How realistic is that Call the Midwife Christmas stillborn storyline?

Nurse Valerie Dyer is at the centre of an unusual medical case in the yuletide special

Nurse Valerie Dyer in Call the Midwife

Nurse Valerie Dyer (Jennifer Kirby) gets the shock of her life in the Call the Midwife Christmas special – and while an apparent tragedy becomes a celebration as a “stillborn” baby comes back to life, it leaves this midwife questioning everything she knows.

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In the festive episode we see Valerie rushing to the aid of to a young pregnant woman and guiding her through labour. But as everyone waits to hear the baby’s first wail, Valerie realises something is wrong. The mother and her boyfriend look on horror as the midwife tries desperately to make their baby breathe and kick-start its heart, but it’s no use: the boy is stillborn.

A devastated Valerie puts his body in her leather bag to take her back to Nonnatus House, the bereaved boyfriend pops in water bottle (“it doesn’t seem right, sending our baby out into the cold”), and the nurse goes stumbling through the snow with her bag clutched in front of her. Suddenly, she hears a baby crying.

Opening the bag, she finds this “stillborn” kid very much alive.

Can a stillborn child really come back to life?

The Call the Midwife baby comes back to life

In Call the Midwife, there is speculation that the hot water bottle could have helped kick-start this baby’s breathing: the gesture from her surrogate father, whose instinct was to keep the child warm, was entirely right.

But how realistic is this? Apparently, it can happen.

“We would never do anything that we didn’t have the complete 100% backing of our midwife,” Heidi Thomas explained at a press event in London. “It is based on a true story – and we had a midwife and a paediatrician on set at all times.”

She added: “Most of our stories are sparked by a true story that happened to somebody, somewhere, at some point.

“And then we investigate them with our medical personnel and look at all the corners of it, we build it up from the ground and we film it with absolute veracity.”

It is possible for a baby to be born with very faint signs of life and still survive, but often they will have some level of brain damage. While Thomas does not divulge the exact case that inspired this particular storyline, there have been recorded cases – for example, in 2015 Jacob Tomkin was born stillborn and didn’t start breathing for 22 minutes.

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Call the Midwife will return in 2018