Only 12 months ago, newsreader Sam Hayes was agonising over whether to join her long-distance love in the Andes for the challenge of a lifetime. Climbing one of the highest peaks in the world hadn't been on her to-do list, but she summoned her courage and took the leap.
And as she cradles her perfect baby boy in her arms with her Dutch partner Jeroen "Jay" Blaauw at her side, the Newshub star tells us there's no doubt that taking on the formidable Mt Aconcagua in January was the best decision she's ever made.
"Saying 'yes' changed my life in a way I could never have imagined," she gushes.
"It brought us closer together and resulted in the most beautiful thing that's ever happened to me – little baby Marlow. If I hadn't climbed that mountain, life would be very different."
Watch: Sam Hayes climbs the Andes mountains. Article continues below.
Born at 8.38pm on September 19, Marlow has settled beautifully into life at home with his doting parents, who say he's a calm and content little fellow who loves feeding and sleeping.
He might be placid now, but his arrival was a slightly more dramatic story, after Sam, 35, developed pre-eclampsia towards the end of her pregnancy.
Marked by high blood pressure, the condition can be very serious and requires close monitoring of both mother and baby.
For Sam, it was a worrying time, and she recalls fighting back the tears on her final day of work after being told the diagnosis earlier that morning.
"I'm usually a pretty relaxed, take-life-as-it-comes kind of person, but this was concerning and I was feeling quite emotional," she recalls.
"I was sad about finishing up at work, but mainly worrying about whether everything was going to be OK with my baby. I cried on and off all day – even on air when Mike [McRoberts] farewelled me with a big bunch of flowers!"
While Sam had planned to spend a fortnight pottering at home making final baby preparations, after less than a week of maternity leave, her obstetrician decided it was time to induce the baby. It came as something of a relief for the mum-to-be, who'd found the last few weeks of her pregnancy increasingly uncomfortable.
"I'd blown up like a balloon and I had carpal tunnel syndrome, which meant I'd wake up unable to feel my arms or feet because of the fluid pressing on the nerves," she tells.
"Even though I had three different pillows that I'd wrap around myself and wedge under me, I barely slept. And meanwhile, Jay had about 20cm on the side of the bed – not ideal given he's over two metres tall!"
Like many first-time mums, Sam's induction process took a lot longer than she'd anticipated.
A full day passed at hospital with little in the way of action, and they killed time with long walks around the neighbouring Auckland Domain, reading books and watching Three's Patrick Gower's doco on cannabis.
"I can't wait to tell him he was part of our labour!" laughs Sam.
With contractions ramping up through the night, an epidural the next morning brought much-needed relief. And throughout it all, Jay, 36, was at her side providing emotional support and encouragement.
"He was so calm and so lovely," shares Sam. "He rubbed my feet with lavender oil, and went off and bought me a new book when I decided I didn't like the one I was reading! He was also in charge of communicating with my family and keeping everyone updated."
Adds IT consultant Jay, "It was all quite exciting because we knew we'd meet our baby soon. I felt totally ready for it."
While Sam had her heart set on a natural birth, by the evening it had become apparent that the labour wasn't progressing as it should, and it was decided the baby should be born via Caesarean.
"I burst into tears when the obstetrician told me," she recalls. "Even though I'd gone into this with a pragmatic attitude about what might happen, I still felt really disappointed. I'd liked the idea of the challenge of a natural birth. But we later discovered that the baby was totally stuck, so I'm just relieved that decision was made when it was."
With Jay at her side, and doting mum Sheena on a plane up to Auckland from her Otago home, Sam was wheeled into the operating theatre. "It was like a soap opera – there were 11 or 12 people in there and the lights were all shining down on me."
The drama continued as the doctors struggled to effectively top up Sam's epidural, instead administering a spinal block, which numbed her almost to her chest. Sam's nerves were understandably threatening to get the better of her.
"I was trying not to panic but it was obvious things weren't going as smoothly as they should," she explains.
"I was very teary because all I could think was, 'Is he going to be OK?' But there were also happy tears because I knew that I was about to meet my baby. It was an incredible feeling."
With keen photographer Jay taking snaps, Sam says she'll never forget seeing her baby son for the first time.
"At that moment, it felt like my heart was exploding," she says. "He was doing these cute little snuffles and I just couldn't believe he was mine. It was amazing. I was told to blow on his face, and he let out a huge cry. I was so relieved."
While Sam was desperate to hold him close, she could hardly move her arms due to the spinal block, so she made do with a kiss before he was taken to the other side of the room to be checked.
She recalls, "That was a hard moment because every part of me wanted to be near him. Jay was with him, but I could hear him crying and it was breaking my heart."
For Jay, the moment was like nothing he'd ever experienced. "I was instantly smitten and felt proud to finally be a dad."
Sam laughs as she remembers Jay saying "he's so beautiful", despite their son sporting an unmistakable cone head. "I thought that's so sweet because he was definitely a bit battered and swollen!"
After the delivery, the proud new parents spent two nights in hospital, followed by another three at post-natal facility Birthcare. And despite lobbying from friends and family to announce a name, it took quite some time to decide between Marlow or River for their adorable newborn.
"It was getting ridiculous because we kept changing our minds!" laughs Sam. "But we're so happy we went with Marlow; it really suits him."
The decision to give their little boy his dad's last name was also one that required a certain amount of discussion, with proud feminist Sam a little uncomfortable with the idea that the father's surname be automatically granted.
"I told Jay he needed to come up with a really good reason why he should have Blaauw instead of Hayes, and after a few days he pointed out that he'd moved all the way to New Zealand and that it would be his one little Dutch connection. I couldn't really argue with that," says Sam with a smile. "I thought it was so sweet."
They were delighted to take their wee man home after almost a week, and have been lucky enough to have new grandma Sheena there as support for the first six weeks of little Marlow's life.
Her advice on all things babies has been hugely welcome, with Sam readily admitting that breastfeeding was a challenge in the early days. And like many new mums, she's had moments of feeling overwhelmed by the enormous responsibility.
"He's definitely a hungry little guy," she coos, looking down at her beautiful boy in her arms. "There were some nights where he'd feed for an hour or two, it would take an hour to settle him again, and then he'd wake up ready to have another feed!
"But my mum has been phenomenal – and it's been lovely sharing this amazing experience with her too."
And sweet Marlow has provided a welcome distraction from the recent announcement that MediaWorks TV is to be sold. Having worked her way up the ranks at the company since she was 17, Sam is clearly upset by the unsettling news, with speculation rife over what the future holds for the business and its staff.
"It's been really hard because I would have loved to be with my team while it's all playing out," she explains. "But I've spoken to Mike and to some of my other workmates and we're positive it'll be OK. There's no point worrying about something we can't change – we just have to keep working hard because we all love what we do and believe in it."
Motherhood has helped to put things into perspective, though.
Sam enthuses, "Becoming a mum has made me realise there's certainly more to life than work."
While the couple – who first met five years ago while backpacking in Brazil – happily admit that their little lad came along somewhat sooner than expected, they wouldn't change it for the world.
"There's something really special about being a family," says Sam. "I've never felt a happiness like it."
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