Quake mum's secret labour pains

By Paul Harper

The Cutler-Welsh family welcomed Xavier just hours after the earthquake. Faced with the option of moving - they headed to Auckland and say life is 'awesome'. Photo / supplied
The Cutler-Welsh family welcomed Xavier just hours after the earthquake. Faced with the option of moving - they headed to Auckland and say life is 'awesome'. Photo / supplied

Within 24 hours, the Cutler-Welsh family's world turned upside-down.

At 12.51pm, February 22, 2011, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck Christchurch, damaging their Richmond home.

Matthew Cutler-Welsh lost his job, along with 30 others, as the quake ruined the home energy assessment business he worked for.

Then the following day his wife, Natalie, gave birth to Xavier.

Natalie was in the backyard with Ruby, now 5, and Jonah, now 3, when the massive earthquake struck.

Speaking from their new family home in Meadowbank, Auckland, Natalie recalls that awful day.

"I was in the best place possible. I was outside, in the backyard of my own house with both of my children.

"I got thrown to the ground and had to crawl to get to my boy who was in the garage, everything was shaking but nothing landed on him.

"Imagine if I had lost the baby, that would have been horrendous. Or imagine if I had taken them up to the Port Hills that day or we were in town at the health food shop. We just feel so lucky that nothing bad happened to us or any our friends."

Early the next day, Natalie went into labour.

"It was 2am in the morning that night (February 23). It was only four days early so I don't know if it was brought on early by the earthquake or not. It certainly wasn't great timing, but it could have been much, much worse. I could have not been able to get to the hospital.

"That night, no adult slept. We just lay there with our eyes wide open, the children slept wonderfully. But no adults in the city probably slept.

"Matt, he kept listening to the radio. We all just lay there all together in the living room, camped out. And I went into labour. I didn't really want to say anything - I didn't want to worry him. About six in the morning I realised I couldn't take it anymore and I told him it was about to happen."

After being told by hospital staff she was not ready to give birth and to go home, Natalie returned later that morning to give birth to baby Xavier.

In the meantime, her sister had organised flights to get the family out of the devastated city.

"Saturday was the earliest that we could get out. We ended up flying on Saturday when the baby was three days old. We went to my parents' in Wellington for three weeks and then we came back to Christchurch to pack up."

The family had recently renovated their home and although the house had come through the earthquakes alright, the land is unstable and the property has been placed in the red zone.

"It doesn't look damaged, but the land is and the fact that we had done that renovation the building pulled away from itself. You can see a crack down where the addition went on."

The earthquake literally split their community in half.

"The street that we were on - it's one over from the river - one side of it is red zone and the other side of it is green zone. Completely down the middle of our street there is a crack where apparently a river used to flow. Our side of the street it is pretty much vacant and the other side of the street they're all still there.

"We did know our neighbours really well. The night before the February earthquake, we had them over for a BBQ. The next night, we went to someone else's house for a BBQ. But it was a different vibe, of course."

With a newborn baby, a home on unstable land and Matt losing his job, Natalie said that unlike other families, they had the "freedom" to move.

"We had been there for seven years, we had heaps of friends, we were very involved in our community ... but we weren't stuck."

Matt fortunately quickly found what Natalie described as his "dream job", working for the New Zealand Green Building Council, but the family blew all their savings moving up to Auckland.

"We love it [in Auckland]. We feel bad when Christchurch friends ask, 'how are you coping?', and we're like, 'it's awesome'," Natalie said.

"We've meet amazing people, the kids are totally settled in.

"We coped really well - we just got on with it, which I think really helps the kids."

One year on from the quake, Natalie said the family feel "just lucky".

"Financially it wasn't good for us - but it's nothing compared to other people," she said.

"We've kind of moved on - maybe that's a safety measure, a sanity measure.

"It's sad that our house is going to be demolished because it is so lovely. I'm sad for the city. I'm sad for the everyone who's still there. I don't know if they want people feeling sad for them but it is upsetting. Maybe people feel like the rest of the country has possibly moved on.

"I hope they don't view us as leavers, people that just threw their hands up into the air and said 'we're not living like this'. Ours was not forced on us , we could have waited and got a job in Christchurch, but it was an opportunity. We just thought we'd go with it."

Natalie did not know if the family would ever return to the Garden City.

"Possibly one day. Matt has always said he would love to be part of the rebuild in terms of making it more of a sustainable city - that's what a lot of people in Christchurch want to."

For the last three years Natalie has been writing about a book about relationships. She said the earthquakes have given her a new perspective on her own relationship.

"For us ... it just completely magnified what we already have. We are both on the same page about everything.

"It did strengthen us. It certainly didn't tear us apart. It made us reaffirm who we are and what is important to us."

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