As Shortland Street star Ben Mitchell and his fiancée Kate McMahon sat on a park bench by Auckland's Takapuna Beach, nervously flicking through pictures from their baby scan, they finally came across the word they'd been hoping for. Next to an arrow pointing at the wee bub was the label "boy".
"Ben just about jumped out of his skin!" laughs Kate, who gave birth to the pair's first son Nico on April 22 last year. "He cheered and suddenly said, 'I've got to thank Brad!' Then he got in his car and drove up the road to the radiology place."
Brad, the sonographer, was taken aback as Ben ran in and threw his arms around him, declaring, "You gave me a son!"
After a high-five and applause from radiology staff, the father of girls Mila, nine, and Sofia, eight, then remembered something important – the mother of his children!
"I thought, 'Oh, s* – Kate!' and drove back to her," recalls the Shorty favourite, who has charmed audiences as doctor TK Samuels for the past 13 years. "We were both on the biggest high."
It's a moment the doting dad, 40, will remember forever because it was a long time coming.
"We've always dreamed of having a son," the former Mr New Zealand tells. "I wanted a son to do boy things with and carry on the family name, but I thought I'd closed shop after having my two girls, who I love to bits."
It was his pretty, brown-eyed daughters who finally pushed Ben into trying for another baby. He laughs, "The girls desperately wanted another sibling and even had a chant going. They just wouldn't let up. I'd tell them maybe and they'd cry, going, 'You always say that!' One morning, on my way to the gym, they just hung off my leg, begging. It was fierce."
Kate had also quietly collected boys' things from op shops, which she put aside and never mentioned to Ben.
"I almost gave them all away when I didn't think we'd ever have another one," the ex-teacher says, cuddling her dimple-cheeked tot, who is the spitting image of his dad.
Ben admits superstition also had him considering another baby. He tells, "My mum and sister went to a clairvoyant, who said I had a son coming. They had no idea I was even thinking about having another one!"
Indeed, the Auckland couple had looked into gender selection in Thailand. Kate tells, "They get the embryo and identify whether it's male or female. We had a friend who'd gone over and it was successful."
But Ben says they didn't know when the time would be right since couples have to take 12 weeks out for the process – and rules meant parents had to be married, which they're not.
When the pair found out they were pregnant in 2017, they joked about the likelihood of having twin daughters. "I'd have been happy with a girl, but we just really wanted a son," admits Ben.
Meanwhile, Mila and Sofia were beside themselves at the news. "They cried and were over the moon," smiles Kate, who suspected she was having a wee boy even before the scan.
"I had a lot of nausea and reflux, plus carpal tunnel syndrome, which I didn't with the girls. There was also a lot of kicking from Bubs. I was in the airport once and he booted so hard, I screamed because it was like a little kickboxer inside."
At an early scan, they were told the baby had big feet. Hamilton-born Ben laughs, "My man brain automatically went to one thing, but then I suddenly thought, 'Wait – it could be a girl with really big feet!'"
Then came the day at Takapuna Beach, when they finally saw the word they'd dreamed of.
"We hosted a gender-reveal party at ours and all my girlfriends came over," Kate tells. "Ben, Mila and Sofia did one of those cannons, which blew out blue confetti. The energy in the room that day was incredible because everyone knew how much Ben wanted a son."
Nico was born at North Shore Hospital last April. Kate recalls, "Ben was incredible at the birth. I didn't have to ask for anything – he was intuitive, making me sip coconut water and bringing cold flannels."
But Nico's entrance wasn't a smooth one. He suffered shoulder dystocia, which meant his arm got caught during the delivery and his tiny collarbone was broken in the haste to get him out.
"My midwife didn't even have time to hit the emergency button – she had to get him out with her hands," recalls Kate, who opted for no pain relief.
When the stay-at-home mum laid eyes on Nico for the first time, she noticed his big, dark eyes and head of jet black hair. She laughs, "I remember looking at him and thinking, 'You're a little baby gorilla.' He was just beautiful."
Ben's first thought was to check Nico was a boy. When he got confirmation, he beamed with happiness and his partner recalls, "He was like the proudest peacock you've ever seen!"
Nico's excited sisters Skyped as soon as he was cleaned and clothed, before putting on their best dresses to meet their wee brother in person. More happy tears flowed.
For the new parents, naming their son was another special moment. While visiting family friend Mel, now the boy's godmother, she suggested Nico, not knowing that Ben was a longtime fan of Steven Seagal, who starred as Nico Toscani in the 1988 movie Above the Law.
That was it for Ben, who adds, "I was going to name him Tyson after my boxing idol, but I thought that's a bit muscle-head, so Tyson is his middle name."
Ben – who grew up doing karate and boxing – can't wait to have young Nico follow in his footsteps. Grinning, he explains, "We're big on moving the kids and martial arts, which is a platform for human transformation. The girls already do jiu jitsu, so Nico's in good company!"
The actor beams as he watches his son toddling around. "He can already walk a whole rugby field and back!" Ben marvels. "He's developing his personality and is a lot more robust. He's a lot of fun."
Both parents say their active bub is the perfect brother for Mila, who is caring and athletic, and Sofia, who is clever and witty. "The girls contrast each other beautifully and having a son was the cherry on top," their devoted mum gushes.
Meanwhile, the couple's bond has grown stronger since adding to their brood. Kate tells, "My family dynamic wasn't conventional and Ben's was similar, with his parents also separating and remarrying. Often we say, 'Look at our little family,' and treasure it because it's not something we had – the mother, father and kids all under one roof."
For Ben, his son's birth was the final piece of a puzzle he'd wanted to finish for a long time.
"It's all worked out and it's like a miracle," he concludes. "I feel really lucky. Nico really is the icing on the cake."
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