiles and inexplicable dancing my Midol commercial should have ended with, but at least I was still alive.
Five years later, I’m terrified that many women will no longer be around to say the same.
I’ve watched in disbelief as the science that saved me is now being challenged by people who can’t seem to care less about facts, insisting I could have—and should have—had my non-viable fetus reimplanted in my uterus regardless of the risks to me, an actual, viable human being. I’ve panicked as religion—that thing that’s explicitly supposed to be kept out of my government’s prescribed policies and procedures—instead becomes the basis for legislation that will negatively impact an entire half our nation’s population, forcing pregnancy and childbirth on women who just want a say over what happens within their own bodies and bringing children into a broken system that only seems to care about them until they are born. I’ve marched in Washington D.C., I’ve argued with countless friends and strangers face-to-face and on social media, and I’ve written time and time again in the fight for common decency and respect for my rights, joining forces with the millions of others who are just as incredulous as I am that women are officially becoming second-class citizens once again not 100 years after getting the right to vote, not 75 years after having the government finally decide we should probably be paid just as much as our male counterparts, and not 50 years after we were granted greater control over our own uteruses via Roe v. Wade. I am exhausted, sick and tired of having to convince men who will never fully understand what it is to be a woman that I deserve the rights being stripped from me with what feels like each passing day. It takes everything in me not to lose faith as our pleas to just be treated as humans and not as incubators fall on the ears of those who are so unwilling to listen when we tell them exactly what we want and need, yet are so willing to pretend they still somehow represent our best interests. Most of all, I am done playing nice.
Sharing the uncomfortable and unfortunate truths of what it is like to be a woman in America is a minefield rife with “well, actually”s, willful ignorance even in the face of fact, and threats or even outright attempts on our lives that force us to exist in a constant state of anxiety. Actually being heard after the fact is a seemingly impossible venture we must pursue with the same old bravery and tenacity we have always relied on to survive coupled with the help of the modern technology that amplifies and carries our voices farther than ever before. Finally affecting real change requires us, above all else, to get loud and dirty and demanding. We need to become everything we are told not to be, refusing to let someone’s minor discomfort become our death sentence, and we need to do it before my story of survival becomes the exception rather than the rule.
My experience will never be featured on “I Survived.” I will never make it onto Ellen’s couch and be given the opportunity to tell my story to the masses before somehow magically receiving a brand new Fallopian tube. My story will, in all likelihood, fade into obscurity within a week of sharing it here. But I’ll be damned if I let being mundane prevent me from trying to make a change.
Briana Finneran is a mid-twenties English teacher from Long Island, New York. She has always been passionate when it comes to writing about and sharing her opinions, especially concerning current events and politics. When she isn’t busy arguing with strangers on the internet, she finds her greatest joy in watching and listening to true crime media and deep dives into random Wikipedia articles.