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Samantha Hayes on navigating life after heartbreak

After her devastating separation from her fiancé, the Newshub presenter talks openly and honestly about navigating a relationship break-up, grieving ‘the greatest love story’ and moving on with grace
Guy Coombes

As far as break-up stories go, most are told long after the storm has passed. With the fullness of time come tales of hope, nuggets of wisdom and lessons learned, perhaps even a new partner to debut. But for Samantha Hayes, who went through a heartbreaking separation from the man she thought she was going to spend her life with in the middle of 2023, the dust is only just beginning to settle.

Six months on, she’s still figuring things out for her and her children, Marlow, four, and Amaya, two, as she adjusts to a future that looks very different to the one she’d imagined.

“I don’t have any epiphanies to share yet,” she says, sitting down to chat over a long black at an Auckland café near the Newshub studios, where she has presented the flagship news programme for more than seven years.

“I’d love to say I’ve come through the other side and that I’m starting the new year happier than ever, but that wouldn’t be honest. I’m definitely feeling stronger and I’ve learnt a lot, but I’m still putting myself back together.”

It might have been easier for Sam, 39, to turn up today with a plastered-on smile, pretend she’s fine and tell us she’s embracing new beginnings. But she wants to be real about it. Yes, she’s had heartbreaks before, but separating from the man to whom she was engaged to marry, the father of her children, has been the hardest thing she’s ever faced. Single and co-parenting is a surprise she hadn’t seen coming, and for the self-confessed perfectionist, accepting defeat in her personal life has been a bitter pill to swallow.

“I’ve never been comfortable with failure and yet here I am, feeling like I’ve failed at the most important thing in life,” she says with honesty.

For most of her adult life, the Newshub star’s pursuit of perfection has served her well – her unwavering conscientiousness and work ethic cementing her place as one of our country’s finest broadcasters. But Sam has learnt through the separation that this side to her personality, the relentless drive to be the best she can be, is something of a double-edged sword.

“I have always had extremely high standards for myself. I want everything to be perfect. But when your world comes crumbling down around you, the sense of failure is incredibly painful.”

Of her five-year relationship, Sam says, “It was a great love story until it wasn’t.”

Sam first met her partner while backpacking in Brazil in 2015. Sharing a love of adventure and travel, they reconnected in 2019 to climb one of the world’s Seven Summits, Aconcagua in Argentina, before setting up a life together in New Zealand. Their two gorgeous children soon followed and, from the outside, all appeared to be rosy. Sam thought she’d found her happily ever after.

“We had some amazing highs – literally at the top of one of the world’s highest mountains! But there were some really low times as well. We both worked hard to keep our family together, and to create a happy and loving home for Marlow and Amaya.”

She misses being a family unit and she misses those happy moments spent together, of which there were many. Sam has no interest in recrimination, rapprochement or laying blame, instead feeling determined to focus only on her children as she figures out the new reality of co-parenting.

Power in sharing

Sam realises now that her default setting for hard times in the past has been to relentlessly continue, no matter the pain or stress. Slowing down and allowing for vulnerability is something she’s still getting used to.

“My fallback is to simply put one foot in front of the other, to toughen up and get on with it, but with this, it was too much. I had no choice but to let myself feel it. I got to a point where I needed to just stop trying to do everything and instead train my focus on the things that really matter. I had to take some time to contemplate where I was, and where I wanted to get to for Marlow and Amaya, who have been at the centre of everything since we separated. And somewhere along the way, I started to let go and be kinder to myself.”

While Sam’s initial instinct in those early months was to keep her separation private, speaking about the experience feels important now. She knows firsthand the feelings of shame and embarrassment that come with a family break-up, and she hopes that being open about her own experience might help others feel less alone.

“At the start, I didn’t even tell some of my closest friends. I couldn’t even say the word ‘separation’ out loud.”

But in November, when she shared the news on Instagram, she was overwhelmed by the response. People contacted her in droves, thanking her for her honesty and sharing their own painful experiences.

Immediately, she realised she was not alone and that navigating a new path for your family is something so many others are going through. There were beautiful moments and ones that made Sam question why a lot of us stay silent on a life experience that’s so common.

“All too often we hear from people when they’ve been through something and they’re out the other side, where things are shiny and bright again. But we don’t necessarily get to hear about what it’s like while they’re still going through a really hard time. There’s value in sharing these things because it can help us feel less alone.”

And as time goes on, things are getting easier, says Sam. When it comes to mending her broken heart, she likens the process to grief – it’s not linear.

“Some days are easier than others. I might have a few days or weeks where I’m doing well and then – wham! – the sadness will hit me again when I don’t expect it. The other day, I went out to the garden shed for the first time in a while and a cascade of memories hit me. It was almost like watching a trailer of my old life. Scenes of Marlow, his dad and me in the garden, mowing the lawns and weeding the vege patch, flashed through my mind and I just fell apart.”

Amid the sadness, however, there has been personal growth, giving Sam a greater insight into who she is and what she holds dear. So what has Sam learned about herself?

“That I cry a lot!” she says through a mix of laughter and tears. “No, I am definitely getting better and, for the most part, I’m feeling positive. I feel strong, like I can get through anything. It’s been a process of rediscovering who I am and what I value most in life.”

The hardest aspect of the separation, says Sam, has been adjusting to the days when her children are with their dad. When Marlow and Amaya are with her, she’s happy and joyful. When the house is quiet, that’s when the loneliness creeps in.

“Coming home to an empty house, it takes time to get used to the fact that your babies aren’t there,” says Sam. “Sometimes I wake up in the morning, make a cup of coffee and go back to bed because I don’t know what to do with myself without my children.”

Solo milestones

There are also the “firsts” of co-parenting and constant reminders that life is different now. The family’s annual tradition of cutting down a Christmas tree at a local farm was

one of those moments.

“I knew Christmas was going to be emotionally confronting. How could it not be? But I wanted to keep the magic alive for Marlow and Amaya. I was talking to my neighbour about my plan to get a tree with the kids that weekend when it hit me that logistically I couldn’t do it by myself. How would I transport it home? How would I stand it up in the holder thingee on my own? My neighbours offered to get their tree at the same time so I could pop mine on their trailer. They made the whole thing an adventure for the kids and created a beautiful new memory. They even had it perfectly straight in the stand at home ready for us to decorate before I’d even got the kids out of the car.”

Sam’s family has also been supportive, with her mum Sheena regularly flying up from her home in Milton, Otago, to help her daughter. Her Newshub co-presenter and close friend Mike McRoberts has been an invaluable support too, helping her get through during her toughest times.

Being beamed into people’s living rooms when you’re struggling behind the scenes isn’t easy, tells Sam, and Mike “carried her” when she was at her lowest ebb. “He also gave me great advice on just getting through each day, and made work fun with his propensity to lose it live on air every now and again.”

When asked what she’s been doing to take care of herself, Sam laughs. She’s never had a lot of time for self-care.

“I’m so cynical, I often think, ‘What is that going to achieve?’ But I have found that having a bath, reading a book or just taking some time out does make me feel better. A glass of wine or a gin and tonic can help too sometimes!”

Counselling is another element to Sam’s recovery. “I’ve gone to therapy on and off for years,” she says candidly. “But when we first separated, I couldn’t talk about it with anybody. In the past couple of months, though, I’ve been seeing someone semi-regularly and it definitely helps. It just helps to see things from a different perspective and to join the dots that you don’t necessarily join yourself.”

While exercise undoubtedly gives Sam a boost, unsurprisingly, it hasn’t been easy to fit that in now she’s juggling her demanding job with co-parenting. She went for a 5km run recently, her first since having children, and could barely make it up the stairs at work the next day. Sam also has an exercise bike in her garage, which she tries to make time for. But as for many women with a lot on their plates, fitness often finds its way to the bottom of the priority list.

“I would love to be able to tell you, ‘I’ve got this great regime where I’m working out three days a week, and I’m doing yoga and meditating.’ But do you know what? It’s just not the reality. I’m doing elements of that sometimes and I do feel so much better afterwards, but I’m also not beating myself up if I can’t face dragging myself onto the bike every single day.”

Work has been a refuge, especially with Newshub co-anchor Mike’s support.

Finding balance

The work-home balance has certainly got more complicated now she’s on her own, says Sam, but with daycare, a nanny and support from family, she’s making it work.

“I’m now able to be the mother I want to be and my connection with the kids is deeper than ever. Our days are full of fun, giggles, cuddles and lots of learning together. Both Marlow and Amaya have an hilarious sense of humour. They’re always trying to trick me and make me laugh. I cherish every moment with them – they’re such beautiful souls.” It’s clear that her children bring Sam her greatest joy and that they are her guiding lights.

Her eyes also light up when she talks about her broadcasting role. Journalism has been her passion since she joined TV3 as an intern at just 17. By 23, she was anchoring news show Nightline, as well as presenting and reporting for primetime news, plus current affairs show 3rd Degree. In 2016, she became co-anchor of the flagship 6pm news show alongside Mike.

She might be one of the best newsreaders in the business, but professionally, nothing excites Sam as much as getting out into the field. In 2022, she spent 10 days in London fronting Newshub’s coverage of Queen Elizabeth II’s death and, in February 2023, she was part of a team to charter a plane into Hawke’s Bay hours after Cyclone Gabrielle hit.

From there, she worked around the clock reporting on the devastation and destruction, uncovering incredible tales of human strength and survival. It was one of the most extraordinary experiences of her career. With communications and power out, it was a return to old-fashioned news gathering and delivery. She was endlessly moved by the stories she encountered.

“We were running on adrenaline,” she recalls. “When we headed down, there had only been the barest of information trickle out and we had no idea what we were flying into. I had a sleeping bag in the back of my car and I remember asking my producer if I should take it. She said yes because we might end up sleeping on the floor at the airport.

“It felt like we were on another planet. The scale of the damage and destruction was confronting. Esk Valley had been obliterated. I was constantly amazed by the stories of survival and bravery of those ready to help without question, and also deeply saddened by the stories of loss.”

As it turned out, the team managed to find a motel that would take them in, despite no power. “Luckily, I took my head torch,” says Sam, who always has a “go bag” at the ready for events such as these.

Then in October, for the first time in her 20-year career, she anchored Newshub’s election coverage. It was a huge achievement for Sam, who admits her confidence was shattered after what she’d been through emotionally.

“Losing my confidence wasn’t something I was prepared for. I would turn up and do my best, but I was convinced everyone could see that I wasn’t doing a good job. I felt like I wasn’t doing anything right.”

So when her bosses asked if she would front the network’s five hours of election coverage, despite being excited by the opportunity, her response was, “Don’t you think I’m under-qualified?”

She explains, “I’ve never been a political editor and I’ve never worked in the Press Gallery at Parliament. Yes, clearly, with my job, I’m across politics every single day and every other news story as well, to as much a degree as I can be, but I’m not a political expert. But they believed in me and I’ll be forever grateful for that.”

Despite feeling nervous for the first time in years, when the cameras whirred into action and Sam took her seat in the studio, everything fell into place.

“I didn’t know if it was going to be the best night of my life or the worst,” she says. “But I did what I always do – I was an anchor. It’s muscle memory. It’s what I know better than anything else in my life and it’s the best feeling. There is nothing quite like the feeling of doing live television. I love it. And I’m really forever going to be grateful that the team around me at work supported me, believed in me and trusted me to do the job because I still get so much from my work. It’s demanding but incredibly fulfilling.”

After a well-deserved beach holiday with the kids over the summer, Sam is looking ahead to 2024 and feeling positive about what life might have in store for her. “I’m hopeful that a lot of the hard stuff has been tackled in 2023 and that next year will be a fresh start. When you’re in the thick of it, it’s hard to look ahead and contemplate the future. But even on the worst days, I have faith in myself that it’s going to get better. It’s going to be okay. We will have a beautiful life. I just don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like yet.” And at the heart of it, Sam is eternally thankful for those two little people, Marlow and Amaya, who are happy and healthy, and make Sam feel like the luckiest woman in the world.

“I’ve come to a place where I’ve realised I can only control what’s in my orbit,” she shares. “I have two beautiful children who are wonderful, and full of energy, wonder and love. I adore them and I will make sure I’m the best mum that I can be for them. I’m just trying to move forward with as much compassion and grace as I can to create a great life for them, while I juggle a demanding job that requires me to keep it together on the telly each night. Thankfully, there are giggles to be found there too some days.”

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