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Trigger warning: This article discusses miscarriage.
I was working when my first miscarriage started. It’s so surreal to think about now − I’d been asked to help organise a big benefit concert and in between checking in with stage managers and coordinating musicians I ran to the bathroom, and was stopped dead by a spot of red on toilet paper.
This must be how so many miscarriages begin − with that flash of scarlet in the peripheral vision. Before fertility apps this was how all my periods announced themselves, with an accompanying penny-drop as the mood swings, teariness and sugar inhalations of the past few days fell into place. But this time the shock of that angry colour split me from my body. “It’s just spotting,” I told myself, pulling myself together. I went back to work, and after the performances were done I was called on stage to accept a huge bunch of flowers. While the audience cheered I smiled and waved, the other hand clutching at my cramping stomach.
At the time a flatmate and I weren’t getting along very well. A week before the miscarriage she’d witnessed me telling a friend I was pregnant. “You’re only seven weeks along,” she said, “You probably shouldn’t tell too many people.” But I told everyone − friends, friends of friends, the bouncer at San Fran one night as an excuse for leaving early. One day I was interviewing Anika Moa and she told me something she hadn’t wanted on the record. “Tell me something secret about you,” she said jokingly reaching for blackmail ammunition. “I’m pregnant,” I blurted.
After the miscarriage I was mortified. Having to un-tell people about your pregnancy is a shit show. Trying to remember who you told, inevitably forgetting to un-tell a few people and facing the horribly awkward “How far along are you now?” at the vege market. Mostly I felt an inexplicable sense of shame which logic refused to budge. Like I was a failed woman. That I couldn’t even do this thing that so many other women did by accident.
In the end, telling people I was pregnant before I was “supposed to” was a gift, because after I miscarried all of those people showed up to support us through our grief. On top of that, once you’ve experienced “losing” a pregnancy (a really messed up term when you’re actually going through this, might I add), you realise how many people around you have also been through it. It’s estimated that about one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. Ask your mother, sister, grandmother − one of them probably has. But it’s barely ever spoken about, and so the grief of those who one day were on their way to being parents and the next day, inexplicably, are not, is barely registered.
A few years ago a members’ bill by Labour MP Ginny Andersen was drawn that could see couples who suffer a miscarriage become eligible for up to three days paid bereavement leave − something that is currently decided on a case by case basis by employers. In July this year the bill passed its second reading in Parliament.
News stories have detailed accounts from people who were denied this time off, and I’ve realised in retrospect how lucky I was to have an understanding employer at the time. I was working as a journalist for Capital Times (the local paper that came before this publication) and my boss excused me without hesitation.
My then-boyfriend and I jumped into the car and drove to his family bach in Te Horo. It was the middle of summer and the house was like a sauna. We stripped naked and spent the next couple of days in that state, crying, cuddling, eating, laughing and crying again. When we returned to Wellington we were still utterly heartbroken, but the healing had begun. I still think about those hazy, hot days. They were sad, and beautiful, and so important.
In all of the news stories I’ve read about Ginny Andersen’s bill, one quote jumped out at me. I can’t remember who used it but it’s originally from author Cheryl Richardson: “People start to heal the moment they feel heard.” Having a law in place that ensures all parents who suffer this loss can take a few days off sends a very clear message that their pain is legitimate, that they are not alone and that it’s OK to take time to heal.