Fleabag held a mirror up to the female experience, and none more so powerfully than with Claire’s miscarriage in season two. As a recent conversation between creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge and author Elizabeth Day proves, it’s a simply a part of everyday life.
There’s a scene in the first episode of season two of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s beloved TV series Fleabag that perfectly sums up the way women experience pain, trauma, and pick themselves back up as if nothing has happened. It comes in the middle of an uncomfortable family dinner to celebrate the upcoming marriage of Fleabag’s father to her passive-aggressive stepmother, when her estranged sister Claire, quietly leaves the table to go to the bathroom.
After a while, Fleabag notices her sister is missing, and heads to the bathroom to find her. “Claire? You’ve been ages. Are you pissed off, or are you doing a poo?” she jokes through the cubicle door, to which her sister asks for a sanitary towel. Only when Fleabag offers her sister a wad of hand towels, assuming she’s started a heavy period, Claire corrects her through tears: “It’s not a period. It’s a fucking miscarriage, okay?” When Fleabag tries to push her way into the cubicle to help her, her sister tells her in no uncertain terms to leave her in peace. “No, just get your hands off my miscarriage,” she snaps. Then, painfully: “It’s mine. It’s mine.”
What comes after is a scene that resonated with scores of women, regardless of whether or not they had experienced a miscarriage. Instead of opting to go to hospital, or expressing a shred of discomfort, Claire decides to rejoin the meal and pretend like nothing has happened. In the meantime, Fleabag claims the miscarriage as her own in a bid to deflect attention from her sister, and endures a barrage of horrendous comments while Claire is given the space to process her pain.
While Fleabag was lauded for depicting an authentic and sadly rare representation of miscarriage, in a recent conversation between journalist and author Elizabeth Day and the creator, writer and star of the show, Phoebe Waller-Bridge on the podcast How to Fail, the friends revealed that the extraordinary scene was inspired by a very personal backstory.
“The reason I felt particularly, personally connected to it,” Day begins, “is because I had a phone call from you a few months before the screening saying, ‘I’m really sorry if I’ve done this, but I think I’ve taken a story of your miscarriage and put it in Fleabag.
“And the story of my miscarriage is that I started miscarrying at three months in a restaurant toilet, although it was over brunch and not over dinner. And I was actually incredibly honoured and so happy that you were taking that and using it and giving it a platform that was necessary.”
“And when I watched that scene, I felt really emotional, in all of the best ways, because that is a story that doesn’t get told enough. And I want to thank you for doing it.”
Waller-Bridge then takes a moment to thank her friend for entrusting her with the story, explaining that she knew it had had a profound impact upon her even though two years passed until she began writing Fleabag.
“It wouldn’t be there if you hadn’t told me that story”, Waller-Bridge tells Day. “It had such an impact on me, because of what you’d done afterwards, which was sit back down. And the fact that you’d gone: ‘I don’t want my miscarriage to inconvenience someone else”.
“Talk about people pleasing” Day interjects.
“That is the purest form of it I’d ever heard”, Waller-Bridge agrees. “It was so female, a story of a miscarriage getting in the way of someone else’s brunch, I absorbed that story on a cellular level and was so moved by the way you told it.”
Waller-Bridge goes on to explain that after she finished writing the scene, she realised that she had subconsciously absorbed her friend’s story - and immediately called Day to explain that she had written her miscarriage into the show.
“When we were writing, I remember thinking about that story and thinking ‘what if it happens?’ And then realising that it had, and it was you,” she recalls. “I was scared that I’d taken something from your life, and calling you and saying ‘it’s totally been inspired by you’. I’ll never forget you just saying ‘Brilliant! Take it, tell the story!’”
Even though it’s understandable that some people are fiercely private about such experiences, Waller-Bridge acknowledges, it was her friend’s “generosity of spirit” and “bravery” in giving the go-ahead for the story to be used in the show which encouraged many women in the UK to speak up about their miscarriages in public spaces, as well as shed a light on the silent suffering that so often defines the female experience.
“So much of season two is about what we don’t see,” she explains. “We watched Claire fight that miscarriage, you see the fight, you see the struggle…[she thinks] ‘this will not take over my evening’, ‘this will not ruin their evening’, ‘this is something I’m going to package and deal with later’.
“That moment she sits down, we know she’s not going to, because then her life will be defined by her and her ‘failure’ and knowing that that was actually where the strength of those characters lay, in their pain that they have, and the energy they put into fighting it.”
Miscarriage, as Fleabag so poignantly illustrates, is not always a medical emergency characterised by a trip to hospital. It does, in fact, occur frequently in public spaces, and when women do miscarry, they often downplay their pain to deal with the practicalities of the situation instead. As a long-overdue movement to end the silence and stigma around miscarriage and pregnancy loss takes hold, so too must we encourage frank conversation around the way women experience pain, and how we can better support them in their journey to recovery. Miscarriage is a part of everyday life, after all, and women’s experiences can’t be shrouded in secrecy any longer.
Image: Amazon Prime