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Our First Home’s Jono and Karen Frankle on how new baby changed their world

The winners of 2015's Our First Home invite the Weekly into their home to meet new daughter, Isla Nicole.
Jono and Karen Frankle

Just one year ago, Jono and Karen Frankle were up to their eyeballs in home renovation, furiously working on their Titirangi, Auckland fixer-upper, whilst being filmed around the clock for reality TV.

Working alongside Karen’s parents – Tom and Robyn Schreuder – they were mere weeks away from the nail-biting live auctions that would crown them winners of the first series of Our First Home, made all the more stomach-turning for Karen, who was newly pregnant with the couple’s first child.

Now, 12 months later, with their gorgeous little girl Isla, they couldn’t be happier with where their journey has taken them.

After winning the show in April – pocketing $290,400 in prize money – they began hitting open homes. Despite their impressive winnings, they soon realised how tough the Auckland property market was as they tried to buy a home in East Auckland, where they both grew up. But last June, they were successful, purchasing a small home in Bucklands Beach. Renovations had just begun when the couple welcomed their daughter in November.

“Yes, life has completely transformed for us!” says Jono (30). “It’s crazy to think that this time last year, we were still busy renovating. The show massively changed our lives – it’s enabled us to buy a house in the area we wanted and enabled us to have a baby, because we were more financially secure. Life has certainly taken a big step forward for us since then!”

It had been a bit of a risk taking months off their jobs – Karen’s career as a nurse and Jono’s work running a tennis coaching business – and convincing Karen’s parents to do the same! But it has more than paid off. Their new home is close to both sets of parents, who are all now first-time grandparents. And it’s only five minutes’ drive from each family home.

“It’s a bit of a fixer-upper, but we got onto it straight away,” tells Karen (27), who showed her flair for interior design on the TV One show. “We did the bedrooms, then I got working on the nursery! We didn’t find out what we were having, but I wanted the room to be black and white anyway, not pink or blue. Even now, I don’t really dress Isla in pink – Mum buys lots of pink frilly things for her, but I like to dress her in neutral stuff. Although it means she gets mistaken for being a boy all the time!”

Despite waiting to find out the gender of their baby, Karen says it didn’t come as a big surprise because she had a hunch about it all along. “I don’t know exactly why – it was just a feeling I had. I knew Isla was going to be a girl.”

“So did I!” quips Jono. “Karen became really emotional while she was pregnant, so I thought, ‘Yup, you’re definitely having a girl!’” he laughs.

And it was when they were at home on a Thursday night – the eve of a Friday the 13th – that Karen went into labour. She says as a nurse, she was feeling pretty calm until the next morning when her waters broke and things started to happen very quickly.

“With your first one, you expect that it’s going to take a long time, so I stayed home, thinking I had plenty of time. But then I had to ring the midwife – or rather, Jono made the call because I couldn’t even speak – and she told us to head straight to the hospital. I was contracting the whole way in the car, then at the front entrance and the lifts… My contractions were really close together!”

Shortly after arriving at Auckland Hospital, their midwife delivered little Isla. “Jono was amazing,” says Karen. “He surprised me because he doesn’t like blood and guts, like a lot of people, but it didn’t faze him at all.”

Although the pair kept calm, Karen’s delivery was not entirely straightforward. “It was a little bit dramatic,” admits Karen. “Isla wasn’t breathing so well, so I only held her for a short time before they took her away to the NICU (Newborn Intensive Care Unit).”

Karen, who had Isla in a completely natural birth, also needed to go for surgery. “The baby was all hooked up to the machines and I said, ‘Jono, go with her and don’t leave her!’”

Jono recalls he couldn’t keep his eyes off Isla, and doctors decided to try a natural trick before giving her any drugs.

“They said before they put the line and everything in, they could try putting her skin to skin,” tells Jono. “So they got me in an armchair and I had Isla on my chest, and it was incredible because she started to come right. Her breathing improved and her colour.

“It was just an amazing, amazing thing and very cool for me to experience. I held her there for a good three or four hours before Karen could come back.”

Karen – of whom Jono was enormously proud – was taken back to her room and given a photo of Isla until the newborn was brought in to get to know her mum properly.

“As stressful as that time was, I really trusted the medical staff around us, so at no point was I worried – and Karen was just amazing,” tells Jono. “She’s a ridiculously good mum. I knew she would be because she’s always been a very caring person, which really shows through her work as a nurse. I really do have an incredible mum looking after my daughter.”

But Karen says Isla is equally lucky with Jono, who she says has continued to surprise her with how he’s taken to fatherhood. “People told me that you see another side of your partner when you have a baby and it’s been so true. He’s surprised me all the time with the things he does for her. We took her home after two days and he did her first bath, which he’ll quite often do, and he changes her often. It’s great that he is hands-on.”

Also wanting to spend lots of time with Isla are her doting grandparents. “They’re loving it!” says Karen. “Mum’s not working at the moment, so we’re hanging out a lot. When Isla’s about six months, I’ll be going back to nursing a couple of days a week, so having Mum so close will be a big help.”

“They’re all very smitten,” adds Jono. “Every time Robyn turns up, she has a gift and Tom has built plenty of things for her too.”

When naming Isla, the couple chose to honour Jono’s parents, tells Karen. “Isla was our favourite, but we had a spare in case she didn’t suit it, and her middle name is a family name for the Frankles. Jono had a baby sister who passed away when she was born, so we wanted to honour her and Jono’s parents, and the significance of her in their lives.”

Now, the couple are enjoying getting to know Isla, while making more renovation plans.

“We’ve got plans to put a second storey on the house, which Tom is gearing up for!” tells Jono. “We’re on the look-out for another fixer-upper to do some more renovation on and put what we’ve learnt into practice.”

Amongst it all, they’re making sure they sit down to watch a new crop of families compete on series two of Our First Home. “It’s a little weird, watching these fresh faces on something that’s been such a massive part of your life!” says Jono. “I’m very excited for them all and what they have ahead of them on the show – it can really change your life.”

Words: Alice O’Connell

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