New Zealand rugby giant Ali Williams vividly remembers the second his life changed forever.
“It was like a laser bolt was shot straight into me. It was instant, boom. I’m a father. The love, the connection, it’s amazing. I haven’t felt anything so crazy in my life. It blows winning the World Cup out of the water.”
Blues lock Ali – the second-most capped All Black lock of all time – and his wife of 18 months, fitness entrepreneur Casey Green, are head over heels with the newest member of their little family, who was delivered at 9.12am by elective Caesarean on Ali’s day off.
“I’d have been at the birth no matter what, but I was playing a lot of rugby away from home at the time. I was in Dunedin, Hamilton and Australia in the surrounding weeks – so the date was perfect,” says Ali.
So perfect, in fact, the consummate professional didn’t miss a single day of work.
“The weekend after the birth, Ali was playing in Auckland. He didn’t even have to take time off,” laughs Casey. “He trained, did his captain’s run and played at Eden Park.
A lot of people were asking if I was really going to let him play rugby straight after I gave birth, but I figured that to have a child, play rugby and captain your side in the same week has to be pretty cool!”
“And we won,” adds Ali. “It was a good week.”
Jessica bears a striking resemblance to her dad – which clearly pleases Ali no end.
“She’s a mini-version of my husband,” laughs Casey, as she plays with the tuft of hair on her daughter’s head. “This bit even stands up in exactly
the same way as his.”
“You could tell she was mine as soon as she came out – no concern she wasn’t a Williams,” agrees Ali (32). “She’s got her mother’s personality, though.
I took one look at the frown on her head and went, ‘Hmm… yep, that’s Mum’s frown.’”
“She’s got a really particular scream when she’s hungry, too – and I have been known to get a bit cranky when I’m hungry,” grins Casey.
One characteristic Jessica hasn’t yet inherited, however, is her daddy’s size – he stands at 2.02m tall. “I’m quite proud of my little 7lb baby,” smiles
Casey. “Being married to Ali, I was a bit worried about Jessica’s size, but she’s perfect.”
She’s sleeping well already, too, just like her dad. “Jessica was born at 9.12am, we were back in the hospital room by 11, and Ali was asleep by 11.30,” says Casey. “I sent out a text to let people know she’d arrived and added, ‘Mum and baby doing good; Dad’s exhausted.’”
“It was a tough morning!” protests Ali, who cut the cord.
“I was so drained. Everyone in theatre, from the obstetrician, to the midwife in charge of collecting Jessica’s cord blood, was really relaxed and calming – but for a guy it’s pretty scary. You don’t really know what’s going on, and you can’t do anything.”
After a beautiful mountain-top marriage ceremony in Queenstown in December 2011, Ali and Casey have adapted well to parenthood.
At just eight weeks old, Jessica is a happy, alert baby, interested in everything and everyone. She loves the camera, reacting beautifully to the clicks and posing like a professional.
“Like her mum,” laughs Casey. Jessica is already a bit of a daddy’s girl too, responding to Ali’s voice even when she can’t see him, and – unsurprisingly, coming from two sporty parents – is already showing signs she’ll follow in their footsteps.
“She’s so strong. When they first gave her to me after she was born, she pushed her bony little hands into my chest and lifted her head up – like, ‘Okay, I’ve arrived!’” laughs Casey.
“Watching your baby being born is a pretty freaky experience, but it’s amazing – like nothing I’ve ever known,” remarks Ali. “As a male, you haven’t been through the pregnancy bit, so the feeling is instant. Boom. Father. And the love you feel, that connection, holy smokes. That’ll never leave me now. That’s there for life.”
It’s yet another step during an emotional time for Ali. His decision to retire from the All Blacks last month after a decade in the job came after years of injuries that have left his body battered. He walks with a slight limp, but refuses to let that affect his work with the Blues.
“It’s just time for me to put down the black jersey – I have other things to focus on,” he says simply. “I still have more to give on a rugby field, but being with family takes precedence.
I thought when I retired I’d feel weird, but I feel really good.”
The new parents are relaxed and rested when the Weekly catches up with them. Ali is in fine form, and looking forward to spending the next few months based in Auckland with the Blues, and more time at home with his two favourite girls. Casey, in turn, looks happy and healthy – a far cry from the
past few months.
“It was an incredibly difficult pregnancy – I’m much happier as a new mum than I was when I was pregnant,” says Casey (32), who first realised she was expecting when her clothes weren’t fitting properly, while shooting a fitness booklet for the Weekly last year.
“I knew I was pregnant at 12 days, took the pregnancy test with Ali there, and suddenly everything changed. Everyone tells you to be ready when you have a baby, and I was totally ready to hold the baby in my arms and have her in my life – what I was completely unprepared for was how terrible I felt when I was pregnant. It was just overwhelming.”
Weeks of unrelenting sickness and fatigue meant Casey had to give up work as an instructor for her fitness business, Body Beautiful, after three months of pregnancy – and she never went back. “My job is quite physical anyway, but I literally couldn’t stay awake for more than six hours, and I craved white, stodgy food. I had no tolerance for anything or anyone, so I completely closed myself off from the world – I couldn’t deal with anything.”
“It was so tough. Little things that wouldn’t normally bother her at all would really get to her,” says Ali. “You feel so helpless – you can’t do anything, except hold her hair back when she’s sick and be the punching bag or cushion to lie on when needed. All I could do was be there. But it’s all worth it now.”
Ali and Casey have quickly worked out a new routine – helped significantly by Jessica’s understanding of the difference between night and day. “She got that straight away – she’s a bit of a party animal in the mornings, then crashes out mid-afternoon, has a bath before bed and sleeps until about 6am,” says Casey, who is now giving a very hungry Jessica both breast and formula milk. “A bottle at night makes her happy and sleepy – she loves it.”
As does Ali. “I’m really good at feeding,” he says, proudly.
“I do sometimes get a bit carried away, though – when she’s hungry, I assume she wants the whole bottle at once, so I forget to stop and burp her, and it usually all backfires and I end up wearing it. But I’m learning!”
Being a new dad takes practice, and there are always bumps in the road. Like Ali’s first experience at putting on a nappy. “The lady in the operating theatre showed me how to put one on straight after Jessica was born, so later that night, when she needed changing, I was like, ‘Don’t worry. I’ve got this,’” he says. What he hadn’t counted on was his own exhaustion, the newness of the situation and the fact it was dark. “Okay, I might have put the whole thing on backwards. Straps at the back,” he admits.
“New parents!” giggles Casey. “The nurse came in after Ali had gone, and said, ‘You do realise this nappy’s backwards?’
I explained that I did know, but my husband had done it and I didn’t have the heart to tell him.”
While Ali is the family soother, Casey deals with the nights.
“I can’t handle the broken sleep – it’s killing me,” admits Ali, who now retreats to the spare room a few days before he has a game.
“I don’t mind – I think I can deal with the broken sleep better,” says Casey. “And at the end of the day, you have to remember who’s bringing home the bacon. So if Daddy needs a good night’s sleep, I’m good with that.”
She’s good with most of motherhood, actually – but there’s one special ritual.
“I had a sea swim every day of the last three months of my pregnancy, and maybe it rubbed off on Jessica. She loves the water – we bathe her in the laundry sink!”
“One great aspect of parenthood is being reminded of our own childhoods. I was bathed in the laundry sink as a baby, too,” says Ali.
“For us it’s important to be relaxed as parents. To have people around her, to grow up with family and friends, to be sociable. My old man gave us the lecture the other day. He told us not to let baby dictate our lives, that they are born to fit into your life. We’re determined to do that.”
And so far, she’s going well. “Her grandparents adore her – my dad, who’s in a wheelchair, got to hold her the other day, and even he went a bit mushy,” laughs Ali, whose father Rodney fell down a flight of steps at an Elton John concert at Mt Smart stadium in 1998 – a moment that made Ali realise how important it is to embrace every minute.
“Casey’s family adore her, and my mum has been blown away with her first grandchild.” But not every visitor is an old hand with babies. “Richie [McCaw, Ali’s best friend] came round the other day, and Ali sent me off for an afternoon nap as I was tired,” explains Casey.
“I tried to sleep, but I could hear Jessica crying, so I went downstairs – and there was Richie, one hand absent-mindedly rocking the pram, the other happily texting, completely ignoring her!”
“He was useless!” laughs Ali, affectionately. “To be fair, though, if she wasn’t my baby, I’d have been exactly the same – it’s not until you become a father that you actually learn.”
But they are learning together. “Casey is doing an awesome job – she is amazing,” says Ali. “She’s incredible. We get on really well, have great fun and enjoy each other’s company. But I never thought she’d be as good a mum as she is. She completely blows me away.”
“It’s what mums do, isn’t it?” Casey shrugs. “We are so spoiled – she sleeps well, she’s content, she eats well.”
So will we see number two any time soon? “I think we’ll give Casey a bit of a layby for the moment,” smiles Ali.
“But if we have our way, yes, there’ll be another one. Being a daddy – that’s what you live for, your legacy. It’s nice to leave something, and what better legacy than your children?”
Jessica Harriet Williams
April 2, 2013, 9.12am, 7lb (3.17kg)
Photos: Emma watson • Make-up & styling Jules Armishaw