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Brain Surgery and Miscarriage Brought Chaos. What We Did Next Saved Our Family

Photograph by Twenty20

My husband, Justin, and I were both born and raised in southeastern Pennsylvania. Both of our daughters were born in the same local hospital where I came into the world. Which is to say, where we were raising our family, we had roots, deep roots.

Sometimes, we felt those roots were strangling us.

Justin and I had both been looking for a change, but the fall of 2014 kind of sealed the deal for us. That November, at not quite 11 months old, Aubree, our youngest daughter, gave us the scare of our lives. She had been sitting on my brother-in-law's lap at my in-law's house, when she jumped out of his arms and fell fewer than eight inches into the coffee table. She cried right away, then calmed down. She didn't develop a bump or bruise and was back to normal and within an hour. A few hours later, we laid her down for bed for a sleepover that she and her older sister, Zoe, were having at their Yai Yai's house.

About 30 minutes later, she woke up, vomiting and disoriented.

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We came right after my sister-in-law called and rushed her to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. It was one of the scariest car rides of our lives, a never-ending one that, in reality, was only 20 minutes. By the time we arrived, she was limp and non-responsive. Doctors quickly did some tests, including a CT Scan, and we learned she had an internal bleed in the membrane between her skull and brain. The blood was applying pressure and needed to be relieved immediately. They told us she was about 90 minutes from death and had no idea what damage might be after the surgery—if she survived.

I was also about 9 weeks pregnant at the time.

Doctors called the head neurosurgeon of Penn Medicine away from a dinner, had my husband and me sign a few waivers and began operating. Justin and I were scared beyond words, and his dad and brother sat with us alone in the waiting area with my brother on the phone. Within a few hours, Aubree was out of surgery. But we had no idea what damage may have been caused to her vision and her brain. Long story short, she recovered amazingly well, but it took time. Her left eye was swollen shut, her head was also extremely swollen, and she had 22 staples from just above her ear, up the side of her head, all the way to the top of her skull.

While all this was going on, I started to miscarry in the hospital bathroom in Aubree's room.

We needed a change and some distance between us and all the pain.

While we were thrilled with the surgical team and the ICU staff, once our daughter was brought on to the standard floor, it was a very different experience. Nurses rushed me out of the bathroom to go to more testing, even while knowing I was on alert for a possible miscarriage with my own doctors. I had to, literally, run out of the bathroom and flush the toilet in the middle of my miscarriage, because they were rushing me to more testing for my daughter. This was the hardest week of my life.

I also have struggled most of my adult life with mental illness. I have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, panic disorder, agoraphobia, social anxiety, separation anxiety and intrusive thoughts. I have a family history of all of the above.

Most of our family did visit once or twice during the hospital stay, and my mother-in-law was there every day. Once we were all home, we were really lacking emotional family support, aside from my mother-in-law. We were coping with the miscarriage and still processing the near-death experience and recovery of our daughter. This all did me in. I couldn't leave the house. I struggled to do normal daily activities, like cleaning and showering.

And I had frequent suicidal thoughts.

My husband and I were fighting, and he lost his job due to missed time from all the family issues. We were facing eviction. We needed a change and some distance between us and all the pain.

But not a day goes by that we don't miss the simplicity and the joy and peace we found on the West Coast.

It was late February, still winter. Even so, we packed up our 4-door sedan, the necessities and our two little girls. We started a long drive to the Pacific Northwest after not much more than a few Google searches. We drove across the country in four days and ended up in an Econo Lodge in southwest Washington state.

We lived there for about a month, moved into an apartment and fell in love with the area. We all felt at home for the first time in our lives. We learned the value of time and family, and what it can do for us, mentally, to embrace the simple things. We spent a lot of time outside at the local parks, lakes and beaches. We made some great friends and really grew together as a family. It was the closest my husband and I had been since we dated, and the closest we were as a family in a very long time.

Unfortunately, due to finances (and, on the upside, learning I was pregnant again) we came back to Pennsylvania. We stayed with my grandmom from August to November of 2015 and, finally, were able to move into our own place.

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It was for the best that we came back. I could have the same doctors for my third c-section. It was also better for my husband's career. But not a day goes by that we don't miss the simplicity and the joy and peace we found on the West Coast. It was the first time I managed my mental illnesses in a positive and productive way. Now we are actively saving and planning to move back with a better, more structured plan, so we can truly get established in a place we love.

We spent the large majority of our collective lives in the Philadelphia suburbs, but those six months we spent in the Pacific Northwest were the most healing, constructive and life-changing months any of us have lived. Most of the people in our lives really don't understand the choice we made to pack up and go, but it saved my marriage and my sanity, brought my family closer together, readjusted our priorities, opened our world views and, for the first time, we understood what the word "home" really meant.

More than anything, we are excited for the first time in a very long time—excited for the day we can head home.

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