Elizabeth Day: I should have dealt with my grief – not tried to ignore it

When I had my first miscarriage, I spent the weekend in hospital. I bled and I cried and I doubled over in pain. I had been three months pregnant. On Monday, I was back at work.

When I had my second miscarriage, it happened while I was at home. It was also over a weekend, as if my body had chosen to cause minimal fuss. I had been seven weeks pregnant. On Monday, I was back at work.

When I had my third miscarriage, it was during lockdown. I took pills after the sonographer had told us there was no longer a heartbeat. I was two months pregnant. My editor, on this magazine, was compassionate and kind and said I could take time off. I declined. I felt that I needed to work as a necessary distraction, so that I could return to myself. So I carried on working.

It’s only now that I look back and think, yes, perhaps I should have sat with my sadness rather than trying to ignore it. Perhaps I should have acknowledged to myself that this huge thing had occurred, that my body had been battered and that my loss was worth marking. As every woman who has experienced miscarriage will know, it’s a loss that cannot be easily quantified or categorised because it is simultaneously half-birth, half-death.

When I read the news that New Zealand had become the first country to vote in legislation giving mothers and their partners three days of bereavement leave after a miscarriage or stillbirth, I welled up. I hadn’t known until then that this is what I had longed for: statutory leave that I didn’t have to ask for or accept; statutory leave that was offered as a matter of course. Of course, I could have taken a few days off when I miscarried the first time, but I hadn’t told anyone at work that I was pregnant and I didn’t think it was a valid excuse. I didn’t want to have to tell my male boss that I’d had a year of invasive fertility treatments leading up to this point. I was numb. I felt incapable of that conversation.

But how much easier would it be to know there was a legal framework that supported this decision? Because this isn’t just a question of law. It goes far deeper than that. Legislation
such as this helps those of us who have gone through miscarriage or stillbirth to feel as though our grief has a place. It does not need to be hidden. We are allowed to mourn our babies. It also respects the partners who stand by us, who endure a different kind of sadness that has no physical process of expression. It says to them: we see you. You lost something, too. We’re so sorry.

For a long time, miscarriage and infertility have both been shrouded in taboo and a sense of failure. This is changing, partly because people like me will not stop banging on about it. But for every person who reads this and thinks this stigma no longer exists, believe me, it does. Over the past year, I’ve been told variously that miscarriage is ‘a mishap’, that it should be thought of as just ‘a heavy period’, that ‘it’s nature’s way’ and that I should ‘keep these things private’. I don’t doubt the truth of some of this, nor do I doubt the well-meaning intent behind the crass remarks that come about because a person doesn’t know quite what to say, but still wants to say something. But it shows that there is still some way to go until the rest of society can acknowledge the hidden pain that miscarriage often causes those who go through it.

As the New Zealand Green MP Jan Logie said: ‘We have for a long time, through silence and stigma, forced women – primarily women – into just pretending as if it hasn’t happened.’

This bill will go a long way in changing that. I hope we can pass similar legislation here.

This week I’m…


My lockdown brain fog with these omega 3 supplements from Bare Biology.


Gogglebox on 4OD; guaranteed to make me laugh every single time.


With Utan Coconut Tanning Water: spray on your face et voilà. No need to wash your hands afterwards.