The following story may seem completely unbelievable, but unfortunately every word of it is true. What I’m about to tell you is a complete, full and factual recount of what happened to me, as featured on ABC News Adelaide and in The Guardian. Readers are advised that this story contains descriptions of miscarriage and pregnancy loss, hence some readers might find the following story confronting and may not wish to read on.
This story is not a light-hearted read, it is long and will take some time to digest. This story will shock you and may spark rage in you, you will question whether something like this could really happen in Australia especially if you are a woman, but it is so important that I tell it exactly as it occurred, for it is an example of what is seriously wrong with Australia right now. It is not easy to tell this story and most people who read it will question its authenticity, as it just seems so unbelievable, however all I can simply to say to that is, every word of it is true. In fact shortening the story would only create confusion – as told by the media and the public’s reaction to it over the past week. I have provided a short version below to draw you in until you can get around to reading it. I am not a journalist, so I have nothing to gain by not telling you the truth. I’m telling this story as I refuse to let this be swept under the rug! The public must know how I was treated, so I have chosen to share this story not out of sympathy but as a matter of Public Interest – nevertheless it is a deeply personal and humiliating story so please be respectful when making comments.
Readers are encouraged to follow my journey on Twitter but in short, I am a COVID-19 scientist who was just awarded a full PhD scholarship here in Adelaide. Adelaide is a long way from where I grew up in rural NSW, so at the end of 2020 and due to border closures it had been a year since I had seen my family. With my grandfather in particular being very frail and in his late 90s and my grandmother in her late 80s and with COVID-19, we decided there may never be another chance like it. When the South Australian borders finally opened up to NSW, my partner Mike and I were eager to travel the 15 hours by car (over two days) to visit my family in rural NSW.
The very short of it
On the 01.01.21 I miscarried my first pregnancy. That’s where the trauma should have ended, but it didn’t. On the 01.01.21 I miscarried my first pregnancy AND the entire ordeal was nothing short of inhumane and utterly humiliating.
After attempting to transit through Victoria to South Australia, in which we were not permitted because of inconsistent and non-publicly available advice regarding border closures, we arrived at the South Australian border check point where officers were informed we needed an ambulance due to what we assumed at the time was a miscarriage occurring.
Not a single police officer was interested in offering compassion and assisting him nor me, despite I was hunched over in pain and sobbing by the car. No body offered me a drink, a tissue, or to use the toilet, despite being fully aware of the uncontrollable and deeply personal tragedy I was facing; and shockingly too, there were women at that site.
I was pregnant and then I wasn’t and the circumstances and the way I had to endure the miscarriage was not dignified and the hospital and the police were fully aware that I was in the process of going through a miscarriage.
As per South Australian Quarantine directives, the only mode of transport I was permitted to use was my own two legs and I was not permitted to use public spaces, this includes a public toilet- which I desperately needed.
I could not get a taxi. I could not get a bus; I had no choice but to walk for 20 minutes back to our un-drivable car to the car repair place (read on to find out why) where it had been towed. It was dark. Our un-drivable car was 20 minutes’ walk from the hospital.
Mike was not with me at the hospital at any point, I was forced to endure the miscarriage of the life we created TOGETHER in hospital ALONE he was not permitted to be by my side whilst I was in hospital, he was not permitted to enter the hospital. This means he also was not there when I was discharged.
Mike was with the car and in the car were all of my toiletries and personal belongings. I just wanted to be with Mike, and he was a long walk from me, he left the car at the repair place and walked to me to help me make the long 20 minute journey back to the car. The walk took me 35 minutes because I could barely contain the product of the miscarriage as blood soiled my clothes.
The South Australian State Government and associated departments had a duty of care to transport me safely and humanely, since I was dependent on their direction under quarantine directives. They refused to transport me despite knowing I was enduring a miscarriage and that doctors advised I should not walk.
They humiliated me and forced me to endure a miscarriage in public. This did not need to happen, I could have miscarried and bled in privacy because I knew it was not over, they knew too. I had no choice but to bleed onto the side of the road because I could not even use a public toilet.
The full story
My family, like us, were separated and protected by the countryside where they were hundreds of kilometres away from any hot spots or confirmed COVID-19 transmission. So coming from South Australia with 0 community transmission to a rural area with 0 cases and also 0 transmission; and fearing the next time may be too late, we travelled the 1,360 km and spent Christmas with my grandparents and the rest of family. Unfortunately, we would not be able to visit my other grandparent who lives in Sydney. Strangely, the previous New Year, on what also started on New Year’s Eve, [whilst visiting other family in Sydney] we became separated from my immediate family on the South Coast, by none other than the fires; and so spent the night in a rescue centre in Sussex In-let- with hundreds of other climate refugees. So, we were accustomed to foregoing New Year’s celebrations and acting quickly to any public health directives and in all types of situations.
On the 30th of December following multiple cases exploding all over Sydney (still more than 400 km from the rural town we were staying in) in the late evening, the South Australian government announced hard border restrictions were coming. On the following morning of the 31st of December (to our surprise) the South Australian government gave the directive that all South Australians visiting NSW must return home immediately before midnight or else face mandatory quarantine. The rules had changed very quickly. The previous day the borders were open, the health directive was that all returning travellers from rural NSW into SA would not be required to quarantine but simply to get tested and isolate until they received a negative test. The rules had changed so suddenly that we were not able to follow these unrealistic expectations and cut-off.
Both my partner and I looked at each other as we realised avoiding quarantine was not an option for us. There was no way we would reach the border in time, just absolutely no way. So we both needed to get home in time in order to complete quarantine by the 15th which marked Mike’s return to work; and the commencement of my PhD journey as a COVID-19 scientist. So we packed up our things immediately, said goodbye to my family within the hour, (for what will likely be another year) and we left the area to get as close to the SA border as possible (safely). We were hoping for some sort of leeway in the process, as it would take 2 days of driving to finally reach the SA border.
Additionally, I had not long found out I was pregnant. It was my first pregnancy, and I was dealing with pregnancy symptoms that lead us to stop almost every hour along the way. So again, there was absolutely no way we would ever reach the border by midnight on the 31st of December. Since the journey to SA involves passing through Victoria, we had resolved to the fact that we may have to explain our situation very carefully to allow us to pass through Victoria and onwards to home, where once reaching the SA border we understood we may need to quarantine but hopped as with other states exceptions (even for Victorians) it wouldn’t have to be the case. After spending the night in accommodation in Hay NSW, we set off first for Victoria.
When we arrived at the Victorian border, met by police we were told due to border closures it was not possible to pass through Victoria and that we had to traverse across countryside and take ‘back roads’ through NSW to reach SA. Following that directive, we proceeded to drive the extra 4 hours around Victoria to hopefully reach our destination. Since the police took our details, 2 hours later we received a phone call from the same Victorian police officer that told us we couldn’t pass through Victoria, that the directives had changed and now we can. The officer said that the information they gave us about travelling through Victoria was incorrect and that we should be able to go online and get a permit to pass through, giving us the directive to travel to Mildura and present our permit. So we began to abandon our plans to traverse across NSW, stopping frequently due to my pregnancy symptoms; and head for Mildura after filling out a permit online as directed. However, when we arrived back at the Victorian border we were again told the information we had been given previously was incorrect and again told to traverse across the country side and take the back roads through NSW. So taking a deep breath we proceeded with our initial plans as directed at the first Victorian check point. We were told the back roads should get us to our destination and we set off again.
Not more than 2 hours later following the directions given by the police officers in Mildura we arrived at a turn off to enter a 130km stretch of road in an arid zone known as ‘Renmark/Wentworth Rd’ and to our surprise less than 20km in, was a sign that said ‘unsealed road ahead’. My partner looked at me nervously as our car hit the dirt road- it is not at all designed to go off road. But since it was our only choice, looking at each other, we both shrugged and thought ‘well this is the only way, and it must be safe considering this is the path we were directed to take by the authorities i.e., the Victorian Police. The stretch of road was dangerous, we had to drive slowly, and our car struggled. Outside it was 36 degrees, phone reception was patchy, there was no shade, no trees and we were looking at a vast empty landscape in all directions. We didn’t see another car for over an hour. So if we ran into any problems, a tough potentially dangerous situation lay ahead for us. It truly was a dangerous road. Unfortunately, the unthinkable happened and only 1 km from the check point our tire suddenly popped, and Mike and I got out of the car to investigate. At that very moment I also felt a sharp pain in my abdomen and buckled to my knees, I was losing my first pregnancy right then and there.
In agony and unable to control the process, I bent down on the side of the road… and there as I called to Mike in the hot scorching sun my body started to let ‘it’ go. Not two minutes later, another car crossed our path, so I rushed to make myself decent, temporarily stopping the process with what little I had on hand. Still 2.5 hours from our home in Adelaide, but with advice from the well-seasoned off-road driver, we managed to limp to the border check point and were greeted by SA police. In agony and in tears, as well as in complete shock, I stayed in the car trying to work out what we needed to do next and more importantly what I needed to do next, as I knew I needed urgent medical attention – after all it was my first pregnancy and though it wasn’t very far along I had no idea if what my body was doing was normal or whether I was having a dangerous pregnancy such as ectopic or molar pregnancy. It definitely didn’t feel normal. Since we arrived from NSW our situation required support and direction from the authorities, we were dependant on them for direction if we were to get home and begin our 14-day quarantine. We needed a new tire and I needed urgent medical attention. Both my partner and I assumed the SA police would know what to do and would understand our situation and show compassion. Unfortunately, instead we were met with complete hostility as if we somehow broke the law when we couldn’t control the reality of being unable to meet the impossible border closures and cut-off that occurred 24 hours prior.
So, despite my partner telling the officers our ordeal, explaining that we came from rural NSW and how we couldn’t have made it to the border any sooner, with him finally also telling them I was having a miscarriage. To our surprise, not a single police officer was interested in offering compassion and assisting him nor me-despite I was hunched over in pain and sobbing by the car. We posed little more than a normal risk of transmission and certainly no more than anyone else who had previously crossed the border less than 24 hours before hand that were less than 12 hours from the border when closures begun. None of that mattered, to the SA police we were considered ‘infected’ and nobody would come near us even with safe protocol. We were not even offered a mask and ours were not on hand. Nobody offered me a drink, a tissue, or to use the toilet, despite being fully aware of the uncontrollable and deeply personal tragedy I was facing; and shockingly too, there were women at that site. One female police officer even asked ‘where is she bleeding from’ to which Mike perplexingly explained ‘from her vagina’…
Nobody knew what to do for us or what to do with us we were simply an inconvenience- since we couldn’t simply follow the health directive and drive straight home to quarantine. In fact it was Mike, my partner, who decided the only option for me was to call me an ambulance and as the ambulance arrived whilst I was being wheeled on a stretcher, despite Mike had made them fully aware, a female police officer aggressively demanded I tell her what part of NSW I had come from as Mike was reaching for my hand to say goodbye. Mike was not allowed to come to the hospital with me because a) we were considered ‘high risk’ but only by SA standards, in fact even in Victoria we were considered a normal risk and b) we no longer had a road worthy vehicle for him to travel to me and he was not allowed to use alternative forms of transport, this includes a taxi or other means.
On the way to the hospital in the nearest town, Berri South Australia whilst under the care of the hospital staff I was thankfully treated with dignity, however that soon changed when the hospital had begun the process of discharging me. They too like the police, realised that with no policy in place they had no idea what to do with me or what they were permitted to do. Whilst I was tended to at the hospital, Mike organised a tow truck to take him to the town and to the nearest repair place to arrange for a new tire- though unfortunately given the time of the year and the fact it was a public holiday we would not be able to get a new tire for likely several days.
I am not on anyone’s side and frankly I have little faith in democracy, this may sound like I am slamming COVID-19 policy or that I disagree with it but it is about consistency and this is simply a factual recount of what occurred. I was given a mask as soon as I entered the ambulance, but I was not offered one prior to this. If Mike was a risk as the police or as policy had surmised, well then they also did not ask him to wear a mask and SAPOL (SA Police) did not seem to care that the tow truck driver was also not wearing a mask either. The police told Mike we were permitted to get a hotel for the night but had to remain in the hotel room until the following morning where they expected us to arrange transport back home the following day- in a process that also presumably couldn’t be in breach of the Public Health Act. However, if you stop to think about this for a moment, you quickly realise the idea of not coming into contact with others and putting others at risk is more than the health directive requires and it goes beyond the job of a police officer enforcing a simple directive to return home and quarantine. No, instead it requires compassionate thought, innovation to adapt to the rules (safely) directives from others higher up the chain and most of all common sense- none which were evident amongst any police officer we had come across that day!
The tow truck driver was permitted to transport Mike to either a hotel or to the repair place, but there was no way for me to be transported to Mike – wherever that would end up being. What’s more, the tow truck driver was not expected to quarantine, presumably because the police had surmised we were not a risk to him? So by the time the car was towed to the repair place under the directive of SA law, Mike was forced to wait by the car whilst I lay in a hospital bed on the phone to him- desperately wanting him to be by my side, sobbing uncontrollably over the loss of our first pregnancy- whilst I struggled to comprehend I was no longer a mum to be all whilst my battery threatened to die. Unfortunately, we were refused a hotel because a) we were considered a risk to other hotel guests and any business is allowed to refuse if they feel unsafe b) because we had our dog with us. So Mike chose to make other arrangements where his parents (in their 70’s) came in two cars leaving the other car with us. Initially it was thought [due to circumstances outside their control] that his parents could not make the 3.5-hour journey from their home that night, and neither of us knew whether I’d be staying overnight in hospital or whether I’d be discharged that evening. So at that stage I had not received the update from Mike and did not know we would be going home that night. Really all I wanted to do was be with Mike and grieve the loss of my pregnancy and what to me was a baby – in that moment nothing else mattered to me nor Mike.
Story concludes tomorrow…
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