All is calm and quiet at the Clarksons’ South Auckland home.
Down the road, the final school bell has rung for the day and the streets are filling with the excited chatter of children, swinging their school bags and squealing as they rush home. Still, there’s barely a peep coming from Jenny-May and Dean’s house, and yet inside, their entire world has completely changed.
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Just 18 months ago, Dean and Jenny-May had yet to meet each other. Dean’s mum had pointed out the TV One sports presenter on the telly one night, saying she’d be the perfect match for the big-hearted divorcé.
“How on earth am I gonna meet a woman like her?“ he laughed.
Jenny-May, meanwhile, looked confident, strong and positive at her job, despite privately confronting some mixed feelings about having turned 40 a few months earlier. It was a milestone that had made her feel a bit lonely, and she worried her dream of one day becoming a mother was starting to fade.
But now, behind the doors of this quiet suburban home, Jenny-May is surrounded by love – her husband (who proposed just 11 days after his chance meeting with her), and now their seven-week-old twin sons, Atawhai and Te Manahau.
The non-identical boys – who are currently each weighing in around the healthy 4.5kg (10 pound) mark – are just stirring after an afternoon sleep, while Dean is in the kitchen, busy cleaning and preparing bottles for their sons’ next feed.
He takes one to Jenny-May, who is blinking her eyes open and adjusting to the light after also trying to sneak in a quick nap.
The four of them have been camping out in the lounge for the last few weeks to avoid having to go up and down the stairs between bedrooms and the kitchen in their tired states. Dean sleeps up on the couch, while two single mattresses lie on the floor side-by-side below – one for Jenny-May, the other for two wahakura (flax baskets) where the twins sleep – in one big family sleepover.
They’re both, as you’d imagine – looking and feeling pretty tired, but Jenny-May and Dean say they’re also in absolute heaven.
“It’s just awesome,“ says Jenny-May, smiling up at Dean (41). “We’re really blessed. I’m so, so blessed."
To the first-time mother, it had felt like a long pregnancy. Jenny-May was just shy of the 12-week mark when she walked down the aisle last September. While she wasn’t showing, she slowly became uncomfortably large with the twins.
“I was pretty over it – I was massive!“ she admits. “I was so swollen. My face was so round, I was hardly recognisable."
But otherwise feeling healthy, Jenny-May wasn’t going to sit around at home. She’d recently signed up to coach the Northern Mystics netball team, so she was often at the courts and she also kept working at TVNZ until a month before their birth, when she knew it was time to bow out.
“The day I had to wear flip-flops on air was the day I was going to stand down, so today’s that day!“ she laughed live on television that night.
But despite being a human incubator for two during one of the hottest summers on record, Jenny-May never complained.
“It was uncomfortable but I was okay, I didn’t want any fuss! You just have to get on with stuff. I was very aware of the health of my boys, but the flip side is I also want them to be strong, independent kids that just get on with stuff too. My philosophy is don’t feel sorry for yourself, don’t use things as an excuse – this is life, you have to just keep going and get on with it!“
Dean had his reservations, but knew Jenny-May was good at listening to her body – plus her mother Paddy was by her side for the final three weeks.
“As much as it drove me up the wall seeing Jenny May so swollen that even her eyes were puffed up, driving off out west to coach, she knows her body."
Besides, Jenny-May was a woman on a mission. Aware that it was very common for twins to arrive early, they had a talk with their midwife.
“She’d had twins herself,“ shares Dean, “and she said to Jenny-May, ’There’s really no reason why you can’t carry them to a good weight.’ You tell Jenny-May something like that and she just goes, ‘Okay. Well, I’m taking these boys all the way!’ And she did.“
At 37 and a half weeks, Jenny-May and Paddy were at her Mystics coaching job in West Auckland when she got a call from her midwife.
“She said, ’Ah, you need to get to the hospital.’ They’d got back my blood results and pre-eclampsia was setting in. I got off the phone and thought, ’Can I fit in one more game?’ And then I thought, ’Nah, my husband would lose it!’"
So they called Dean and met him at the hospital. She was induced two days later and delivered two healthy boys the next day.
Her aim was to have them naturally and the labour was initially going very well.
“But then my blood pressure started going up again and my midwife said, 'I’m really sorry, but we can’t keep going.’ I just said, ’Look, I really don’t care at the end of it, just get them out safely.’ So I ended up having an emergency Caesarean. It would have been nice to have them naturally and I was really almost there, but the main thing was that they were healthy."
Dean was right there with her.
“It wasn’t nice, seeing her in pain and when there were complications, I was on high alert making sure everyone was doing their job, and making sure she and the boys were okay."
Immediately after their births, Jenny-May was introduced to her boys.
“I was pretty spaced out on all those drugs! The midwife held them next to my cheek and I remember saying, 'Hello, my sons.’ It was unreal!"
The family stayed in hospital for a week – the boys had both been delivered at very healthy weights (3.48kg and 2.92kg), but Jenny-May’s body had been through the wringer.
“I lost about a litre and a half of blood during the birth, so they kept me in. I had to have two blood transfusions.
“That first week was pretty yuck, actually,“ she confides. “It’s like – bang! – you’ve suddenly got these two humans you’re responsible for and have to be up feeding every couple of hours. Feeling a bit out of it was pretty tough. These little guys were awesome, though."
As was her support team, she nods. Dean cut the cords and was able to spend some skin-to-skin time with their boys. His daughters, Libby-Jane and Leah, were quickly up at the hospital to meet their new brothers, where both sets of grandmothers were also awaiting their arrival.
“I called our mums Thelma and Louise, because they were both running around the hospital together, getting up to all kinds of stuff and setting up our room so it was like a dairy," chuckles Dean.
When it came to naming their boys, that had been figured out shortly after the scan revealed they were having boys.
“We knew we wanted to give them Maori names and we knew we wanted to include our family names. They will be known by their Maori names, but each name is wrapped by their great-grandfathers’ and their grandfathers‘ names,“ explains Jenny-May.
Anthony Te Manahau Maurice Clarkson is named after Dean’s late grandfather, and then his dad Maurice.
“Seeing Dad hold the boys for the first time was something else,“ reveals Dean. “Both our fathers, seeing the smiles on their faces and the tears rolling down their cheeks, it was very special."
Dean is feeling especially grateful to his father, as Maurice is also his boss, and has kindly given Dean time off his job as a truck driver so he can be there for his wife and their new twins.
The middle name that their first-born will be known by holds much significance to the family.
“Te Manahau means joyful or joyous in Maori and it’s also a name that was gifted to Scotty Morrison by Maori elders," explains Jenny-May.
Scotty and his wife Stacey are among their closest friends.
“They’re a major part of our story, so we asked Scotty for his blessing to use the name. We love it in terms of what it means, but that it also references the Morrisons."
The name sprung to mind when they watched the twins on their scans at various points of the pregnancy.
“Te Manahau was always doing flips and bouncing around,“ recalls Jenny-May. “We had to wait 15 minutes one time because we couldn’t see anything, he was so busy doing handstands!"
The other twin was more calm and reserved, and the proud parents had the perfect names for him. Charles Atawhai Te Waka is named firstly after his late grandfather.
“Charlie is also my late brother’s name – he passed away when he was 10, so I wanted to continue that name on,” says Jenny-May. “Then Dean is all about character – Atawhai was slow and deliberate in his movements in the womb, so his name in Maori means generous, gracious and hospitable."
Finally, Te Waka is after Jenny-May’s dad, Te Waka Coffin. And since their arrivals, they’ve lived up to their names – they’re both pretty relaxed babies, but Atawhai is already the more laid-back gentleman, while Te Manahau likes to have short bursts of energy and fun.
Even the way they came into this world fit in with their names.
As Jenny-May explains, “In Maori culture, we don’t think of the first-born as the eldest child – it’s the second-born who gets that title. They hold back, helping the first child to get out safely, take a look around and know it’s their time to be born."
So Jenny-May and Dean weren’t too surprised to see that it was Atawhai who held back as his energetic little brother was first to make his appearance.
“I have this perfect picture in my head," shares Dean. “When they did the scan before they were born, Te Manahau was engaged but his head was sort of twisted, looking back at Atawhai. It was like he was saying, ’I found the way out. Let’s go!’ And Atawhai was leaning back, looking at him, going, 'Okay, all right, let’s take it easy!’ Atawhai was born second, but he’s our eldest son."
So far, they’re both delightful babies – demanding, but certainly delightful.
“Dean is the best dad,“ smiles Jenny-May. “It’s funny because if the babies cry when other people are around, they’ll say, ’Time to take them to Mum to settle him,’ and I look at them like, 'Actually, they should go to their father because they’ll be calm again, like that!’" she says, clicking her fingers.
“I’ve got the advantage that he’s had babies before. That second week, being home as a new mum and not knowing what to do, he was there to encourage me to follow my instincts. Even though I second guess myself a lot, he says, 'Okay, if that’s what you feel, we’ll give it a go. We’ll learn together how the boys react to certain things.’"
“And that’s all it is," reassures Dean. “You have to work out what works for your family. That’s why we’re living in the lounge right now – that’s working! We’re very lucky there’s a team of people, though. There’s so much love from family and we have amazing friends."
Dean’s daughters are loving their new roles as big sisters and are relishing caring for their little brothers.
“They’re so great with them – they’re feeding them, changing them and they’ve each already figured out their own ways of settling them," reveals Dean.
“And they have an amazing mum. I wouldn’t want to do this with anyone else. I love watching her with them – I knew she’d be awesome at it. She’s just a kind person and so nurturing of everyone. And now she has our boys. I've always known they'd be in good hands."
Words: Alice O'Connell
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