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Matt Chisholm's newest tribe member

Why the doting dad missed his son’s birth

By Ashleigh McEnaney
It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when Matt Chisholm bagged the role of host on Survivor New Zealand, but the gig came at a huge price for the Seven Sharp reporter. Not only did filming the top-secret show steal Matt away from his heavily pregnant wife, but while he was on set in Nicaragua, he also missed the birth of his first child!
“I was away for 47 days and was torn about the decision right up until I got home, back to Ellen and this wee guy,” Matt reveals as he proudly cradles his adorable boy Bede Dennis at the family’s Auckland home. The newborn snuggle is still a novelty for Matt, who was a 23-hour plane ride away when their bonny boy with the deep-grey eyes made his way into the world on September 4.
“When they first started talking to me about the job, the dates looked fine with Bede’s arrival, but as we went down the track, we discovered I was probably going to be out of the country,” explains Matt, 40, who made the tough call to take the job regardless.
Poor reception on set in Central America made phone calls a challenge, but Ellen’s mother and sister kept Matt in the loop for the 27-hour labour via texts and photos.
“I just wanted to leap into my phone,” he says. “But Ellen’s mum is a nurse, so I almost feel like she was in better hands. All I would’ve done was offer comic relief and probably piss her off.”
After the birth at Auckland’s North Shore Hospital, Ellen, 32, was moved to a postnatal unit, where she struggled without Matt’s support.
“It was pretty overwhelming being on my own,” admits Ellen. “All of a sudden, you’re given this precious little bundle of responsibility and you don’t really know what you’re doing. I don’t want to make Matt feel bad, but it would’ve been nice to have another person to calm me down.
“That said, there was no way Matt wasn’t going through with Survivor – it was such a massive opportunity and he was born to do it. But even though I was OK when he was gone, there was nothing like the relief that washed over me as soon as Matt walked through the door. I felt instantly more relaxed. I knew I had my teammate back and we’d get through it.”
And the new dad was over the moon too when he locked eyes with his son for the first time. “I was instantly besotted with the little dude,” Matt recalls. “I couldn’t stop looking at him. I’m newly 40 and had been waiting a long, long time for this moment.”
But the idyllic family scene that Matt had been fantasising about was shattered upon his return home. Ellen’s world was flipped upside down when her son arrived and she begun experiencing symptoms of postnatal depression.
“I was feeling very down,” she remembers. “You just feel like a loser, like you can’t mother your child. In the beginning, it’s just eat, eat, eat, cry and poop, and there are few rewards. Being sleep-deprived didn’t help – it just intensified all those emotions – and as a first-time mum, you’re second-guessing yourself anyway. It was tough.”
To support his wife, Matt stood down from his demanding Seven Sharp role and picked up some more family-friendly hours with Fair Go. He and Ellen even considered starting afresh in Central Otago, where they both have family connections.
“I feel like we were whacked around the face with a club when it came to having a baby,” explains Matt. “We needed some kind of intervention. It was an alarming time.”
However, after Ellen sought the help of a psychologist, got some sleep and reintroduced exercise into her routine, she soon felt back to her old self.
She marvels, “It was amazing how quickly I started to come right once I got help. I just woke up one day and said, ‘I can do this.’ Raising a baby still has its challenges, but we know Bede now and he’s giving us so much back. He’s just so precious.”
“I could spend all day gazing into his eyes,” adds Matt. “He’s at this gorgeous stage where he’s vocalising a lot and being very interactive. His mum went to broadcasting school and I’m a journalist, so he’ll want to communicate!”
As for moving south, the doting parents want a classic Kiwi upbringing for Bede. Matt tells, “We see our little bruiser running around in his gummies, playing with the animals and tinkering with the machinery, just like we did as kids. Obviously, there isn’t a TVNZ studio down there, so what I’ll do to pay the bills is an uncertainty.”
But what is certain is how much Bede has enriched their lives. “In the weekends, I’ve always had a to-do list up the wazoo,” says Matt. “But now I don’t need to do anything except hang out with these guys. I’ve got all I’ve ever wanted right here.”
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