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Family

Catching up with the history-making millennium baby as he turns 20

''He's very kind, loving and compassionate. Everything I hoped for him when he was a baby, he's become," says proud mum Vanessa Edwards of her boy Tuatahi.

By Lynley Ward
When Tuatahi Manaakitanga Edwards-Melsom made his entrance 20 years ago, the world was watching.
Arriving in the first minute of the calendar year, this auspicious timing saw the infant create history, joining a select group born at the dawn of a new millennium.
Vanessa Edwards and Jason Melsom were not expecting their precious bundle to greet them on January 1, but after hours of labour, as the clock struck midnight and celebratory fireworks lit up the Auckland sky, the young couple met their gorgeous boy just 60 seconds later.
But within moments, the euphoria of welcoming the adorable 4.1kg baby boy was quickly replaced with anxiety – the newborn was struggling to breathe.
It meant an unexpected cross-town mercy dash – media keen for a glimpse of the baby in hot pursuit – to a specialist heart hospital, where the tot underwent life-saving surgery.
Undergoing heart surgery moments after being born, it was a tough start for baby Tuatahi and his parents Vanessa and Jason (left).
When Woman's Day introduced the angelic bubba with the soulful gaze and shock of dark brown hair to our readers in a glossy six-page world exclusive in January 2000, Tuatahi, whose name means "the firstborn", was a picture of bliss lying peacefully in the arms of
his parents.
Vanessa shared how she and his dad would be making sure their fourth child – and only son – would have a regular life as far from the spotlight as possible.
"He's not just the millennium baby," cooed the devoted mum 20 years ago.
"We want him to grow up as a normal little boy with all the right morals and attributes. As long as he's good to everyone he meets, I'll be happy."
Tuatahi still has a copy of the world exclusive Woman's Day that featured him on the front cover.
These days, Vanessa's strapping son is a little too big to fit in her arms, the pair playfully reversing roles as they pose for his milestone 20th birthday photo shoot.
But they both agree the plan to allow him to grow up experiencing a regular Kiwi life in relative anonymity has proved the best option.
"He's a great kid," gushes Vanessa.
"He's very kind, loving and compassionate. Everything I hoped for him when he was a baby, he's become. I love my baby!"
Closing his teenage chapter, our Kiwi millennial recognises the wisdom behind his parents' decision to shield him from the public gaze rather than being promoted as a poster child of the age.
"I'm not sure how different it would have been if they took up a lot of the offers," Tuatahi reflects, acknowledging the immense global interest in his birth.
"But that's how it turned out anyway. My life was pretty normal."
Vanessa continues, "He's asked me, 'Mum, there was lots of money out there that we could have had. Do you ever regret it?'
"I tell him, 'No, I don't regret it because he should have been brought up as a normal child, brought up in humble beginnings. If that fame is supposed to be yours, it'll be yours at some stage whenever it's ready,'" explains Vanessa.
While there have been a few people who have cottoned on over the years that Tuatahi was that celebrated first child, it's something he usually keeps close to his chest.
"A few teachers and my mates have known that I was the first born in the millennium, but other than that, not too many," he grins. "They say, 'Oh, you're the millennium child. That's pretty cool.'"
Despite the nerve-wracking start for his parents, with their boy's faulty heart stopping twice within hours of being born, the quietly spoken Waikato lad is showing no signs of ill health.
"I had one operation when I was young and had check-ups as I was growing up, but I've never had a problem with it. It's working fine now," he says, adding that he still has a "zipper", a large surgical scar that stretches down his torso,the constant reminder of his perilous beginning.
Cheekily nicknamed "Fatso", Tuatahi shows off his 15cm "zipper" scar.
While his parents, who are no longer together, steered him clear of playing contact sports like rugby when he was a youngster for fear of accidentally damaging the vital organ, it hasn't prevented their athletically built son from keeping active, becoming a gun volleyball player and to his mum's dismay even taking up boxing when he hit high school!
"I was absolutely beside myself and having panic attacks that something was going to happen," recalls Vanessa.
"I needed to remind him that he had a heart condition because I needed to make sure that he was going to be OK. I made him get in contact with the heart surgeon at Waikato Hospital to give him the all clear. I thought the doctor wouldn't give it, but he did!"
However, it was on the court rather than in the boxing ring that Tuatahi excelled, representing Fraser High in their school volleyball team and going on to earn regional age group honours.
He was even selected to play in the under-19 New Zealand development team.
"I like being active and enjoy the competition," he smiles proudly.
A hot shot at volleyball, Tuatahi shows off one of his awards
Tuatahi also developed into a keen musician and amateur photographer, although that's taken a backseat since he left school in 2017.
"I play the guitar and bass," he says.
"I played in a band at intermediate and in bands at high school. We played rock and reggae."
He adds there are still times he'll get out his guitar for an impromptu jam session with his mates.
His mum reveals that her boy's desire to keep out of the limelight means they're short on photos capturing him in action, and in fact, there was only one match he ever asked them to be courtside.
Vanessa explains, "He was really shy so he didn't invite us to many of his volleyball games. We were only ever invited to one and that was his last one when his school was in the finals.
"He would go and play volleyball and do all these other things without us. He didn't like us watching him and making him the centre of our attention."
Tuatahi agrees, "I'm a pretty introverted person."
These days, he's living at home with his mum and earning a wage working as a gib fixer.
He still enjoys spending time with his old high school mates, but there's also a girlfriend in his life, 20-year-old Charlize Faifai, who he has been dating for the past five months after they met eight years ago through social media.
While he hasn't got anything special planned for his 20th, he says previous birthdays have been relaxed occasions, marked with a special cake made by his doting mum.
"It was always just spent with family, so it was always just nice and chill," he tells.
"Nothing too special each year; it's always going with the flow, whatever's on. My 18th was probably my biggest party, but I can't really remember it, it was so good!"
Adds Vanessa, "We haven't had great big birthdays for him over the years. He had a big first and fifth birthday. He has a cousin who is born on New Year's Eve, so a lot of times they celebrated their birthdays together."
Tuatahi says it usually coincided with family holidays on a relative's Waikato farm, where as a youngster he would enjoy tromping through the paddocks or ranging across bushy hillsides on make-believe "missions", or riding quad bikes with his cousins and uncles on the nearby beach.
When it comes to the future, he is still searching for a long-term goal with the uncertain Tuatahi saying he's "working that out".
Mother and son still live together in Hamilton. "I love my baby!" says Vanessa.
For the proud mum who had hoped her precious baby son would add his mark on the world through kindness, she now looks forward to watching him navigate his passage over the next two decades into adulthood.
Concludes Vanessa, "I'm happy to support whatever choices he makes because life is all about the choices he makes and the lessons he learns. All I hope is that he learns his lessons quickly and continues to grow and be a better version of himself.
"Whatever that is for him and whatever choices he makes in life, I'm happy with because his life is about him."

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