December was a blur. The first couple weeks were a painful grieving blur that I wouldn’t want to relive again. There were a lot of moments of light and I was functional doing whatever the day called for but there was a cloud that covered me and it felt dark.
It started with the fetal echocardiogram appointment. We woke up and it was pouring, my mom came into town for it, to help us keep track of all the information and despite it being such a serious appointment, I felt optimistic. I was nervous but really felt like all the bad news was behind us and I was ready to just move forward. I had spent the previous two weeks researching AVSD so I had become pretty well versed in the terminology and how the heart worked and how Aria’s really wasn’t. So, I went into this appointment ready to create a game plan for the future.
When we arrived at the appointment, I felt like everything there bothered me. Like all of a sudden, I was this super-sensitive-always-annoyed-person. The ultrasound room was hot, the tech kept making weird faces has she performed the echocardiogram, making me really nervous so much so that my left eye started uncontrollably twitching, oh and they had Christmas music playing and that just over the top pissed me off, like it just wasn’t a Christmas-music-vibe in there and it made me super uncomfortable. So, turns out I might have been a little more nervous than I thought sitting there sweating, giving the tech dirty looks, while my eye twitched to Here Comes Santa Claus.
After about 45 minutes the Doctor came in to do some further ultrasounding of her heart and when he walked in I asked him if everything lined up with the initial diagnosis of AVSD and he responded with “yes, and other nuances”. When I heard that my heart sunk because I knew from all my research that Aria’s heart condition was considered moderate but if you add any additional issues it automatically bumps her up to the severe category. I laid there for 20 minutes having mental anxiety attacks while he rubbed that wand all over my stomach and took his notes. He finally wrapped up and we went to the next room so we could go over everything.
For the next 30 minutes, he drew me pictures of the heart and explained what was wrong with hers all in line with the initial AVSD diagnosis. I kept waiting for the bomb to drop and then he asked if I had any questions. At this point I asked, “Ok so there’s nothing new?” and he was like “no, just the AVSD”. You guys, I almost sucker punched (and other nuances) him but I was so relieved he was spared. He moved up her surgery time frame from 5-6months to 2-3months because of his experience with the condition and not wanting her to go into heart failure before the surgery which some cardiologists do. As scary as it sounds, to have my 2-3 month-old in open heart surgery, the things I read about infant heart failure were just as scary, so even though I wasn’t his biggest fan in that moment, I did agree with that approach.
We left the appointment and I was exhausted after my adrenaline was on such a high for the last hour.
We got home, laid the kids down, and Tomas had to head to work. I felt so tired, and sad, and didn’t want to be by myself, I texted Tomas about an hour later to see if he could cancel his appointments and be home that evening. I only wanted to be with him and the kids, it’s the only thing that made me feel better.
I sat there in the great room with it pouring outside and 10 tabs opened on my computer about infant open-heart surgeries, Down syndrome, and AVSD. I felt overwhelmed and over it and honestly felt like I was being robbed of this Christmas-time with my family, but I also realized I had control over that. I wasn’t going to be able to change the situation or circumstances that had transpired over the last few weeks but I could control what things looked like for me and my family moving forward. I had barely decorated for Christmas since all of this had happened right in the middle of it and that in and of itself was making me depressed. So, in that moment I decided I was going to shelf it all. All diagnosis, all the news we had heard, all feelings of sadness and unknowns, and I was going to go on a little denial vacation for the next two weeks to enjoy Christmas with my family. I was going to live in the moment, show up to all of it, and cast some sunlight on that cloud even if it was manufactured and prefabricated and then after Christmas it could all return and I would deal with it then.
It freaking worked. The kids woke up, Tomas came home, we went to Target to buy Christmas decorations and had a blast! The kids walked around the store with giant marshmallow Santa’s that they ate for dinner and little Christmas beanies we found and I shopped in Target’s Christmas wonderland without a care in the world outside of where the new cute Christmas gnome’s I was buying were going to go, pure-freaking-Christmas-bliss.
We got home, put the kids to bed, and decorated the house and it was so much fun. It finally felt like Christmas! Tomas and I ended the night in the great room with Christmas candles going, decorations all around, and I told him my new plan for these next few weeks. He was on the same page and we laughed and cried and went to sleep with happy Christmasy hearts.
The next couple of weeks were so. much. fun. We packed in the Christmas activities and had a blast with the kids. There were skipped naps, later bed times, and repeated cookie and candy violations in the Czernek household and it was the best! Looking back the denial vacation was the best thing I did (some therapists might disagree 😉 ) because it really allowed me to enjoy everything and show up for my kids and make Christmas as magical as it was for me as a kid.
Christmas morning came and I could barely contain myself! I heard Mia’s door open and I jumped out of bed to go grab her so we could all walk out together and I could see her little face light up. Kai started making some of his little morning noises like hey guys I’m awake in here, whenever someone wants to come get me.
I walked into his room and saw him in his little Christmas PJ’s and the biggest smile on his face, he was sooo happy to see me. Looking at him, pulling him up out of the crib, and holding him I began to tear up. I had forgotten how hard last Christmas was for me and because of all the weird things that had happened court-wise for Kai’s adoption the beginning of December, I had no idea if last Christmas would be our only Christmas with him. I had completely forgotten about all of it until I saw his that morning in his little PJs and it all came flooding back.
I was overwhelmed with gratitude and stood there in his room, with tears streaming down my face as I thanked God over and over for His provision, hugging and kissing my sweet boy with everything in me. It was such a raw, real moment that I had not anticipated but meant everything to me. God was planting seeds of His faithfulness in my heart again and that was just the beginning of it for that day.
I quickly gathered myself so I didn’t fully freak Kai out with my reaction to him that morning and we all came together as we made our way to the living room. Christmas morning was pure bliss as the kids opened presents, family all around, the house a disaster, and pure joy circulating throughout the house.
The kids were all scattered around playing with their toys as all of us adults started to exchange presents. I opened my present from my sister Tara which was clearly a large wrapped picture frame. As I ripped the paper I saw Kai’s name with his adoption date, without even finishing to unwrap it I burst into tears. My family looked at my stunned and then they immediately started crying. It was the star constellation that night of Kai’s adoption with the name we gave him. I couldn’t even fully explain everything I was emotionally experiencing but told them how I just never knew if I was going to see that name or date and how much it meant to me.
The rest of Christmas I lived in a place of being fully present but also my mind was fully consumed with the goodness of God and how much I was thankful to have Kai as my son and everything God had done in that last year regardless of how things looked. I couldn’t shake it, my mind kept returning there, and now I know God was using that day and Kai’s adoption as a foundation of faith for this next season with this baby that we were headed in. He was creating in me a belief of if I did it before I will do it again. And I believed Him and felt that so deeply. I fell asleep with my heart full of gratefulness not wanting any other feelings to return.
The month of December was the month I just kept showing up, to everything. Regardless of what it was and how I was feeling, I just kept showing up. Every Christmas party, every church service, every Christmas festivity we were invited to, every meeting- work and personal, every fitness class, every doctor’s appointment, I never said no, and I never didn’t go, I promised myself and stuck to it, and I’m glad I did.
The last week of the month was a little harder. With all Christmas festivities wrapping up and our normal schedule returning so did a lot of the feelings about everything regarding Aria. It appeared that the denial vacation was over and my emotions were picking up right where they left off. I remember trying to hard every day to change my thought patterns and perspective on the situation and kept failing. This was so unlike me because I can usually talk myself out of everything, find the perspective and move on, to the point where I pride myself on this aspect of my personality. I remember sharing with Tomas that I couldn’t do it, it was working and the cloud that was covering me those first couple weeks of December had returned and with a vengeance.
I started to freak out thinking that this might be my new normal and that that part of my personality that I had relied on so heavily had died, and this made me feel ever worse. How was I going to make it through this next season with the inability to be strong, change my perspective, and see the bright side.
New Years Eve had the same theme. I really struggled because this is usually my favorite time of year. I love setting goals, talking about goals, and dreaming about everything that the year could have in store. I had the hardest time doing this because I felt so stuck in the moment, I couldn’t see past what that day had for me and I just felt like I was in survival mode.
Church was that Sunday and it was the first service of the new year. I can’t remember all the details surrounding the message but I do remember what Andrew said that created a huge shift in my life. He started talking about mourning, and not letting mourning overstay it’s welcome in our life because then it turns into bitterness. It was one line out of everything he shared that morning but it stuck with me. That’s exactly what was happening, mourning had stayed too long and it was beginning to change me.
During worship at the end I prayed for God to take to mourning from me, I was done with it, I wanted to move on to everything He had in store for me that year and mourning anymore was part of it. As I praying, I could feel the cloud lift, and a peace that I had been longing for for months intervened and for the first time in a long time I felt like I could really breathe again. God was moving through me and proving Himself to me and blatantly showing me that relying on characteristics of my personality wasn’t going to get me through this next season, He was.
I walked out of church that day a different person, a freer person. I went home and started getting things ready for Aria, and I was excited. I went through all of Kai’s baby clothes and things and started working on my registry, things I was dreading before. I had so much peace and knew the worse was behind me, sure I would probably have my moments from time to time and there were so guarantees that things were going to be easy but the cloud was gone, and I could do anything with that cloud gone.