As far as achievements go, All Blacks hero Sam Cane has notched up a few. World Cup glory, Super Rugby wins and the privilege of captaining our national team… But it all pales in comparison
to where he finds himself now – at home in rural Waikato with his wife Harriet and their gorgeous seven-week-old son Hudson George in his arms.
“Becoming a dad is absolutely the most amazing thing that’s ever happened,” beams Sam as he introduces his beautiful baby boy to Woman’s Day. “Of all my rugby achievements and everything we’ve done together as a couple, nothing beats this.”
It’s been a big month for the Chiefs star, who was thrilled to be named as All Blacks captain for the upcoming Ireland series. But today he’s focused only on Hudson, who was born at 9.35pm on Wednesday the 4th of May in a whirlwind of tears, joy and relief. In fact, after a day of intense labour, it was Sam who helped Harriet deliver their healthy 3.9kg baby – something he’ll never forget.
Grinning, Sam recalls, “The midwife could see things were going smoothly, so she stepped aside to take photos as I guided him out and up onto Harriet’s chest. It was just incredible.”
But their birth story actually started the day before, when Harriet’s waters broke during a visit to her chiropractor for a sore back. She hadn’t expected it, given a few days earlier, she’d had three unsuccessful stretch- and-sweeps, where the uterus is stimulated to kickstart labour.
The couple had been keen to meet their baby before Sam, 30, was due to fly to Australia with the Chiefs, but after the procedures didn’t work, they’d accepted their little one would arrive in his or her own time.
“When my waters broke, it took me totally by surprise!” says Harriet, whose due date was a few days later. She tried calling Sam to let him know, but he was at training and didn’t answer. Instead, she phoned the midwife, who advised her to wait at home to see if contractions started on their own.
When Sam called after training, he was amazed by how calm Harriet was. “She wasn’t panicking at all,” he tells.
With no sign of any action during the evening, the couple were told to go to the hospital in the morning for labour to be induced. After sleeping well, they woke full of excitement.
“I was a bit nervous about the pain because I’d heard a lot about inductions being more painful,” admits Harriet, 26. “But at the same time, it was a cool feeling knowing that we were going to meet our baby in a few hours.”
Sam adds, “It was doubly exciting because we didn’t know the gender. I couldn’t wait to see this baby’s little face and find out if it was a girl or a boy.”
The couple settled into a birthing room at Waikato Hospital and Harriet was hooked up to the induction drugs. They played cards, listened to music and chatted. Sam laughs as he tells us he’d thought it would be all over faster, guiltily admitting he snuck out for lunch and a quick workout at the gym. “Harriet and the midwife told me to go!”
While all had been relaxed when he left, Sam returned from the gym to a very different scene less than an hour later, with Harriet in agony, curled in a ball on the bed. “It was unbelievable,” he says. “I felt so bad. I was like, ‘What is happening?!’ I should never have left.”
Sam leapt quickly into birth-partner mode, doing everything he could to help Harriet through the intense contractions. “She was so brave, but I could see how much pain she was in,” he shares. “I was trying to be there for her, rubbing her back and holding her hand, but I felt pretty helpless.”
After several hours with gas, air and a morphine drip, an exhausted Harriet opted for an epidural. “It was amazing,” she tells. “It meant I could get some rest before the pushing stage.”
And it’s clear Sam is full of admiration for his wife and the way she managed the labour, telling us she was focused and determined every step of the way. After just 30 minutes of pushing, things were going so well, the midwife told Sam he could deliver his baby.
“I was down there, seeing this little head getting closer and closer – it was mind-blowing,” he smiles. “I could see he had dark hair, then his head was out and I was the first person to touch him. That
was really special.”
Harriet will never forget the moment an ecstatic Sam lifted their baby up and over to her. Through tears, he told her they’d welcomed a son. “I was crying heaps,” he confesses. “It was just magic.”
Harriet adds, “He was saying, ‘You did it, you did it!’ I was totally overwhelmed. I was so tired but incredibly happy.”
Sam isn’t shy to admit he was delighted that his firstborn was a boy – he’d been secretly hoping for a son the entire pregnancy. He and Harriet chose the name Hudson George months earlier simply because they liked it.
“He suited his name right from the start,” says Sam, telling us about their first moments spent as a family of three.
“He was on Harriet’s chest, his eyes were wide open and he was taking everything in, then somehow he started looking for food. He knew exactly where to feed.”
Around midnight, they drove across town to a postnatal facility, where they spent two nights learning the ropes of new parenthood. The first night was sleepless, mainly because the doting new parents were buzzing with joy and adrenaline. The following morning, they introduced their little boy to both sets of grandparents, for whom Hudson is the first grandchild.
“It was so special to see the joy on everyone’s faces,” admits Sam. “At one stage, everyone in the room was crying. Everyone had waited so long for this moment and it was finally here.”
Taking their baby home was another exciting milestone and, since then, Sam and Harriet have settled into life as a little family, including their fur baby Willow, a miniature schnauzer who has taken the new arrival in her stride.
Hudson looks just like Sam did as a baby, says Harriet. “He’s built just like him. The chiropractor asked me if he’d been playing rugby in the womb because his neck is so strong. He is really long, and
has huge feet and hands!”
While the sleep deprivation has been difficult, Sam and Harriet know how lucky they are to have a happy, healthy little boy who has fed well from the start. They’re also pleased he takes a bottle of expressed milk well, meaning Sam’s been able to give Harriet breaks from the night feeds.
“At the start, I wasn’t sure how to help because so much falls on Harriet’s shoulders with the feeding,” he tells. “I’d make her food and try to share the load, but it’s nice to be able to take over some of the feeds so she can get some sleep.”
They’re grateful to have loving support from their families, particularly Sam’s sister Lia, 26, an experienced nanny who’s training to be a baby-sleep consultant.
“We’re so lucky to have her,” gushes Harriet. “She’s been amazing with Hudson and helped us through those first intense weeks.”
She admits she thought that getting to grips with motherhood might be easier given her experience as an early childhood teacher.
“But I quickly learned it’s totally different when it’s your own child! There’s a tendency to want to find answers for everything – why he won’t sleep or why he’s crying – but I’m learning to accept there isn’t always a solution. He’s a newborn and this is what they do!”
With Sam travelling to Melbourne for rugby when Hudson was just a week old, Harriet has already had a taste of what is to come when Sam heads away with the All Blacks later this year. While long periods apart are a reality for any top-level rugby player, Sam admits he found leaving Harriet and Hudson harder than he could have imagined.
“It gave me a new insight into my teammates who have kids and have been doing it for so long. It’s not easy. I had to keep messaging Harriet, asking for more photos and videos because I missed him so much.”
Watching her husband become a father has been heart-warming, beams Harriet.
“I love it. He looks at him with so much love. Seeing him come in from training and go straight to Hudson is so lovely – his routine is to put him on his chest and have a little sleep together on the sofa.”
Meanwhile, Harriet is an “outstanding” mother to their wee son, adds Sam. “I couldn’t ask for more. He’s a lucky little boy having her for his mum.”
Now with All Blacks training about to begin, life is set to get a little more hectic. So for now, they’ll enjoy the moments they have together, spending time with their sweet son and cherishing every single moment.
“We’re just obsessed with him,” grins Sam. “He’s so cute with the little noises he makes and his little smiles. Even when we’re exhausted and frustrated, our tolerance is so high because we’re just so in love. It’s pretty special.”