Welcome to the world Casper Stanley Papatu Montague

Casper Stanley Papatu Montague
Son of Laura Montague and Papa Jack
Born on the 2nd November 2010
At St Thomas’ Hospital
Weighing 8lb 4oz

Discovering that you’re pregnant a week after splitting up with your boyfriend is rarely ideal, but if you happen to be living in a hut on an island in the South Pacific at the time, the situation could be even trickier. Laura Montague, however, is clearly not a woman who is easily daunted.

Laura had initially gone to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands for six months, as an assistant to a whale biologist. When her six months were up she decided to stay on, and found two more jobs – working in a botanical garden during the day and at the local newspaper in the evening. “I’d fallen head over heels in love with the place – the weather, the culture, the isolation, the people, the dancing!”

Shortly after making the decision to stay, Laura started seeing Papa Jack, a Cook Islander who is something of a local celebrity. “He’s the island’s champion coconut tree climber, and also one of the champion canoeists. He’s the star attraction on lagoon cruises – he takes tourists snorkelling, does a cultural show with singing, and gives a talk about the importance of coconuts on the island before showing off his skills – climbing up a coconut tree in record time with no ropes.”

Laura knew of Papa’s reputation as a flirt, and had no illusions about the relationship. “I had a lot of fun with Papa – riding on the back of his bike around the island, him teaching me how to ride a motorbike and shooting up trees to get me a ‘nu’ (drinking coconut) if I was thirsty. Although he wasn’t the most pragmatic person, it was quite exciting to meet a real island man who was playful and enjoyed life, wasn’t interested in money, and went to work in a sarong. Plus, Papa is very handsome!”

Eventually Papa and Laura split up – and a week later Laura began to suspect that she was pregnant. Confirming the pregnancy in such a remote spot, though, proved to be a challenge. “The medical staff out there don’t have the same training as they have here and the equipment they use is not top quality. They told me twice that I definitely wasn’t pregnant – according to their blood tests – and it was only home urine tests brought over from New Zealand that told me I was.”

Eventually Laura was given a scan, which proved beyond doubt that she was pregnant.  “When I looked at the screen I was incredulous. I’d never expected to be a mother, and there was this little dot with an aura around it that was my baby. I was in shock. But I couldn’t stop looking at him in complete wonder and I felt unexpectedly but strongly attached to the little dot.”

Laura phoned Papa, who was away at a paddling competition in New Zealand. “He was over the moon. Children and fertility are very important in Cook Islands culture and he was very pleased, despite the impracticalities of the situation. It was to be the first grandchild for his family.”

Although she was a long way from home, and no longer in a relationship with Papa, Laura planned to stay on Rarotonga. “I was coming back to London for my sister’s wedding but I was meant to go back two weeks later. I was going to move into a hut with Papa, with separate rooms, to raise our child together.”

However, two weeks before her planned trip to London, Laura changed her mind about staying in the Cook Islands. “There were a variety of reasons: a continuous mouse infestation in the hut – the mice there carry leptospirosis which can cause miscarriage – along with giant cockroaches around the bed. These had been unpleasant, but bearable, downsides to living in paradise before, but now I had my baby to think about. Also, Papa proved himself to be unreliable when I needed him. He’d been excited by the pregnancy but I don’t think he was ready for the responsibilities and practicalities of raising a child.”

So Laura came home to London, where she would have friends and family around her – and qualified medical professionals. She lined her friend Jess up as a birthing partner and, after a month on another friend’s sofa, settled in to her new home in Walworth.

Three days before her due date, Laura had her first contractions, and, when she was sure that this was really it, she headed to St Thomas’. After a speedy labour, only just making it to the delivery room in time, Casper was born. “It was indescribable. I’d been imagining and dreaming this moment for nine months and suddenly it was really, finally happening. I didn’t believe until it happened that I’d have my healthy beautiful boy in my arms but there he was, and he was perfect. The love I have for him is beyond description.”
“Both the midwife support worker and Jess were fantastic. Jess held my hand, rubbed my back and feet, answered questions for me when I was having a contraction, answered my calls and texts, and even managed a few photos, including the crowning shot! I don’t know how she did it.”

“Getting home was emotional. This was the home we’d already shared, but it was the first time Casper had seen it. I’d had the crib next to my bed for a month with no baby in it, and finally he could take his rightful place. We had terrible first night of him not settling and me panicking that he wasn’t getting enough food from me, but Jess stayed the night and helped me through it.”

“I’m still learning every day. Before Casper I hadn’t so much as held a baby and I’d taken no interest in other people’s, but it’s different when it’s your own. I love holding him, playing with him and talking nonsense he doesn’t understand. Even changing his dirty nappies and waking up to breastfeed in the night is a pleasure. I know and appreciate every time I look at him how lucky I am.”

For now, Laura is happy to be in London with the support of her friends and family. “Now that he’s here he has everyone wrapped around his little finger. It’s been a non-stop stream of visitors since he arrived, my friends and family are incredible, and knowing that they’re there, queuing up to babysit already and that he’s absolutely showered with love and attention from them all makes a big difference. It makes me so happy to know he’s surrounded by so much affection from people who mean so much to me.”

But the South Pacific will also always have a place in their lives. “I’m determined to keep the Cook Islands spirit alive in Casper and to make sure that he’s proud of his unique heritage. I’ve signed us up to a Pacific Islands community group here, and I’m taking him to a Maori festival next month where Beats of Polynesia are dancing, so he can hear those Cook Islands drums. We have framed maps of the islands on our wall, and eventually I’ll take him over there to meet his famous tree-climbing dad.”

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