It was a bittersweet moment when international rugby player Jimmy Tuivaiti flew from Italy to New Zealand to be with his heavily pregnant wife, former Silver Fern Cathrine (née Latu).
The Zebre rugby flanker was gutted after missing out on being selected for the Italian Rugby World Cup squad. But fate was on the couple's side. Not playing in Japan meant Auckland-born Jimmy could witness the most incredible moment of his life – the birth of their gorgeous son Sebastian Tomaliliu Tuivaiti.
"Before I flew home, I gave it a good 24 hours of feeling sorry for myself," tells Jimmy, 31, who spent most of Cat's pregnancy overseas for his hard-earned rugby career.
"But I always knew there was a plus side to both options. I'm glad I didn't go now because I was meant to be with Cat. I can only imagine how tough it would've been for her if I wasn't around."
The proud first-time mum, 32, endured an exhausting three days of labour, which started on a Monday morning and came to a complicated end on Thursday, October 3. Jimmy admits, "If I was in Japan and saw videos of her like that, I probably would've ended up flying back anyway."
During a near-sleepless 72 hours, Cat pulled out all the endurance tricks she used throughout her professional netballing career. But the former Northern Mystics player says her real strength came from having her hubby – who she married in March 2016, after 11 years together – there to hold her hand.
"I don't think I would've got through it without him because it was quite a traumatic experience," she admits. "I knew labour was going to be hard and like nothing I've done, but it took so long!"
When Cat arrived at Waitakere Hospital in West Auckland, she turned down the offer of a Caesarean. She explains, "I wanted a natural birth, so I said unless they needed to do it safety-wise, I wanted to try and push."
But she agreed to pain relief in the form of an epidural. "I needed some energy and rest, and afterwards I had the most glorious hour-and-a-half sleep! But by the time I started pushing, it'd worn off, so that was fun."
For Jimmy – who returned to Italy two weeks after Sebastian's birth – it was hard seeing his high-school sweetheart in pain.
"Labour was like nothing I'd ever experienced and it was heavy on the heart seeing her go through that, but she was adamant and resilient," Jimmy gushes.
"She's strong and stubborn, and I reckon that's where the young fella has picked it up. He got comfortable in there and was too stubborn to come out."
When little "Bashy Boy" – as his parents call him – was finally ready, Jimmy coached Cat through her contractions.
She shares, "Because we're both psycho competitive, he reminded me of the times we trained together doing sets of running, and when we finished, he'd say we had extras. I hated him at the time and would say, 'I just gave everything and now you're going to make me do more!'
"He said, 'Remember when I made you do extras and you complained but did it anyway? You're going to have to do that here.'"
But Sebastian wouldn't budge because he was facing the wrong way. Cat recalls, "The obstetrician came storming in and said I had five minutes to get the baby out or they'd take him out. They intercepted and he's a forceps' baby."
Their bonny bub was born at 8.24am, weighing 4.1kg and sporting a head of jet-black hair. When Jimmy laid eyes on his mini-me, there were tears. "It was a mean feeling that I can't explain," he beams.
Since the labour was drawn out, Sebastian was whisked to the neonatal special care unit, where he stayed for 24 hours until his breathing was stabilised. A couple of days later, the besotted parents took him home.
"He looks most like Jim's family with his little nose," coos a delighted Cat. "Parenting is a very different job, it's flippin' challenging, but he's pretty cool. Bash – our nickname for him rather than Seb – has a strong neck for a few weeks' old and is a piglet!"
After Sebastian's six-week vaccinations, Cat and her newborn will fly to Italy to live as a family.
Jimmy admits, "It was hard leaving them, but in a few weeks they'll be with me again, so I'm holding on to the excitement of finally welcoming them over."
The sporting pair believe Sebastian's birth worked out just as it was supposed to, even though it came off the back of a huge career disappointment for the lovestruck new dad.
Cat confides, "It's been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, but we both agree this was by far the best outcome. This is more important and way cooler."
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