Just over 3 years ago, on April 14, 2010, my life flashed before my eyes. I was standing in the kitchen, cooking dinner. It was 5:14 pm. My phone rang. It was my husband Shane, who was on his 4th deployment with the Marine Corps and hadn’t called for about a month, so I answered saying, “Finally! You’d better have a good excuse for not calling me for so long!” He said, “Hey babe, I got hit.” And then the satellite phone died.
I pushed everything onto the back burners, turned off the stovetop and went upstairs. I didn’t want my sons, ages 2 and 4, to see the look on my face and I needed to lay down, being 8 ½ months pregnant with our third son. I prayed that he’d call back soon. I thanked God that he was able to call me. If he was talking, it couldn’t be that bad… right? He did call back. He was on a foot patrol when an IED went off 14 feet from where he was standing. He had shrapnel wounds to his head, neck, knees, arm, hand and foot. The piece that was lodged in his neck was only a 1/4 inch from causing him to become immobile for the rest of his life. He had suffered a concussion, which we later found out had caused a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), but he’d be ok. There were no flights to Germany, where they usually took the injured due to a volcano erupting in Iceland so there was no air traffic. It took a few days and phone calls to find out the he was being flown to Bethesda, MD. The next few days were a whirlwind. Praying and crying with family and friends, leaning on my neighbors for support, wondering how bad the injuries really were and how much he’d ever recover. And, acting normal for my boys… which included running errands, if only to keep my busy, and a previously promised trip to the circus.
My friend Emily dropped everything and drove all night from South Carolina to North Carolina, where we were stationed, only to sleep a few hours before getting back on the road with me and the boys. I was on “orders” from my doctors and Shane’s unit not to drive in my condition, but I had to see Shane. All the while, I was pretending I just had some random, crazy idea to road trip to Maryland, since I didn’t even know if the kids would be able to see Shane once we arrived. When I did see him, he was in better condition than I expected and I was glad he was in a condition where I could bring the kids in. Oh the looks on their faces when they walked in the room. They knew Daddy was in Afghanistan… and there he was in a hospital bed.
The next few weeks were a jumble of doctors, surgeries and questions. Not only was Shane a patient, but a doctor who saw how hugely pregnant I was insisted that I be seen too. Every day they were surprised to see me show up on his floor to visit him. “Um, the maternity ward is one floor up, Mrs. Hafner.” I was already dialated to 3 cm and continued to have contractions every night which kept me up worrying how we’d manage adding a newborn baby to the already chaotic schedule. But little Trayson hung in there, continued to grow and, fortunately, waited to arrive.
We stayed in a hotel by the hospital. The boys had a stomach bug that was making a bad situation even worse. Puking and diarrhea became an hourly ordeal between the two of them. Those poor housekeepers who had to clean our room and leave so many extra towels and garbage bags. But, with the help of Emily, we made it through. I can never thank her enough or properly express how much I love her for what she did for us and the selflessness she showed in helping me and my boys during that time.
We eventually “traded” Emily, who needed to get back to her own family, for my sister, Beckie, who flew in from Washington state. Another person who I’m eternally grateful for. She had a husband, 2 older kids and a 4 month old baby, but she just brought the baby with her and came to North Carolina to pick up my slack. Beckie drove us home, she did laundry, she cooked, but most of all, she was there and she never complained. I thank God for her willingness to sacrifice of herself for me and my family.
May 8th was Trayson’s due date and, that year, it was also the day before Mother’s Day. Shane was scheduled for another surgery up in Maryland and would be leaving for 2 weeks on the 9th. I woke up that morning thinking, “Well, if I fell asleep during the contractions last night, I guess that was yet another night of false alarm.” But around 11 am, I felt the contractions return. They were no worse than the ones I’d been having every night for the past month. The only difference was that it wasn’t night time. They didn’t get stronger, they hadn’t stopped by 2 pm, so I figured I’d go in to the hospital, if only to find out how dialated I was. I’d gone from 3 cm to 5 cm during the time we were in Maryland, so I knew he had to be coming soon and I was praying he’d arrive on his due date, so that his dad could be there for his birth.
When we got to the hospital and asked for a wheelchair, they thought it was for me, but I grabbed it, got Shane in it and pushed him up to Labor and Delivery, where I was told I “couldn’t be in labor.” The nurse informed me that she had been doing this for years and insisted that no one walks in pushing a wheel chair, drinking a Coke and announces they’re having a baby soon. I was still at only at 5 cm when we got to the hospital, but I was admitted nonetheless. My second son had come fast (2 hours and 14 minutes from my first sign of labor to his arrival) so I thought my third might be a quickie too! My water broke at 3 pm and the labor was fast and intense, once again. Shane couldn’t do much to help me, being on pain medication and having to keep his injuries elevated while sitting in a wheel chair nearby, but his presence alone was encouraging. He had missed the birth of our second son while he was deployed to Iraq, 2 years earlier and had to wait 3 months to see his second born son. I was so grateful to have him there with me and ALIVE after all we’d been through in the past 3 weeks! I still remember grabbing his knee to squeeze while I pushed Trayson out… forgetting that his knees were injured. Trayson came faster than his brother did and entered this world at 4:50 pm. He was perfect. 8 lbs 10 oz. And looked just like his Daddy.
Shane was over the moon to be able to cut the cord and hold his son. He had to leave the hospital that night and get ready to head back up to Maryland for surgery, but I was so thankful to God that He had brought us together for Trayson’s birth… He really does work in mysterious ways.
My mom flew in the next day to help me out for a week and Beckie, who had been at my home with my sons and her baby during the birth, went home to her family. Shane was deemed physically unfit for active duty and was medically retired from the Corps in October 2012. We have since moved back to Washington, where both of our families are. Figuring out our benefits, our retirement pay, where we’ll live, and what we’ll do now that neither of us has a job, takes up most of our time. We still don’t have it all figured out, but we have each other.
When I married Shane I vowed to be his wife “for better or worse.” At the time, I had no idea how bad “worse” would get, but I stand committed to him, to us and to our family. This May will be our 10 year wedding anniversary. We’ve been many places, done many things, we now have 4 beautiful children and we’ve learned so much about ourselves and others.
Since that day, 3 years ago, Shane has changed. His injuries to his brain and body have altered the person he was and what he is capable of doing. But I’ve changed too. I have grown in faith in my God who has carried my family through so much. I have been humbled by the outpouring of support from others, both those who know us and complete strangers whose donations to programs like the Semper Fi Fund and Wounded Warrior Project have benefitted our family. And my appreciation for every blessing in my life, no matter how small, has grown. 3 years have passed. So much has changed. But the love I have for my Marine remains the same.