Ottawa·Point of View

A loss mama's Christmas letter

This will be Emily Nicholas's first Christmas since her daughter, Nora Leigh, was born and died on the same day.

Emily Nicholas's daughter was born and died on the same day

Emily Nicholas's daughter Nora died last March on the day of her birth. Nicholas recently started the Nora Leigh project, to distribute Christmas ornaments in her daughter's memory. 0:42

I am a mother. But I am a different kind of mother. 

I am the mother with the child you can't see. I am the mother with the child you can't hear. I am the mother that you're scared to talk to. Because, you see, my daughter Nora was born, but then she went to heaven. 

Emily Nicholas, just after arriving at the hospital to give birth to her daughter Nora last spring. (Andrew Nicholas)

I carried Nora for 40 weeks and six days. I went in to labour naturally, and had such an empowering delivery. Nora was born and placed on my chest. She was so beautiful, the perfect baby. She met her Lolly and Pop, and most importantly, her dad. And then she passed away on my chest. Why? We will never know.

Emily Nicholas felt it was important to share a photo of her daughter, Nora, who was born and died on March 14, 2018. (Emily Nicholas)

So I leave the hospital that night, the same night she was born. After giving birth hours before, after watching them try to bring my baby back to life for 58 minutes, after holding her for as long as they would let me, I go home. My husband and I go home, without our baby. 

This isn't how this was supposed to go. I was supposed to bring Nora back to her nursery I had meticulously decorated over nine months, our house all ready for our little love's arrival. Instead, I go home with an empty car seat and a gaping hole in my soul, with an obliterated heart, smashed into billions of pieces, and with a mind unable to comprehend why I didn't get to keep her here.

The next few weeks were a literal blur to me. I felt cloudy. I was always crying, tired, torn and worn down to almost nothing. During this fog, we planned her funeral, something we never imagined we would have to do. 

It was a sorority I didn't even know existed, and now I was part of it. I was a loss mama now.- Emily Nicholas

After I surfaced from my fog, I started reading. I found countless blogs of women who had also lost children. It was a sorority I didn't even know existed, and now I was part of it. I was a loss mama now. 

Reading these women's stories inspired me to start writing down my own thoughts and feelings. No one around me understood what I was going through, so this was a way for me to share that. 

Emily Nicholas makes these unicorn ornaments to honour her daughter. (Robyn Miller/CBC)

I felt I had so much love to give. I thought at this point in my life, I would be nurturing, loving, and caring for our Nora.  But I wasn't now, and I needed to figure out what to do with my love. It was oozing out of me and it had no place to go. 

So, I started my Hopeful Hearts Blog and the Nora Leigh Project. It was a place where I could write and share what I was going through. And it was an initiative named after my daughter, with the goal of bringing happiness and raising awareness.

Seven months after Nora Leigh was born, I went back to work. A friend there suggested making ornaments for the Nora Leigh Project.

Nora's Christmas stocking hangs between those of her parents, Andrew and Emily Nicholas. (Robyn Miller/CBC)

Unicorns are the symbol we had originally chosen for Nora. They filled her nursery, and covered most of her outfits. So, we decided to make unicorn ornaments, cutting little disks of birch, painting them, attaching horns, ears and sequin crowns. They were each attached a poem that reads, "Take me home, hang me in your tree, smile and be happy," with #thenoraleighproject.

The idea was to bring a smile to people's faces. We have made over 700 ornaments, and they are spread throughout the Ottawa Valley, in towns closest to our hearts.  

Andrew and Emily Nicholas marked six months since Nora Leigh's death by taking photos with a bouquet of Nora Leigh phlox, a variant of the flower named after her daughter. (SBurritt Photography )

The year of "firsts" after a loss can be quite daunting. Christmas is my last big first before we approach Nora's first birthday. It was important to me to try to make this time joyous, for me to continue to raise awareness and to let Nora see that I am loving her in any way I can. 

I love you, Nora Leigh, with every inch of my soul, and I will continue to spread the love I have for you, throughout the rest of this life. 

Emily Nicholas is a mother, OPP dispatcher and blogger in Perth, Ont.