[Please note: this article contains major spoilers about the first episode of Fleabag Season Two, which is currently viewable on BBC iPlayer]
“Get your hands off my miscarriage – it’s mine!” The cry of anguish from the toilet cubicle wasn’t even the most shocking one liner from the opening episode of the new Fleabag – creator and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge has already revealed the BBC made her cut a more strongly worded line out.
However, it was a standout moment in a knockout episode. One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage and sometimes you will get no advance warning about when it will happen, where you will be or how you will react – as Waller-Bridge’s razor-sharp writing so powerfully conveyed.
Spoiler alert: in the first episode of season two, Fleabag (Waller-Bridge) leaves the table of what is already the most awkward family meal in history to find her sister Claire (Sian Clifford) miscarrying alone in the fancy restaurant toilet.
After a fierce outburst of emotion from behind the toilet door, Claire suddenly turns pragmatic, choosing to rejoin the meal and, armed with a large glass of white wine, pretend that nothing has happened.
Some on Twitter questioned whether anyone effected would behave like this, but for many women who’ve had a miscarriage – or friends and family who’ve been there as it happened – the episode was as raw and real as they come.
Lizzie, 34, from Essex, suffered a miscarriage in October 2016 during a holiday to Wales and says the scene in Fleabag mirrored her experience more closely than anything she’s seen on screen before.
“For me, it wasn’t some dramatic moment filled with blood or pain and a trip to hospital. It was just a sad realisation in a hotel bathroom and then carrying on with my day, putting on a brave face,” she tells HuffPost UK.
“The miscarriage was confirmed a few days later and ended with surgery, then life just continued.”
Lizzie now has an 18-month daughter and rarely talks about her miscarriage, but says watching Fleabag “reminded me so clearly of the experience”.
“I’m sure a lot of women will identify with that weird feeling of sudden loss and sadness, but also the fact that you just carry on as normal, whether it’s going back to the dining table or doing a tour of Port Merrion in my case.”
There are no firm statistics around how many women miscarry in public spaces because women often choose to keep this information to themselves. But Sophie King, a midwife from baby loss charity Tommy’s, says it’s probably more common than we realise.
“We regularly have phone calls from women who will say they’ve miscarried on the school run, in their child’s nursery or whilst out for a meal,” she says. “We had a woman who went to the theatre in London and went to the toilet and unfortunately miscarried then. Not everybody has the chance of being home when this happens.”
Ruth Bender-Atik, from The Miscarriage Association, says there are additional challenges women face when miscarrying away from home or a hospital.
“I think the first thing women often feel is embarrassment,” she says. “You realise something is up, so you leave the table and rush to the loo. You may not realise at first that you’re miscarrying. It may be that you feel a trickle of blood or just that you’re in a lot of pain.”
And it doesn’t always end there, says Bender-Atik. “When you go to the toilet, you may well pass an obvious, identifiable pregnancy sac or foetus in which case you’re then dealing with asking what do you do with it – which can also happen at home.”
The most common thing for people to do in this situation, she says, is to flush the toilet “because scooping it out at home is one thing, but doing it in a public toilet is another.”
In Fleabag, Claire asks her sister for some sanitary pads but ends up using hand towels to clean herself when they come up stumps.
One 27-year-old from Manchester, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells HuffPost UK that while she found this scene difficult to watch, it reflected her experience of miscarrying in a public place. She has had four miscarriages, the most recent when she was on holiday in Barcelona with her partner.
“I was in an Airbnb when the full miscarriage hit but I had spotting and was bleeding clots on and off through the holiday,” she recalls. “One of my worst memories is trying to explain to a Spanish toilet attendant what I needed from her (pads, lots of pads) and she didn’t understand and wouldn’t hand them over to me even though I was waving 20 euros in front of her.
“Your first thought in a public place is to try and get home and hope that nobody sees."”
“Your first thought in a public place is just to try and get home and hope that nobody sees. It’s scary and painful and you just feel ashamed, as though it’s somehow your fault.”
Bender-Atik is keen to point out that there is no “correct” way to react when you experience a miscarriage, adding: “It’s just a huge range of feelings, depending on who you are, how you feel about the pregnancy, and how you generally deal with difficult circumstances or emergencies.”
King also points out that trying to carry on as normal, almost in a state of denial as Claire’s character seemed to be, is an understandable response. “The natural human reaction is self preservation, and if you’ve had a difficult thing happen to you, especially in a public place, the most common way for the body to act is with denial,” she says.
“It’s part of our self preservation mechanism – if you let yourself fully understand the gravitas of what’s happened to you in that moment, that will make it harder for you to continue what you’re doing.”
She says the charity regularly receives phone calls from women who say the emotional impact of their miscarriage has only hit them months after the event.
“It can be a delayed grief process because women tend to have so much on their plates that it becomes secondary to what they’re doing, whether that’s looking after older children or dealing with a stressful situation at work,” she says.
All four women we spoke to agreed that it’s important for shows like Fleabag to end the silence and stigma around miscarriage by showing realistic depictions.
“It’s hugely important because it’s part of life,” says Bender-Atik.
“I think this kind of scene does something which most dramas don’t. Most dramas will have someone collapsing, grasping her stomach and falling to the floor. And the next scene she’s in hospital and it’s all sparkly white and she’s looking very sad. But none of that is realistic.”