Rugby league star Benji Marshall experienced his toughest challenge yet when his wife Zoe gave birth to their beautiful son Fox three weeks ago in what can only be described as an unforgettable labour.
After 10 gruelling hours of painful contractions and finally, an epidural, a terrified Benji did everything he could to help motivate Zoe to deliver their baby boy.
"The doctor said the cord was wrapped about the baby's neck, so I told Zoe she had to push. It was as if I was giving a talk to the boys on the field," he laughs.
"Everyone in the room was making pushing noises to motivate her. Then after he was born, the doctor said I'd have to grab him really tightly because he'd feel like a wet footy.
"I squeezed him so hard – he was going nowhere!"
Cooing over their adorable little boy at our exclusive Woman's Day photo shoot, the West Tigers star reveals the magical moment he met his son for the first time.
"I held him up like on The Lion King and put him on Zoe's chest straight away. We were both crying. I was hysterical," recalls Benji, before describing the moment he cut the umbilical cord as "the best feeling ever".
"I know everyone says it, but it changes your world."
Rewind to this time last year and things were very different for the couple. After a lengthy battle with severe stage-four endometriosis, Zoe struggled to get pregnant and the pair – who shared their wedding with Woman's Day in 2013 – were considering IVF.
In a last-ditch attempt to conceive naturally Zoe, 33, turned to Chinese medical practitioner Dr Shuquan Liu, who put her on his extreme 101 Wellbeing Program and then his fertility programme. Zoe was pregnant within six months of working with Dr Liu.
"I can't give him enough gratitude or praise," gushes the TV and radio presenter.
"This is our miracle baby. I just didn't know if it was going to happen. I was open to having IVF, but I wanted to try everything else first. I'm so grateful."
Given Zoe's determination and strength, it's little wonder Benji, 33 – who has previously said that having a baby is "a dream come true" – feels more admiration for his other half than ever before.
"My respect for what females have to go through to give birth is on another level. I've never been so proud in my whole life," he declares, looking at Zoe fondly.
"She is such a good mother. Before we had Fox, she was quite independent and career driven, but she's been so great and hasn't complained once about the lack of sleep or anything."
And Zoe is just as smitten with her husband and his new role as dad.
"I've been so emotional. I was watching Ben play the guitar to the baby the other day and I was just crying for no reason!" she tells us.
"I didn't think I'd be so madly in love."
It's the pair's unbreakable bond that played a part in Benji and Zoe's decision to call their son Benjamin Fox. Throughout their relationship, they've referred to each other as their Arctic fox (they only have one life partner), while Benjamin is a nod to Benji's uncle who goes by the same name and guided him through his early years, along with his foster father, the late Michael Doherty.
The name is equally as poignant for Zoe and pays tribute to her beloved mum Jan, who passed away from breast cancer when Zoe was just 22.
"Mum had a list of baby names and she was going to call me Benjamin if I was a boy. So it's special for both of us," she explains.
"With Benji not having his dad, me losing my mum and then him losing his adopted dad, it's a nice feeling to have our own family. This is our only priority in the whole world. Nothing else matters."
In fact, Zoe chose a doula (non-medical birth coach) to be with her as she gave birth, to honour her mother.
"She brought an energy like my mum's into the room and she made this beautiful shrine with pictures of Mum, while Benji got beautiful red roses for the room. We had a beautiful birthing suite."
The proud parents can't wait to settle into their new lives with little Fox and their two pet pooches, Lucky and Mila, in Sydney, following Benji's departure from the Brisbane Broncos.
And while parenthood has brought its challenges, Zoe is relieved that breastfeeding isn't one of them.
"He feeds every three to four hours," she shares. "I will just wake up and then Fox will wake up 10 minutes after. We've got a real connection."
And the couple, who sleep in separate rooms – "Benji will say this isn't true, but it is, he has sleep apnoea" – have made their night-time arrangements work for them.
"The baby sleeps in Benji's room," explains Zoe. "And he brings him into my room to feed and then I bring Fox back to him. Usually he just sleeps, but if he needs to be settled, Benji will do it. It's Benji's forté. He's patient, calm and less emotional, so he can let him cry, whereas I'll just keep picking him up.
"I went to bed the other night and Benji was settling him, but I could hear him crying so I couldn't sleep.
For about two hours, I just looked at pictures of him on my phone. I'm obsessed!"
Adds Benji, "I'm a big softie, but me and Fox are already having our little battles, like when I'm trying to wrap him up and he won't straighten his arms. We are already fighting over things like that!"
The league legend says that becoming a father has already had an impact on the way he performs on the footy field.
"I used to have this mad routine before games where I wouldn't be able to talk to anyone because I was so focused," he reveals.
"But when my first game came around after the birth, I couldn't think of anything else but him. It helped me relax, if anything.
"When you have a baby, you realise everything that happens from now on isn't about you anymore. I want to get home as fast as I can and see him."
Meanwhile, Zoe will return to her radio and TV presenting duties in a couple of weeks – and admits her initial plan to take just two weeks off was a "naïve and ridiculous" thing to have said.
"It's been three weeks since I gave birth and I can't even leave the house," she laughs.
"I don't have the confidence. There's so many things, like getting him in the car and working the pram – I feel like I'm on house arrest! Now that he's actually here, I could totally give myself over and take six months off. Luckily, work has been very flexible."
And while it's still (very!) early days, both Zoe and Benji – who previously said he wants six children – confess they're set on having a sibling for their gorgeous boy.
"I would definitely have another one," admits Zoe, without hesitation. "I could literally do this forever. I can't believe I've waited so long to have a baby. It's the greatest thing ever."
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