One of Fleabag‘s many charms is how deftly it nails the mortifying, yet strangely beautiful experience that is being a woman in the world. The credit goes to creator, writer, and star Phoebe Waller-Bridge: the Amazon Prime series is based on her one-woman play about a twentysomething (also named Fleabag) who deals with past trauma through sex, alcohol, and banter. Even the smallest comedic moments—feeling embarrassed about buying extra-large tampons, for example—make you think, “Damn, she gets it.”
The weightier topics, like sexual harassment to grief, are heartbreaking and raw without ever losing sight of the show’s comedic roots. Season two, now streaming, drops one of these scenes right in the middle of episode one. It made stomach drop so much I had pause and take a break before I could finish the episode. (Caution: Spoilers start here.)
It all starts with an awkward family dinner to celebrate the impending marriage of Fleabag’s father to her narcissistic stepmother. Fleabag is surprised when her sister, Claire (Sian Clifford), reveals that she and her toad of a husband have been trying for a baby. At one point in the meal, Claire quietly excuses herself and goes to the bathroom. Fleabag joins a few minutes later—where she discovers Claire has just had a miscarriage.
Claire brushes it off at first, insisting she’s fine and doesn’t need to go to a hospital. When Fleabag tries to enter the stall to help, though, she gets emotional. “No, just get your hands off my miscarriage,” she growls. Then anguish: “It’s mine. It’s mine.”
On any other show or movie, this story might have been treated as a Very Special Episode; on Fleabag, Claire cleans herself up and goes back to the dinner table like nothing happened.
While I have not experienced a miscarriage myself, I can recognize how rare it is to see it portrayed this way in pop culture. If a miscarriage is shown at all, it’s often set to sad acoustic music or otherwise overly dramatized. Not something that happens in five-star restaurant’s bathroom. But the truth is that this happens to so many women, anywhere and at any time. So why is it never shown?
“I feel like there’s so many things in the world that people don’t talk about, and a lot of them are women’s experiences. That’s the sad truth,” Waller-Bridge tells Glamour. “I think when it’s been depicted—from friends of mine who have experienced that—it hasn’t felt particularly real.”
Originally, Waller-Bridge says, she planned to write a new character who experiences a miscarriage into the show. As she went deeper into writing the season, though, she realized this was Claire’s story to tell. “It broke my heart when I was writing it,” she explains. “I think it’s the last thing you’d expect Claire to be up to, trying to get pregnant in the first place. It just showed such a deeper level to that character.”
After she finished writing the scene she wondered why it felt so familiar—and then realized a similar experience had happened to a friend and she had subconsciously put it into the show. “I called her and said, ‘Oh my God, I think I’ve taken a part of your life.’ But she was so thrilled that it would be depicted like that,” Waller-Bridge says. “Because the truth of it happening in the middle of a dinner…it’s a very female instinct to just pull yourself back up. Just get on with it. I thought that said so much about how women operate in the world.”