The newest All Black baby on the block is the picture of perfection. With her dad Ben Smith’s kind eyes and frown, her mum Katie’s nose and her “grandma hands”, as her proud parents affectionately call them, Annabelle Clair has been the light of their lives since she arrived two months ago. But currently, she’s crying. A lot. She hasn’t been fed for a whole 10 minutes and all hell is breaking loose, much to the bemusement of her weary parents.
“She’s constantly hungry,” explains exhausted Katie (28). Most of the last few weeks, since the couple welcomed their precious bundle to the world, has been spent feeding her. But how much can one baby drink? “That’s the question I’ve been asking myself,” Katie says with wide eyes. “I still don’t know!”
Despite the lack of sleep and all the other interesting challenges having a new baby presents, the couple could not be happier to call themselves Mum and Dad. And while parenthood is more incredible than they ever imagined, it’s also been “much harder”, admits Ben (28). “But we couldn’t imagine life without her. It’s amazing how, as soon as I saw her for the first time, I loved her more than anything, instantly.”
It’s been three months since the Weekly caught up with Ben and a seven months pregnant Katie at their picturesque Wanaka wedding, and things have changed radically for the happy couple.
While everyone is healthy and happy now – well, Annabelle is when she’s got a bellyful of milk, Katie points out – her daughter’s delivery wasn’t the easiest. It was a difficult last month of pregnancy, explains Katie, who was very big, very hot and very uncomfortable.
“It seemed to go on for forever and ever,” she says, groaning at the memory. “And then my due date came and went, and I was just over it.” After trying all the old wives’ tales to bring on labour – spicy food, raspberry leaf tea and Swiss ball exercises, to name a few – Baby Smith still hadn’t arrived, and at three days overdue, it was decided that Katie would be induced. What followed was 72 hours of labour, where she had full-blown contractions, but nothing much was happening.
“It was a long time,” remarks Katie, with casual understatement. “It was painful, but it was more exhausting than anything.”
Ben picks up the story, “Eventually, Katie sent me a text to say her waters had broken – but the doctors had found some meconium and the baby was in distress,” remembers Ben. “I raced down to the hospital and was freaking out a bit – I didn’t really know what it meant. It was awful seeing Katie in pain, she’d been hurting for three days, she couldn’t stop shaking [one of the side effects of having an epidural] and I couldn’t do anything for her. It was frustrating.”
But Katie trusted her midwife to let her know if things went downhill. But she was starving and couldn’t eat in case she needed a Caesarean. Still, she tried to get Ben to smuggle her in some sweets. “The midwife told me no, but Katie was in pain and all I wanted to do was get the lollies for her,” Ben admits. “Trouble is, I ended up eating them all myself. I felt a bit bad!”
Ten hours after her waters broke, Katie’s temperature shot up and so did the baby’s heart rate – and doctors decided an emergency C-section was needed.
“I remember thinking, ‘Do whatever you have to do,’” Katie says. “I didn’t care – part of me felt relieved. I remember saying to Ben that I didn’t know how much more I could take!”
But finally, a few minutes later, gorgeous Annabelle arrived. Ben beams at the memory. “Throughout the whole pregnancy, you know there’s a baby in there, but when she popped up, I just couldn’t believe she was actually ours! She was beautiful. I held her in my arms and the first thing Katie wanted to know was if she had inherited her wrinkled hands. I told her she definitely had ‘grandma hands’,” Ben grins cheekily as Katie holds her hands out for inspection.
“Look at them!” he continues. “A palm reader’s nightmare! But I like that Annabelle has them. They give her a bit of character.”
The couple already had names picked out – Annabelle, a combination of Ben’s nana Anne, who passed away last year, and Katie’s grandma Isabelle. Clair is after St Clair, the Dunedin beach that Ben and Katie love – and it’s also where they first met 13 years ago.
Since Annabelle’s dramatic delivery, life has been – mostly – smooth sailing for the Smiths.
“Your life really does change instantly,” nods Katie. “You realise you’re not a kid any more. Like Ben said to me, it’s as if you’re passing the baton on from your own childhood to someone else.”
Ben smiles. “You have this baby to look after – your baby. It strikes you that you’re not really qualified to do this!”
Parenting has been a real team effort for the pair. While Katie is obviously in charge of feeding, Ben takes care of changing and nappies.
“Ben’s such a great dad already,” Katie says proudly. “He’s awesome with her. He was ready to be a dad for years.”
Katie takes all the night-time duties in the lead-up to Ben’s Highlander rugby games – with the winger saying he struggles without a decent night’s sleep.
“That’s been the hardest thing for me,” he nods. “I think the last decent sleep I had was the night after she was born, when I was at home and Katie and Annabelle were still in the hospital.”
“Oh, come on!” exclaims Katie, laughing. “You had a good sleep last night, mate. You were snoring!”
For Katie, the biggest struggle has been coping with the physical limitations after a C-section. But far from letting her recovery add to her stress, Katie says parenting has strengthened the down-to-earth couple’s rock-solid relationship.
“It gives your partnership another element,” Katie tells. “We’ve shared something so amazing together, something that’s only ours. I like that.”
They’ve received quite a lot of parenting advice, but for now, the pair are preferring to trust their own instincts – with both of their mums on speed dial if required!
“I hate that saying ‘when the baby sleeps, you should sleep,’” Katie says, frowning. “What a joke! The baby never sleeps! People also keep telling us she’ll be sporty, since we both are,” continues Katie, who represented New Zealand in triathlon and Otago in basketball. “But she could be a band geek and we’d be happy!”
“She’s gonna be a golfer, though,” Ben says, a determined look on his face as he points to their backyard, which handily borders a golf course.
“Great,” Katie says, with just the merest hint of sarcasm.
For now, though, the new parents are enjoying as much time together as possible. With the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England looming, if Ben gets selected for the team, it will mean many weeks away from his family.
“It’ll be tough, definitely,” he admits. “But after the World Cup, I’ll have heaps of time to spend with her, and hopefully Katie and Annabelle will come to England for some of the time. Whatever happens, it will all be fine. Katie is the most amazing mother and Annabelle is just perfect. She was definitely worth the wait!”