Cradling his newborn son in his arms, All Black captain Kieran Read is helping his baby boy to settle. Clutching 11-week-old Reuben close, the rugby hard man starts singing – surprisingly well, actually – but instead of your usual nursery rhyme, Kieran opts for a modified version of “Ruby” by the Kaiser Chiefs.
“Do ya know, what you’re doing, doing to me, Reuben, Reuben, Reuben, Reuben,” he croons – and it works! Soon, the wee lad’s gurgles subside and he drifts off to sleep during our exclusive shoot at the family’s Christchurch home. Kieran, 31, grins as he looks up. “Well, it goes something like that, anyway!”
A lot of rugby players are more comfortable holding footballs than babies, but after three children, this Kiwi sporting legend is a complete natural. And Kieran and his gorgeous wife Bridget are delighted to introduce to the world their not-so-little son, Reuben James Read, a baby brother for their daughters Elle, five, and Eden, four.
“He’s pretty amazing,” a chuffed Kieran says. “But yeah, as you can see, he’s going to be tall – probably taller than me!”
“He’s grown 4cm in three weeks – he’s the same size Elle was at five months old!” tells Bridget, 32, her eyes wide, adding that it’s possibly due to his size that Reuben’s arrival wasn’t the smoothest.
Back when Bridget had Eden, it was hours before she realised she was in labour so Kieran, who was playing rugby in Wellington, missed the birth by minutes. This time, Bridget says, she was hyper-aware.
“We thought it was all go,” she recalls. “My contractions were really close together, but they weren’t that strong, so off we went to hospital. But they dwindled out, so we went home. And the next day, I probably wasn’t in the best mood!”
After her husband wisely assures her she was fine, Bridget continues, “I felt like an idiot, though – third time around, I thought I’d know when. But, anyway, I was hanging out the washing two days after the first contractions and I knew it was happening.”
Frustratingly, after three hours of contractions in Christchurch Hospital, not much was progressing, so her midwife broke her waters, warning Bridget it would be “all on” when she did so.
But Bridget laughs that she had “no idea” just what that meant. “My God, he was born 50 minutes after that, but the pain ... Put it this way, I was definitely the most vocal I’d ever been in labour.”
Kieran was trying his best to be the supportive husband, but confesses he still managed to get himself into a bit of trouble. “I narked on her to the midwife at one point,” he admits.
“She left the room, but told me to tell her if Bridget pushed – and she pushed! Bridget was in denial that it was happening so fast and she was trying to ask for an epidural, but I was trying to tell her she was well past that point.”
“I thought an epidural definitely sounded like the business,” Bridget nods. “I’d never had one before, but jeez, I needed one this time!”
Thankfully, the rest of the labour progressed quickly and soon their boy “rocketed out”, Kieran grins.
“That was such an awesome moment. I cut the cord. It was such a massive rush to see we had a son. We knew we were having a boy, but that moment was 100% proof we had a son. It was a really proud moment for me, standing there with my boy and my wife. I was so stoked for her – she did all the work!”
Meanwhile, Bridget just felt relief. “But then they put this baby on me, and it hit me that we’ve got this whole little person to love and get to know. I sat there wondering about who he looks like, which is a bit ridiculous because they’re always squished and funny-looking at that point. Then they took him to weigh him – 4.45kg! That was crazy. I was feeling pretty proud of myself!”
Both Kieran and Bridget were thrilled they welcomed a son, who has proved to be the missing piece of their family. “He’s just slotted in perfectly,” says Bridget. “The girls love him. Seeing them meet for the first time was really cute. There was a little scuffle about who could sit the closest to him.”
“Watching all three of them together was so exciting,” adds Kieran. “The girls have been in awe of him ever since.”
“Though, after a couple of weeks, they realised he wasn’t going away and that the family dynamic had changed,” Bridget laughs. “But they definitely love him. We just have to operate a ‘look at the baby – don’t touch the baby’ policy for a bit because Eden tried to pick him up the other day and that didn’t go too well!”
While deciding on names for Eden and Elle had come quite easily to the pair, Bridget and Kieran found picking one for a boy a lot trickier. They spent weeks trawling through books in search of the perfect moniker and typically ended up approaching their problem much like they were compiling a sports draw.
“It was a quite a methodical process,” Bridget smiles. “We went through the baby-name book and just started calling out names to each other, then we each did a top-10 list from that.”
Nodding, Kieran continues, “We then cross-referenced with each other to see if we had any the same and got it down to a top five. Then we ranked those from one to five. Reuben was the clear winner.”
“And it turns out Reuben means ‘behold, a son’, so that was spot-on too,” adds Bridget.
Kieran’s middle name, James, was the easy second part of the equation and when Bridget googled the combination “to make sure there are no serial killers named the same”, they came across the Kenny Rogers song “Reuben James”, which sealed the deal – although “Rubes”, “Rubey” and “Roobie Doobie” are more commonly used in the Read household at the moment.
Now Reuben is starting to show his personality and, so far, he’s proving to be quite the chilled-out little lad. “He’s been pretty easy – well, as easy as babies can be,” says Kieran. “He’s very cruisy.”
Adds Bridget, “He likes watching what’s going on around him. He does that quite a lot. And he’s cooing and talking a bit now. He’s getting quite loud, actually. I wonder if he has already realised that he’s got two sisters who make a lot of noise!”
“It’s probably for the best,” laughs Kieran. “Otherwise, he’ll never get a word in edgewise!”
While she’s now feeling great and looking incredible, Bridget admits she found adjusting to looking after a baby again “rough”.
She confesses, “I was struggling. I was just trying to get my head around the fact we had a newborn. I remember thinking in one tearful moment, ‘He’s so chilled out – why is this so hard?’ But of course, this time, I had two other children!”
When the couple spoke to Woman's Day, Kieran was gearing up to take to the field for his beloved Crusaders after recovering from a wrist injury. Bridget says the time at home helped, as did knowing that this was the last time she’d ever have a newborn.
“Oh, the family is absolutely complete!” Bridget hoots when asked if they’ll add to their brood, which causes Kieran to dissolve into laughter. “Each child’s head has got bigger by a centimetre each time and they’ve weighed progressively more. We’re not going to keep testing the theory!”
With Reuben arriving in the middle of the summer sports season, he’s already had a lot of time to bond with Dad over cricket and tennis.
“That’s been great,” says a proud Kieran, who very nearly could have become a Blackcap instead of an All Black, having been selected for the New Zealand under-17 team. “He’s spent a bit of time on my lap watching the cricket and the tennis was on when he first came home. I reckon he’s already got an eye for it.”
“Kieran’s extremely hopeful,” smiles Bridget. “But who knows? He could be my little musical genius!” Reuben is yet to watch his first rugby game, but thanks to some kind-hearted knitters around the country, he’s almost got more sporting kit than his dad!
“A lot of ladies have sent him knitted Crusaders booties – they keep turning up in my locker after training – so that’s really, really lovely,” says Kieran. “He’s got the jersey and everything. He’s all set!”
In fact, Kieran and Bridget are surrounded by love – Bridget’s mum Helen flew down from Auckland for three weeks after Reuben was born, their friends have been “amazing” and even the next-door neighbours have found a way to show their support, adorning their kids’ playground with Crusaders flags.
It’s all much appreciated – particularly this year, with Kieran gearing up to lead both the Crusaders and All Blacks against the visiting British and Irish Lions, a tour he can’t wait for. He has since sustained a thumb injury, but is hoping to be back in action in time for the tour.
“It only happens every 12 years,” he says excitedly. “You only ever get one chance. It does mean it’ll be more intense, but with everything that’s happening, it looks like it’s shaping up to be a great year!”