Keeping Faith: A nurse on the loss of a baby in Outlander

Written by: Denise Stewart

Episode 207, "Faith," is based on just that – faith. Faith in a couple, faith in the future, faith in a new life, faith in seeing each other again. But at the heart, the very core, is the story of a mother and her child. A mother and the loss of her only baby, Faith. Watching Claire’s heart-wrenching story unfold made me think a lot about how we approach the untimely departure of ones so small – how things were, how much they are the same, and how much they have changed. Why would I connect to a topic so emotionally difficult to stomach?

Let me take a short detour a minute if I may. When I went to college – the first time – I graduated with a degree in elementary education. I never had the opportunity to teach full-time, but I loved teaching. l enjoyed being able to pass on what I had learned to my students and always thought I would return to teaching.

But it wasn’t meant to be. After a detour through the retail world and two kids, I decided I wanted to go to nursing school “to help women have babies.” So, I did it! In my thirties, I headed back to school and became a nurse. When I went to interview for what I thought would be my dream job, life stopped me. Well actually, corporate downsizing did. The position I so badly wanted had become over saturated, and the only place that I was able to go was the NICU. Neonatal Intensive Care? How in the world would I ever be able to do that?

But I followed MY faith and took the position. I was told initially to give it a year. As we celebrate nurses in my profession with National Neonatal Nurses Day (Sept. 15), I am proud to say that I am in my fourteenth year taking care of the smallest of patients. I also have the privilege of caring for their families – their mommies and daddies. One just never knows where one will end up. Faith.

As caregivers, nurses are taught to treat our patients and their physical being first, followed closely by that person’s spirit. Being a NICU nurse, I am also charged with caring for the parents of my small patients. Unfortunately, that sometimes includes comforting moms and dads during a time of loss. I had the privilege of caring for a baby not too long ago. Her name? Faith. Admittedly, I had never been to the funeral of any of my patients in the 11 years prior to my caring for baby Faith. I only took care of her for a short time, but the impact that she and her little spirit had on my soul is everlasting. Her mom and dad were very grateful to all of us. Her brother – her twin –Dalton, has gone on to thrive and be an adorable, inquisitive, happy toddler.

But why did I feel the need to go and pay my respects to Faith, my tiniest of patients?

I’ll never really know; I’m only happy that I did. She and her family will always have a special place in my heart. I only felt it strange that of all the babies I've ever cared for and lost, the one that I did attend the funeral for shared the name of the baby of our dear Claire’s little one. Now I know that I cannot compare the show to life – believe me, I know! I live it everyday. I just find it to be oddly serendipitous that the names would be the same. I had heard when you get a sign like that, that they are called God winks. I like to think that Claire and Faith were a God wink from Melissa and Rick's baby, Faith.

As a person who is responsible for the very life of another’s child, I sympathize first with Monsieur Forez, and then with Mother Hildegarde. Part of the responsibility I hold when I am at work will, at times, include going to high-risk deliveries. We know going into these deliveries that most often we are attending just to err on the side of caution. We may need to do some intervention, we may not. Some babies will take a trip to the NICU; some will be fine and get to stay with mom. For some, we work very hard to get them to take a first breath, and it never happens. This is the saddest of times.
 
Photo courtesy: Candida's Musings

When I attend a delivery like that, our team will begrudgingly walk away with tears in our eyes. How can that be? How can a time of joy and elation be brought to a crashing halt with one phrase? “Time….” With this type of outcome, our team retreats back to the babies we have been successful to resuscitate, and we put more into those little warriors that are fighting so hard to go home with their families.

As I watched Outlander, Mother Hildegarde had to tell Claire that her baby was “morte ne” – born dead. Right then, I cried for the babies from whom I have had to walk away. I cried for the nurses and doctors caring for the mother who have had to tell her that her baby did not survive. Somehow hearing “morte ne” doesn’t sting this English-speaking girl’s ears as much as “born dead.” I am grateful for those who have to care for the mom who never gets to hold her living, breathing baby. And then I think of what I get to do in what, at first, had become my profession but has now evolved into what I believe is my calling.

This brings me back to Claire and Faith and Mother Hildegarde and Fergus.

In our hospital, if a family experiences infant loss, the family is encouraged to spend as much time with their baby as needed. Some families never want to see their baby without life, and that’s OK. That is when her nurse will step in and become the one who is with that baby as she pumps the last beat of her heart. The nurse will sit and hold and rock that baby, knowing that the baby will never be held like that again. It is an emotional time, but it is also very comforting. I wonder if the sister who was at the birth held Faith for any amount of time? I would imagine she did.

But if a family chooses to hold the baby, to stay with their little one until the last breath, then we allow them time and space to do so. A wonderful group of my coworkers, led by nurse Cami, have even been working on taking pictures of the babies and families. When I tell people about this, some get a little creeped out. But then I explain to them that those parents holding their baby for just those short moments is the only time they will hold their baby – that they will not have photos of a first birthday, first day of school, first dance, driver’s license, graduation, wedding... the list can go on. These are the only memories these parents will have of the little one that mom carried in her belly for whatever time she was able to. Sometimes we will have a baby for a few short hours, other times the baby will live for months, fighting. And then when their work is done and the fight is gone, they go to sleep.

Having a baby is a life event. 

Having pictures to remember that event is a way of our life now. I’m happy that I have compassionate people around me who recognize that and are willing to dedicate their time and energy for the families to remember.

It made me think, wouldn’t it have been lovely if an artist could have done a sketch of Faith for Claire and Jamie? Jamie never got to see his little girl. Never got to hold her. He wasn’t there and could not do these things. But Claire was able to hold and rock and sing to her. Play with her hair. Count her fingers and toes. That was a very forward-thinking concept for Mother Hildegarde to allow Claire to see and hold her baby. Even as recent as the mid-20th century, when babies were born stillborn, parents were not able to hold them or even see them. It was believed to be better for the families to put “it” behind them and move on. Viewing, holding, cuddling or even singing to the baby was thought to cause too much additional trauma to the family and was never encouraged.

I am happy that we have adapted this practice to allow families to grieve... to allow them to acknowledge their baby existed. It is so needed for healing.

When they finally show Claire holding Faith, the baby is clean and wrapped in a blanket. Part of my responsibility is to prepare a baby for the next phase. If possible, we will bathe the baby. We will take footprints, cut locks of hair, dress the baby. This is all for the parents to know that WE recognize that their baby did exist. That their baby was a living person with personality – believe me, some of the littlest are the most feisty, while some of them have a gaze that will melt your heart. Both of these traits describe my baby, Faith, who I talked about earlier.

Photo courtesy: Beth Wesson

For the longest time, when one of our littlest ones passed, we would place a garment provided to us by a manufacturer on the baby. They were nice, but they weren’t very personal. I had seen an article about a nurse who would make infant gowns from donated wedding gowns. She would tear apart and reconstruct gowns in which to bury babies who had fallen asleep.

I mentioned to a coworker of mine that, upon retirement, we should do this. She does seamstress work, and I only dabble in sewing. Rose Ann, that very special nurse, took the idea and ran with it. She has assembled a team of volunteers, mostly other nurses from our unit, who will take apart, cut out, sew and embellish these very gowns through an organization called Littlest Angels. Most of our babies are so small when they are born that there are no clothes on the market in their size. These gowns provide something that the parents can have their daughter wear as they take those beautiful pictures.


On some occasions, Rose Ann will provide two gowns for our littlest of angels – one is for the family to have the baby in for the time being and then to take with them as a remembrance; the other is then placed on the baby for burial. The families are forever grateful and cherish those gowns.

I imagine that Mother Hildegarde placed Faith in just a blanket. What else would she have had?

Mother Hildegarde also said that she named the baby so she could be buried in the church cemetery. Going back through history, babies who were stillborn were usually not even named. Those babies were placed in unmarked graves. Those families were told to move forward and forget. By giving the baby a name and giving her a burial, Mother Hildegarde was giving life to Claire’s baby. Claire says that in naming the baby, Faith, that “Mother Hildegarde has a very odd sense of humor.” But I believe she was sending Claire a message. Also she was taking great chances in the eyes of The Church that would not have been allowed. But she had Faith.

Probably the part in this story that is most true to life now is when Claire finally makes her way home. The house is there to greet her and mourn with her. They have all suffered a loss. Just think about the last person you knew who was expecting. How close were you to that person? Did you see her everyday? Did you see her growing belly, knowing that there was a little person in there? Did you wait with anticipation for that little person?

Photo courtesy: Outlander Online

Now imagine never getting to see that precious baby. You would suffer loss as well. That is what is going on with Fergus, who would essentially be Faith’s brother. That is what is happening with Magnus and Suzette, who had been at Claire’s side for all of this time. They mourn for Claire, they mourn for Faith and they mourn for themselves.

Each year in our hospital, we have a memorial service to remember those babies who made it to our unit, but never made it home. You see, we have suffered loss too. We cannot compare it to the family, but we mourn as well. We also have this service as a support for the families. To let them know that we remember their baby.

In my church, our priest always says that we remember our loved ones who have passed so that God can remember. What a beautiful sentiment. I know that this service will never replace the loved one lost, but can help keep the memory alive.

Even though we do not see or hear Jamie and Claire speak much of Faith again, I hope that they do remember her – keep her memory alive.

Lastly, Jamie is able to visit the grave of his stillborn baby girl. He leaves an Apostle Spoon of St. Andrew with her so she has something Scottish with her in this foreign land. Many times I have been to the grave of a loved one and left something small behind as a gift to that person. For me, it is just a way to help me feel like I am not leaving them alone. I’m sure Jamie knows he most likely will never be able to visit her grave again. This is also his way of leaving a piece of him with her, possibly, as a way to protect her. Again, grieving the loss is a modern idea, but who else would be more forward thinking that Jamie and Claire?

So much has changed in our approach in helping families cope with the loss of a little one. I am sure some of the forward thinking sentiment in this story is because it was written in modern times, but we are still reminded of the way things were. I am grateful to be able to provide a source of refuge and peace for families who need it. And I am grateful to Diana Gabaldon for delving into this story and offering a glimpse into this sad, lonely world that too many have to experience.

How did "Faith" affect you emotionally?
Have you ever connected with Outlander, or another show, on a deeply personal level? 


45 comments

  1. This is beautifully, eloquently written. Bless you and the work you do for families during an overwhelmingly stressful and emotional time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Jennifer. The families become so special to each of us.

      Delete
    2. I agree with Jennifer & Holly have written, Denise your writing is lovely & touching. Faith's story was beautifully done by Catriona & all of the OL team.
      It's wonderful that you give families options - being able to hold a child/be with a child during this time is a gift.

      Delete
    3. I agree with Jennifer & Holly have written, Denise your writing is lovely & touching. Faith's story was beautifully done by Catriona & all of the OL team.
      It's wonderful that you give families options - being able to hold a child/be with a child during this time is a gift.

      Delete
    4. Lori, thank you for your kind words.
      I completely agree. Caitriona was especially spectacular in this episode.

      Delete
  2. A lovely piece Denise. It truly helps in understanding this type of traumatic loss, in the real world, as well in Outlander fiction. So touching.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They did a lovely job with it. Cait was perfect.

      Delete
  3. Denise, this is a truly beautiful and important piece. Thanks for the special caring you have done and will do.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We all have our niche, Teddie. Thank you!

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  4. What a heartfelt, poignant piece you wrote! I love how you wove it into Outlander - but you truly have a gift! Thank you for sharing a bit of it with us!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Ugly sobbing happening over here. This really gives a new perspective of how such a tiny life can have a ripple effect on so many. God Bless you Denise for caring for, not only the most beautiful of God's gifts, but their loved ones too. I need to rewatch this episode now. Thank you for this!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Bearshoney, thank you for so much. So much we do not see in our day to day lives.
    Wonderfully acted episode, and quite possibly my favorite.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Denise, you have opened up a whole new understanding for me. It's not that I was oblivious to the heart wrenching pain of parents losing a baby, nor with the loving care given by the care givers, especially those who care for children - but it's one thing to have an intellectual understanding and something else to hear a testimony like yours. Thank you for sharing. You've enriched my life.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Ebony, Thank You! I completely understand where you're coming from. Coming to this profession later, I had no idea the culture that lies behind the NICU doors. It's amazing.

    ReplyDelete
  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thank you for sharing your heart and experience. I understand that there is a great need for seamstresses for this cause. Is this a national effort? Do you know how people can connect and help?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lisa, to the best of my knowledge it is a hospital by hospital thing. I would suggest contacting a local NICU. I'm sure they would love some help. How gracious of you to offer your talents!

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  11. Absolutely profound. We grieved with Jamie and Claire, and, again, with you and Faith's parents just now. Thank you for your caring words. ��✝

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. It was an absolutely beautiful episode

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  12. As a mother of a premature baby, I have nothing but love and respect for the NICU nurses. Many days I would be rocking my baby and they would sit and just be there. It was probably the most difficult time in my life. You don't know if your child will live or die, you are helpless, but the nurses care for your baby when you can't be there. They are amazing. I was able to bring my baby home, now he is six! When I watched Faith I had to shut it off, so many of those feelings I felt came rushing back. Such a powerful episode on so many levels. It would heal Claire and Jamie eventually. My husband and I became very close again during that dark time, and now we look at life differently.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Gretchen, your story touches my heart. I'm glad your little one is doing so well. Being the parents of a preemie is a huge challenge. Happy that you and your husband could look to each other for comfort.

    ReplyDelete
  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I had a baby stillborn at full term 30 years ago. She still is my baby ��

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In sorry for your loss. She's always your baby. Memory Eternal.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  16. As others have already said, this was so beautifully written. It was so touching that I cried through most of it. I am so thankful that these precious little babies, who are stillborn or not able to live for long, are now acknowledged and treated with the love they and their parents so deserve. The holding and dressing and pictures are beloved ways to help make and preserve memories of a child that was real, part of God’s blessed creation and will be a part of that family forever. Thank you, Denise, and all those with your vocation, for the loving way you care for those babies and their families.
    The “Faith” episode was heart wrenching, yet so exceptionally written and portrayed, with Cait giving an amazing and award-worthy performance. It was also sob-worthy, and I did a lot of that! Loved it.
    I lost 3 babies to early miscarriage many years ago, and though I would never have wished for the pregnancies to have gone on to bring about a stillbirth, it has always been difficult for me never having had the chance to hold my babies; but they are no less real to me, and I do acknowledge them as my children who are safe in God’s arms and whom I will see someday when my life is over. God blessed my husband and me with our precious adopted daughter; and I can’t help but wonder sometimes if any of our conceived babies had lived, would we have her? We can’t imagine our lives without her, her husband and the beautiful granddaughter and grandson they have given us. God works in mysterious ways, many times through pain and suffering; and if we have faith in God’s love and mercy, we can accept and welcome joy in new – and sometimes unexpected – ways that God longs to give us.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Nancy, thank you for your kind words.
    I'm sorry for your losses. But I agree that we will reunite with those who have passed.
    You and your daughter were meant to be together. Thank you for sharing your story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Denise. I also believe, and always have, that our daughter was meant to be ours.

      Delete
  18. My sisters and I have all lost babies through miscarriages, mostly in the early stages but the grieving process is very real. My youngest sister finally had my nephew Jarrod after 8 miscarriages. She nearly lost him too as her waters broke at 24 weeks but the doctor (along with God and his angels) kept him going until a caesarean section at 30 weeks. I was there when he was born weighing only 1.5kg and looking like he was made of pink Turkish delight. The NICU nurses were amazing. My sister spent two months with Jarrod until he weighed 2.5kg and was big enough to bring home. He turned 26 this year and is an absolute blessing to my sister and her husband. Without the nurses and doctors he would just have been another statistic, another stillborn baby. When we were all three going through these experiences my mum said to us, you have angels waiting for you in Heaven. I was so angry at the time - I didn't want an angel - I wanted my baby but now it is a comfort. I was blessed in turn with a beautiful son who is a 6ft 4 strapping 20 year now. He was so worth waiting for and a miracle in every way. God bless you and all the other NICU nurses around the world who bring hope and comfort to those who struggle to have our babies.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Woodowl, Thank you for sharing your story with me. So often families have to suffer through the losses of too many. I'm happy you were able to have a wonderful son and your sister as well. I keep all of these stories very close to my heart.

      Delete
  19. i'm a pediatric nurse as well and working with children before and after heart surgery i have had to say goodbye to many of them. i've only been to 2 funerals in 14 years of work but i always go to say goodbye when children have died on the ICU and i'm in the hospital. i want the parents to know that we care and most of thr time we have a strong relationship with 'our' children.
    we always light a candle at our unit to let people know what had happened.
    thank you for this beautifully written post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jennifer, thank you for all that YOU do. Our hospital is not surgical. We send all of our surgical patients to the local Children's Hospital. Families need to know that we care for sure!
      Thank you!

      Delete
  20. As I read and watched Claire lose and grieve for Faith, I relived my own loss and grief... We lost our first born children, twins Ryan and Nadia, at 20.5 weeks due to incompetent cervix. The day I delivered was supposed to be our first ultrasound, the day we would have found out we were having twins. Instead it was the day we met our perfect but much too small babies. Ryan looked like my husband and Nadia looked like me. We got to hold, touch, count toes and fingers, dream of what could have been, wonder what color their eyes were, say hello and goodbye. We have precious hand and footprints, photographs and memories. I think it is so important to say hello before goodbye. At the funeral, they were placed in a sleeping bag that i made for them, as they were so small clothes wouldn't fit. Our family saw them, held them and said goodbye.
    We were blessed with three other children, a daughter and a set of twin girls. We often see Our oldest children in our younger girls and wonder how they would be different or the same. Our oldest children would be 15 years old, sophomores in high school and eagerly anticipating a driver's license. They are members of our family, they are loved and are never forgotten.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Abby, thank you for sharing your Ryan and Nadia with us. I could never say enough or the right words to comfort you. I'm glad you were able to celebrate them and say hello as well.
      Thank you.

      Delete
  21. As I read and watched Claire lose and grieve for Faith, I relived my own loss and grief... We lost our first born children, twins Ryan and Nadia, at 20.5 weeks due to incompetent cervix. The day I delivered was supposed to be our first ultrasound, the day we would have found out we were having twins. Instead it was the day we met our perfect but much too small babies. Ryan looked like my husband and Nadia looked like me. We got to hold, touch, count toes and fingers, dream of what could have been, wonder what color their eyes were, say hello and goodbye. We have precious hand and footprints, photographs and memories. I think it is so important to say hello before goodbye. At the funeral, they were placed in a sleeping bag that i made for them, as they were so small clothes wouldn't fit. Our family saw them, held them and said goodbye.
    We were blessed with three other children, a daughter and a set of twin girls. We often see Our oldest children in our younger girls and wonder how they would be different or the same. Our oldest children would be 15 years old, sophomores in high school and eagerly anticipating a driver's license. They are members of our family, they are loved and are never forgotten.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Not that its the same but I was pregnant w triplets. Lost one at 4 months. When the twins were born, i was happy they were healthy but my heart was heavy morning the baby i lost. I still mourn for the loss of what could have been.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Paula, I'm sorry for the loss of your little one. A loss is a loss. A soul is a soul. I'm happy you were able to have two healthy babies, but I weep for your loss.
      Thank you for sharing.

      Delete
  23. Not that its the same but I was pregnant w triplets. Lost one at 4 months. When the twins were born, i was happy they were healthy but my heart was heavy morning the baby i lost. I still mourn for the loss of what could have been.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Paula, that has to be so difficult. I know when we have twins at work and one passes, sometimes I'll hear "well at least they were twins." I understand that people have the best of intentions, but it doesn't make it easier. You will ALWAYS be the Mother of Triplets!

      Delete
  24. 30 yrs ago I developed HELLP syndrome while on vacation in CA My son was born weighing a little over a pound. He fought like hell but only made it 6 days. The NICU nurses 'gave' me my son. They took pictures, hair, ft & hand prints & took everything off of his 'crib' for us to take home with us. They told us that we could stay with him as long as we wanted and that someone would be in a special area with him all night that he would not be alone(that was a godsend to hear because after all the noise in the NICU I was afraid he would be scared if he was alone) & that we could come back the next day to be with him again. I myself am a nurse & yet I had never seen that kind of love & caring shown before. When I got back to Fl. I was shocked at how newborn demise was treated here. It was as though the staff didn't want to deal with it & therefore expected the parents to feel the same as they did. I found a wonderful group called The Compassionate Friends (it is international)& became co-leaders. Our goal in addition to being there for one another was to educate medical professionals & communities. We gave inservices for med. personnel & lectured regularly at the 4 nursing schools in town. We helped develop a protocol for when there is a miscarriage, stillbirth and neonate death. I tell people that this is the time for the parents & their child, their last time to be with them and make memories to last a lifetime. Sometimes I will be somewhere & have someone come up to me & say I saw you speak & I learned... it is a wonderful feeling to know that I too was able to help "give" someone their child. A day does not go by that I don't think of my beloved son.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. BLESS YOU MOM for being such a wonderful teacher and inspiration to others, especially our younger nurses! Maya Angelou said it best..."when you know better, you do better"
      Amen!
      Thank you for ALL you do for our littlest angels!

      Delete

Back to Top