William Thavenot

For Florence

Fundraising for Helping Holles Street / NMH Foundation
raised of €1,500 target
In memory of Florence Thavenot
We raise vital funds to support the work of the NMH Holles St


Our beautiful daughter, Florence, was born on Monday 1 February 2021. Sadly, she never got to take a breath or open her eyes.

In week 38 of her pregnancy, after feeling no movement from Florence all morning on Friday 29 January (just a few days after the latest scan), we drove to the National Maternity Hospital, at Holles Street, Dublin, where we were told our baby's heart had stopped. At this stage we had no idea why Florence had died, but returned to Holles Street two days later, on Sunday 31 January, for labour to be induced. Florence was born the following day, just after 6pm in the evening, weighing 6lbs 8oz. She had lovely soft blonde hair, long delicate fingers, slender feet, and a beautiful heart shaped face, with a lovely small nose. We often wonder what colour her eyes were - brown like mine, or blue like Sinead.

As soon as she was born, it was clear why she had died - there was a big knot in the cord and it was also wrapped tight around her little neck, a tragic image I will never forget. For she was otherwise a perfect full-term baby; strong and completely ready to come into the world. She was just incredibly unlucky in getting tangled up in the cord.

We know there are friends and family who would like to give to a suitable charity in memory of Florence, and is thus the instigator for setting up this fundraising page, while also acting as a single means to share some of Florence's story with a wider audience.

Sinead's wonderful colleagues at PwC have already raised a fantastic amount for Feileacain - the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Association of Ireland (the page is on iDonate.ie, search for "In memory of Florence"). We wanted to also set up this page for the National Maternity Hospital Foundation, and raise whatever we can for them, for a variety of reasons. I won't repeat here the information that is available on their website about the range of important things the foundation's funds support, but one thing we know they are seeking to raise funds for is to build a new bereavement suite within the old Victorian building that is the National Maternity Hospital, of which I believe there are currently two.

To us, this is a hugely important cause. You see, the specific bereavement room that we spent the best part of four days in, until we left to take Florence to her funeral on Wednesday 3 February, became the entirety of our world with our daughter. The 36 hours or so that we spent with her in that room after she was born is hugely important to us, in the same way that the first few days are important to any new parent: to bond with their child, to get to know her and to take in the enormity of what has happened, that your lives have changed forever. Even though she died, Florence has still changed ours forever as well. The fact that we had this private ensuite room for the three of us, to close ourselves off from the world - and even from the rest of the hospital around us - was immeasurably valuable time for us, when we knew we had so little time left and would soon have to say goodbye to our daughter forever.

I want to try and put in to words what that time means to us, with a little more personal detail on what happened - as the more people who know the story of her short little existence, the more tangible her life remains, while at the same time hopefully illustrating why the fact the hospital were able to make that room available is so important to us.

On leaving the hospital on the Friday we learnt Florence had died, I distinctly remember driving home thinking I never wanted to be back there again, that it would just be too hard and forever be associated with the saddest, hardest time in our lives. Due to Covid, I hadn't been into the hospital at all, unable to attend any of the scans and doctor appointments with Sinead. My first time going into the hospital was through a side entrance, hot on the heels of a nurse who had come out to Merrion Square to find me, maybe just 20mins after Sinead had gone in on her own, and with a gut-wrenching fear of what this meant, what I was about to be confronted with. In a small room surrounded by various medical machinery, Sinead had to tell me, "She's gone". The wind is entirely taken from you, the mind at once numb to the magnitude of what has happened, of the future you thought was yours, and everything you have ever wanted, gone in an instant.

When driving back to the hospital 48 hours later for labour to be induced, the thoughts were a little less selfish - I think we were both focused on simply getting through what had to be done, my thoughts very much on supporting Sinead to do what was needed. But I confess to having very mixed feelings in that intermediary period between learning Florence had died and her being born. I feared that the baby that we had spent the last nine months thinking about constantly, a growing bump we had adored, and whose arrival we had both been diligently preparing for in our own ways for so long - whether Sinead reading the various baby books cover to cover, or me researching and buying the best car seat and pushchair available, as well as clothes and nappies in every conceivable size - had not just physically died, but had also died in my mind. Where just a few days before, our baby had been alive and literally kicking, now the once-loved bump had become something different, a de-humanised obstacle.

It's terribly sad to write of Florence in that manner and to remember some of the darker thoughts, but at the time, as our first child, we had no other experience to go on. It is something that no one could ever imagine or prepare for beforehand. By cruel fate, you are thrown in at the deep end.

But there was support at hand and thankfully, as a result the mental and emotional reality now is so far removed from that time, with the turnaround beginning upon arriving back at Holles Street. The support as bereaved parents began the moment we walked in the front door. We had been given a small piece of card, purple on one side, with a large celtic scroll, to show to the security at the door. All staff at the hospital know that this symbol means our child has died and to therefore be sensitive to this. 

When we arrived at the maternity ward, a midwife, Ciara, was waiting for us and we were shown to our private room, one of the two designated bereavement rooms. On the door of the room was the same respectful purple celtic scroll. The room itself was a simple and small standard hospital room, but with various little touches by the staff to make it a bit more personal and comfortable. Importantly, it was private, as well as close to the staff room, should we need anything. This room was now ours for as long as we needed it, our refuge. As it was ensuite and all food was brought to us, there was no reason for us to have to face anyone else at such a difficult time. While we had a steady stream of midwives and support staff checking in on us, as well as Sinead's doctor, we otherwise had all the mental space needed to process what was happening.

After Florence was born, we returned to this room with her late on Monday evening, and stayed there until we left, late on the Wednesday morning. Florence stayed next to us in a little moses basket, that had an electric pad underneath to keep her cool. That day and a half we had with Florence is all the time we had to try and make some memories with her, to form a connection with our daughter to last the rest of our lives, that as I've already written, I feared I would not have. When Florence was born, she was placed straight on Sinead's chest, skin-to-skin, as is common practice for all births now - it was incredibly poignant and moving that a mother's instincts immediately kicked in for Sinead when Florence was born, even though she wasn't alive, holding Florence close for some time in the delivery room.

But for me, it wasn't until we were back in our room, where Florence lay next to us in her moses basket, dressed in the babygrow and hat we had brought for her, wrapped in the soft wool blanket I had bought, that I really began to see Florence as our little baby, our daughter. Staring at her through the night, she looked just like she was sleeping - we kept expecting her to suddenly move, to cry out. Every so often, the mind would almost trick you into thinking her chest was rising and falling, so peaceful did she look. That is why the ability to have that time with her, in the private room, was so important and why we want to help the hospital now, in whatever little way, to have another bereavement room available for others who find themselves in our situation.

There were various further ways we were supported by the hospital foundation in that time. The bereavement team at the hospital draw on the resources of the foundation to do many of the things we would have wanted to do, but may not necessarily have had the clarity of thought at the time to think of. For instance, we were given a memory box, containing various items to create tangible memories of our daughter - such as a small box for a lock of her hair and a couple of identical small teddies, one for us and one to stay with Florence. With Brenda from the bereavement team, we took imprints of her hands and feet. She also took some lovely photos of Florence, which were put into a personalised album for us, as well as a frame with her footprints, for which we are now so grateful and we naturally treasure. 

Our final experience with the hospital was with the chaplaincy side. The morning we left, Wednesday 3 February, I carried Florence in my arms, swaddled tightly in her blanket, through the corridors of the hospital to the hospital's beautiful little chapel of rest. One of the chaplaincy team, Helen, had put together a highly personal and thoughtful little service for Florence, which we were fortunate to have our parents attend, including my father who had come over from the UK. This meant so much to all of us, for them to have the opportunity to meet Florence before we buried her.

After the service, we lay Florence in her little wicker casket, said our goodbyes, and drove with Florence to the rather bucolic graveyard in Jordanstown, Co. Meath, where we buried her that day, after some prayers beside the grave, looking out towards the Dublin mountains. She is named in memory of her grandmother, my mother Alex, who died on February 17 2020 - Florence's due date would have been a year and a day after she died. The city of Florence was the last place Sinead and I spent time with my mother before she was diagnosed - a place with very happy and unburdened memories.

It is probably impossible to adequately explain the tumult of emotions that we went through in the days around Florence's birth. We will never know who she could have been, we will never hear the sound of her voice, her laugh, or even of her cry. The sense of loss of our future with Florence, of all the potential and opportunity that her life held, is immense. But what we are grateful for is the time we were given with Florence; it isn't a lot to hold on to, but at least it gives us something.

We want to use this also as a means to thank the amazing team at the hospital, and give something back for all they did for us. The midwife team were amazing in their simple compassion and humanity, in what must be the worst side of their job. As much as anyone could, their understanding of what we were going through, and gentle guidance in navigating what needed to be done, was so important to us not just in getting through it, but coming out of that time with some sense of positivity about it all. Helen and Brenda from the chaplaincy and bereavement sides were equally supportive on the more pastoral side - in all situations, it was a huge relief knowing that there were others doing the thinking for you.

So, if you have managed to get to the end of this and would like to donate any amount, please do - we hope you now have a slightly better understanding of how supporting the National Maternity Hospital Foundation could in turn help anyone going through what we have in the future. We will also be donating a couple of framed Charlie Mackesy prints to go on the walls of the room we were in with Florence, in the hope they provide a bit of emotional succour to others.

Some will know what a long and bumpy six-year road it had been to get pregnant with Florence. That she was so close to making it into this world is something of a miracle - as the plaque on her casket reads, she has given us hope when we had none. I have already written that there was a time, just before Florence was born, when I thought I would never want to set foot in Holles Street again. But having gone through it all now, we both have an incredibly strong affection for the place, for the staff and the time we spent there as a family with Florence. We come out of it hoping that in time we may have the opportunity to be back there again, with a brother or sister to Florence; there is something lovely in the thought that we would be surrounded by people all of whom know Florence's story.

The lovely picture of a rainbow at the top of this page was painted by our niece, Lexi - around the time we were burying Florence here in Ireland, she saw a rainbow near her home in England and decided it must be her - so now, whenever we see a rainbow, we think of Florence.

William & Sinead xxx

p.s. Please do feel free to forward this to anyone who may like to read it.


About the charity

More than 8,000 babies are born at the National Maternity Hospital every year. That’s a new baby every hour, 365 days of the year. The NMH Foundation raises vital funds with a focus on advancing maternal and neonatal health, through funding research, innovation and providing excellence in care.

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