Ava’s Story- Part 4- The Meaning of Ava’s Tree

Ava had dark, almost black hair, just like her Daddy. My face shape, his eyes and my little chin. She had giant feet like her dad and long fingers like me.  She was born 5 pounds 10 ounces and 17 inches long. She was perfection. After being out of a coma for a day my Mom and Dad brought her to me, in a dark pink sleeper and knit hat. I was not able to hold her, due to the incisions I could not raise my arms. Matt laid beside me on the bed and held her between us. My mother had lovingly bathed her and dressed her for us. I could barely stand to touch her. She was ice cold. I could feel the cold radiating off of her and it made me sick. If my thoughts lingered on it I felt blind rage building inside me, to rip out every tube, scream, tirade, sob, and tear the room apart. This was my only moment with her on this earth, I could not let that happen. So I sat, looking at my girl for a long time. I felt like somehow I already knew her face, like I had just spent the last 3 days of the coma with her. I never asked what gender our baby was. I knew. I knew her already, I knew she was a girl, I knew she was Ava, like a gift somehow I woke up that day knowing her. Matthew had held her and grieved with her for hours the day she died, he had his time with his girl. He sat back and let this be mine. He was so gentle in this moment to me. I thanked God for her and told my parents they could take her. That I could let her go.
My first memory coming out of the coma was the tube running down my throat. I felt like I could not breathe and did not have the strength to struggle against it. I began to cry. The next flash memory is Matthew advocating to the nurse that they must get “that damn tube out of her! Hasn’t she not suffered enough? Look at her! She is crying! She is in distress!” I slept a while, knowing Matt had it, he saw, I was going to be okay. The next memory was a whisper from him “Gumdrop (inside joke) you have to remember to breathe. They will put that damn tube back in, now breathe for me, babe! Breathe!”
Somehow, with all the tubes, all the surgeries, trauma, body violence and violation in his voice I found the fight. Breathe! Breathe for her! Breathe for us!
I spent 3 chaotic days in the ICU. I had 20 inches of incisions across my entire abdomen, one incision for the c section and one for my liver. I had lost 30 pounds (I only gained 10 in my pregnancy, so I was now 20 pounds lighter than pre pregnancy.) I spent four more days on the hospital ward. My first day on the ward (Monday) I announced to my liver specialist that I would be going home on Thursday. He looked at me like I was crazy, I was not. I was going home on Thursday, and I did, after 10 full days in hospital. I had to fight to get out of the hospital for I could not mourn there. Too many people mourning for me there, nurses coming into our room in tears, unexpected and unwelcome “family” who simply choose to be voyeurs to trauma coming by to see the show. I could not grieve her. I held onto her little hat and the photos my Dad took and I simply waited. Let me get home first and I will mourn. She would understand. It was fight or die in that bed, and I wanted to live.
We chose to have Ava cremated so to buy us time. We had no idea when I would be released, or when I would be fit to attend her memorial. Matthew made all the arrangements from my hospital room. From the moment I woke up, I was never alone. Either he or a family member was with me, allowing him to go home, shower and eat. He stayed every night, sleeping on the most horrid cot ever constructed. He was there for every medical procedure. My loyal sweet man. Although I was released from hospital my recovery would be long. I would endure numerous tests and hospital trips in the months to come. The incisions required 3 months worth of daily physio to be able to function fully again. My body was shattered as my heart was when she died; my outsides matching my insides.
I could not bear to put Ava in a cemetery. Something about that felt, wrong. I could not bear the idea of her memory being cold stone, like she was when I saw her. That is not my vibrant, gentle, sweet girl. With the guidance of a dear friend, we chose to have a memorial tree planted in her honor. We chose an Eastern Redbud Tree; it blooms delicate purple flowers up and down its trunk and has little heart shaped leaves. We had her tree placed in our favorite park in our home town, next to a children’s splash pad and near a playground. Her memory would be alive and vibrant with children playing all around. We had an intimate ceremony of immediate family, our midwives and our dearest friends led by the man who married us. Upon our request everyone brought something to place in the hole, as we planted the tree. Each and every single person brought loving and meaningful things that I treasure are with her memory each day. We gathered, we mourned, we laughed and played on the nearby swing sets.
Walking to her tree

Matthew and I

Matthew watering the tree

Ava’s tree is a symbol of hope for us. We sit by it, decorate her tree for Christmas, we gather for picnics with friends. It is a tangible way of including our girl in our life, hope that she is watching and present. Hope that she is proud of the legacy we have shaped for her. Hope that she can hear our sorrow and know she is loved.