Doctors said Eva Mitchell wouldn’t be born alive. Her mother, Tiff Mora, was told her second baby girl had a massive hole in her left diaphragm and all Eva’s tiny organs were up in her chest cavity, putting massive pressure on her heart.

Despite the odds, adorable Eva has charged on for eight years, living fiercely with a peg in her stomach and a tube in her nose. Bags are attached to her for 15 hours a day, draining all the natural bile from inside her, otherwise “she’d pop”. She’s fed through her blood system into a main artery. She runs about with a Dora the Explorer backpack – essentially a stomach on the outside of her body – pumping nutrients into her for 20 hours a day.

It’s been a rollercoaster year for the young family – Eva wakes every night crying in pain, needing extra care. She’s looking pale, her energy levels are down and endless eye infections have exhausted her. But Tiff is excitedly expecting her third child, due in five weeks with partner, Jason Mcleod.

Last night, 8-year-old Eva, up late with aching ears and infections in her lines, decided it was time to marry her imaginary friend, Ben. Tiff tells Nicky Park about the sweet ceremony held in their Auckland home.

My little girl got married last night.

12941108.jpg (618×590)She’s only 8, is chronically ill, and her groom, Ben, was imaginary. But it was still the most beautiful wedding I’ve been to.

She had talked about it for days, telling our family and friends, constantly dragging Mela (the most patient older sister ever) off to have wedding “chats”, as she put it.

This imaginary Ben chap has been around a while. He actually seems really nice, and I’ve found it interesting as a reflection of relationships Eva sees around her.

They have only had one argument – he wanted to get married but she didn’t have a dress. A problem easily solved.

When Ben visits Eva, she tells us how she meets him at the door and gives him a kiss, similar to what she sees each day when my partner and her loving step-dad, Jase, gets home. Me and the girls race to the door to see him, an excitement that hasn’t dulled over the past two years.

Ben tells Eva she looks pretty and that her jokes are funny and how beautiful she looks in her bridesmaids dresses. Hearing this has made me appreciate how often I hear these things from Jase, despite being huge in the last few weeks of pregnancy. It’s also made me aware of how much kids take in.

So the wedding was planned, Eva’s (adorably) messy little lists were stuck around the house full of instructions. There had to be flowers and dresses and rings. A celebrant would conduct the service and afterwards a reception with lots of dancing would carry on until 8pm. That’s when Ben had to leave, Eva said, because she would really need to go to bed.

Musician Shelton Woolright, who is like an uncle to Eva, stepped up as celebrant and Jason had the honour of walking her down the aisle to the sounds of songbird Taylor Swift.

Ten-year-old Mela was a reluctant bridesmaid at first, but she soon got swept up in the moment. I was the gushing mother of the bride, ring bearer and photographer.

The wedding was sweet. Eva was dressed in her favourite frock featuring a cat on the front, red shoes and flowers in her hair. Shelton checked (invisible) Ben had arrived at the altar and began reading their vows. They were dutifully repeated back by a little girl with sore tubes and lines coming out of her tiny body.

The moment was captured by all of us, looking at each other briefly, knowing it would be something we would hold in our hearts forever.

It wasn’t until the hours after “the big day” that the post-wedding blues hit me. I tucked Mela and Eva into bed. I administered Eva’s swag of IV meds, plugged in her pumps and gave her soft cheeks a kiss (just beneath the streak of eyeshadow that had been missed in her face-washing efforts) and watched her as she started her quick little sleep breaths.

I curled up in bed and Jase scooped me in for a cuddle. Our little baby in my belly was kicking away as tears ran down my face.

I don’t believe in living your life ruled by fear, but the heartbreaking fear of losing a child is never far away when you have a child like Eva.

She’s been pretty damn sick of late. She has endless problems, and needs drugs drawn up with precise care day and night. I am full of worry about temperatures, pain and faulty lines.

I sobbed because I want to see her grow up and have a real wedding. Making moments and memories is magic, but so painful as I feel a sense of desperation that they may be all I have, much sooner then I want them.

But I also cried because it’s incredible that something so small as a pretend wedding could mean so much to a little person. Our baby girl bride was the happiest she has been in ages on her wedding day, and that was so beautiful.

Follow Eva’s journey on her Facebook pageLittle Miss Eva Mitchell.

Also see: short wedding dresses

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