Irene "Rene" Kelly was a young mother who appeared in Series 2, Episode 2. Rene and her baby Thomas' case proves to be the most painful and most influential of Cynthia's career, as no other mother and baby has made her doubt her abilities as a midwife.
Rene's contractions began in the middle of the night, and by morning, she was ready to give birth. After telephoning Nonnatus House, Sister Bernadette sent Nurse Miller over to help Rene give birth. Once there, Rene was shown to be having a difficult time giving birth, with her mother doing her best to calm Rene down by telling her that once her baby is born, she can dress him up in the clothes she's bought for him. Rene gives birth to a screaming little boy, much to her joy. Cynthia wraps the newborn in a blanket his mother made him, and gives him to Rene.
Patrick, Rene's husband, and his entire family, waits outside the birthing room. When Rene's mother comes out with the baby, she tells him it's a boy. Pat slips a silver coin into the baby's blanket "for luck". When Cynthia comes out to take her leave, Patrick and his family try to persuade her to take a shot of whiskey in celebration. Though she initially seems uncomfortable, she takes a small sip.
Later that afternoon, Cynthia stops by for a quick check-up. Rene's mother jokes that the baby is quiet as a mouse and doesn't cause any fuss. When Cynthia arrives into the room, Rene is shown gripping the bars of the crib as she lies in bed. She tells the nurse that she need to hold her baby, and that he was worth the pain. She also says he hasn't cried once. As she says this, Cynthia looks down at the baby, horrified to see that his face is blue.
Quickly, she frantically tries to resuscitate him, and yells to Rene's mother call for the doctor. Cynthia rocks the baby, taking him down on the floor, as Rene gets out of bed (despite her pain). Sadly, it is of no use, and the baby does not come back.
Rene is absolutely devastated, as is Cynthia, who doesn't understand why the baby died. Soon after, Sister Julienne and Dr. Turner arrive, and the doctor pronounces the baby dead. Rene's mother expresses her confusion over why the baby has died, and asks Cynthia how a baby with "so much life" in him could be gone. Dr. Turner says that because it was a sudden, unexplained death, there must be an autopsy. He assures her that everything will be done with "the greatest care". Just then, Pat, Rene's husband arrives back.
Rene begs to hold her baby one last time, and Sister Julienne steps in to ask what the baby's name was. Pat says his name was Thomas. The Sister gives the baby to Rene, and says a blessing for him. When the prayer ends, the Sister takes the body away, and Rene breaks down into tears in her mother's arms. Cynthia looks over to Pat, finding that he is looking at her with a murderous glare.
When Cynthia returns home to Nonnatus, her fellow nurses greet her, having learned what happened. Cynthia begins to cry, saying she couldn't save him and that she tried so hard. Trixie and Jenny assure her that she did all she could, "what any of us would have done".
As the inquiry into Thomas Kelly's death commences, Dr. Turner begins reading through Nurse Miller's notes for the baby, and the police are called to speak with Cynthia. Constable Noakes interviews Cynthia at Nonnatus, asking her if there was anything different about the birth, or if she noticed anything abnormal about the baby. Cynthia says no. He reads in the log book and notes how she "returned very late" back to Nonnatus the night before she delivered the Kelly baby, and that only a few hours later, she was helping Rene Kelly give birth. At Cynthia's confusion, he tries to insinuate that Cynthia was tired and therefore, not at her best. Cynthia refutes this, and says they are used to working long hours.
At his partner's behest, Peter uncomfortably asks Cynthia if she "often drink[s] on duty". Cynthia is clearly gobsmacked and assures them the baby was born by then, and that it was a celebratory drink to "wet the baby's head". She asks if she's being accused of something and says that she did "everything [she] could". Peter doesn't answer directly and only says, "you understand we have to ask these questions?" Cynthia nods, but later tells Jenny and Trixie that "they think it's [her] fault".
The next day, at the clinic, when Cynthia calls a woman up to see her, the woman unconvincingly lies by saying she needs the bathroom and to go on and call up another woman. This same woman had previously expressed that she didn't want to wait any longer because her baby was restless. Cynthia hears the woman mutter to her friends "I ain't risking it. Not with her". Cynthia then hears other women chime in, gossiping about the incident with the Kelly baby, saying they heard Cynthia had been drinking. The women finish by saying "better to be safe than sorry".
The next day, Sister Julienne asks Cynthia to take over a pregnant woman's labour as they are understaffed. Cynthia initially says she is too busy, but, at Sister Julienne's insistence, reluctantly agrees. When Cynthia goes to the woman's home, she is very uncomfortable, but still tries to do her job. However, when the labouring mother mentions that it was one of the Nonnatus nurses who delivered the Kelly baby, Cynthia leaves nearly in tears. She calls Nonnatus for another midwife to help the labouring woman, and though Trixie tries to get her to stay with the woman, Cynthia says she can't.
Cynthia goes missing for the rest of the day, and is eventually found by Jenny, slumped against a wall with her bike laid out in front of her. When Jenny asks what happened, Cynthia says she thought she'd lose another baby. Jenny says that Sister Julienne wouldn't think of sending her to mothers and babies if she had the slightest inkling that Baby Thomas' death was somehow Cynthia's fault. Feeling a little better, Cynthia returns to Nonnatus with Jenny.
A few days later, Mr and Mrs Kelly were informed of why their baby died. Dr. Turner arrives to tell Cynthia, but before she opens the envelope to read the results, Dr. Turner tells her that her "instinct matters greatly" and asks if she truly believes she was blameless. Cynthia once more says that she did everything she could, and should have done, seeming to believe it for the first time in the episode.
Baby Thomas Kelly is revealed to have died of atelectasis, a condition where his lungs never fully expanded. There was no way anyone could have known and Cynthia is blameless.
A few days later, when it is time for Thomas' funeral, Cynthia visits Rene. Rene doesn't appear to harbour any ill feelings towards Cynthia, and the nurse helps Rene fold up some sheets. Rene says that it's like her son was never there in her home, remarking that just because she can't see him, it doesn't make it hurt any less. When she picks up the blanket Thomas died in, she smells it and says it still smells like him. Rene reveals that she's gotten rid of his baby clothes that she was once so eager to dress him in.
Later, when Cynthia speaks with Sister Julienne and Sister Monica Joan, she says that because there is no money for a private funeral for Thomas, and no money for a coffin, baby Thomas will be laid to rest by sharing a coffin with a woman who died the night before. Cynthia wants to find a way for the Kellys to be able to put their son to rest properly. Although Sister Julienne knows of a charitable fund that can help pay for funeral expenses, Cynthia says Mr. Kelly would see it as begging and is far too proud. Sister Monica Joan offers up her taxi money to help the Kelly family. Sister Julienne and Cynthia are very pleased and touched by the Sister's selfless offer.
Thomas' funeral is held in the Kelly's living room, with Cynthia in attendance. The baby is given a pristine white coffin, surrounded by white roses. Rene tucks Thomas' baby blanket in with him, and prays "Keep him warm. Keep him safe. Till the day that I can".
The Kellys are last shown crying at their son's funeral.