Family

Toni Street is counting down the last few weeks before the birth of her miracle baby boy

With baby’s birth imminent, a relieved and delighted Toni is back to full health. “I was starting to freak out,” she admits.

By Sophie Neville

With less than a month to go before Toni Street welcomes her miracle third baby into the world, excitement levels at her Auckland home are at fever pitch.

While the broadcaster, whose little boy is being carried by a surrogate, doesn't have a baby bump for her two daughters to bond with, it makes no difference at all to these doting big sisters.

"He'll be in here in four weeks," announces five-year-old Juliette as she and her little sister Mackenzie, three, proudly show Woman's Day into an immaculately decorated nursery. Stars and animal prints adorn the walls, and the changing table is stacked with tiny nappies and muslin cloths.

But it's in the wardrobe where the most attention has been, spent – adorable knitted cardigans hang in a row, piles of perfectly folded onesies sit on the shelves and tiny sneakers wait for this precious little boy.

"It's been such a novelty to buy blue things," the broadcasting star smiles, before showing us into her and husband Matt France's bedroom, where a bassinet is set up next to Toni's side of the bed.

"Even though I don't have the pregnancy hormones, I am definitely in that nesting phase. I just want to clean and organise, and get everything perfect before he arrives."

A beaming Toni tells us she still can't quite believe the amazing turn her life has taken. After being told her health problems meant she'd be unable to have the third child she'd always dreamed of, her best friend Sophie Braggins stepped in and offered to be a surrogate.

"I still have to pinch myself that it's really happening – we're having a little boy and that Sophie really is our surrogate! Sometimes it feels like it's too good to be true."

It's not just the fact the radio star is so close to meeting her newest bundle that's making her smile. She's also thrilled to be back to good health after a terrifying illness earlier this year.

In April, just as she returned to the airwaves to host TVNZ's Commonwealth Games coverage, the former Seven Sharp host developed laryngitis. Knowing she couldn't do her job with no voice, she visited her GP,
who prescribed a course of antibiotics. But within hours of swallowing her first pill, the 34-year-old felt horribly unwell.

Over the next few days, Toni's skin and eyes turned yellow. She was having stabbing pains in her side, feeling really nauseous and her skin was becoming unbearably itchy. Little did she know that her liver was having a severe reaction to the antibiotics – exacerbated by her auto-immune disorder Churg-Strauss.

Despite continuing the long nights of live television for almost a fortnight, Toni's health was worsening and her loved ones were worried. Finally, she paid a visit to her auto-immune specialist, who took one look at her and sent her straight to a liver doctor.

"That's when I learned I'd had a drug-induced liver injury from the antibiotics," she tells. "The worst part was there wasn't much that could be done. It was a matter of waiting for six to eight weeks in the hope
it would heal. And if I didn't get better, I was looking at a liver transplant."

With strong anti-nausea drugs, sleeping pills and a "disgusting" furry concoction to drink to help the itching, Toni returned home to wait it out. She had daily blood tests to monitor her liver function, but she was being driven slowly mad by the itchiness.

"It was like millions of tiny spiders crawling under my skin," she recalls as she shows us scars on her legs from the scratching.

"That was by far the worst bit. I was unsettled and jumpy, and I couldn't sleep. I couldn't be a parent to my girls. I couldn't even watch TV because I couldn't think about anything apart from the itchiness. I was tearing myself to shreds. I looked like a poltergeist!"

Too sick to work or even leave the house, the usually positive Toni was struggling to cope. Her parents Wendy and Geoff had moved in to help events planner Matt, 34, who'd just started a new job, and they too were suffering.

"We all had this sense that it wasn't that long since the last illness," she says, referring to the devastating weeks after Mackenzie's birth in 2015 when Toni was diagnosed with the auto-immune disease that nearly claimed her life.

"There was a sense of 'here we go again' and it was scary."

For Toni's parents, it was especially frightening, given they've tragically lost three children – Toni's twin brother Lance to leukaemia when he was 18 months, her younger brother Stephen in a quad bike accident at 14 and a baby girl soon after birth.

"It makes me get teary thinking about it," Toni admits. "The weeks were going by with no improvement and I was losing hope. I think we were all losing hope."

She couldn't help but panic about the fact her third baby was imminent.

"It felt like the worst timing in the world. I kept trying to calculate how much time I had to get better or when on earth I could fit in a liver transplant in time to recover for my newborn. I was starting to freak out."

One person who helped keep her positive was Sophie, the remarkable woman who is now just weeks away from delivering Toni and Matt's miracle baby.

Reflecting on their 24-year friendship, Toni says, "Soph's the most amazing friend. She was determined to keep me focused on the baby. She came up to visit from her home in New Plymouth, sent me messages every day, photos of her bump and really kept me going."

And Sophie was right to be positive because after six long weeks, Toni finally turned a corner. A month on, she's been given the all-clear from the liver specialist.

While the two women have always been close, nothing could have prepared them for the latest chapter in their friendship.

Together with their husbands, they went through months of intensive counselling, bureaucracy and medical treatment before being granted permission to proceed with the surrogacy, with Toni and Matt's embryo (created via IVF from her egg and his sperm) finally implanted into Sophie's womb late last year.

"It's the most incredible gift anyone can give," says Toni of her friend, a successful businesswoman and mother-of-two.

"I'm in awe of the way she's handled everything. She's a trouper – it's not easy being heavily pregnant and working, and raising a family. And she's done all that for me. We are definitely closer now, which I didn't think was possible."

The two couples have watched in wonder as their dream edges closer to reality. They've been touched too by how their friends and families have embraced the unusual situation. Just last week, Toni was moved to
tears when Sophie's mother-in-law sent her a beautiful handmade blanket.

"That felt so special because she's made them for all her grandchildren. This little boy is going to be so loved by so many people," she says with tears in her eyes. "It's really lovely."

Toni is also honest about her fears over whether it will take longer to bond with him compared to her daughters, who she carried naturally.

But she and Matt have loved seeing their baby's face in 4D scans and say he looks a bit like Mackenzie.

"There's no doubt it's our baby in there! It's definitely weird not having a bump or to be able to feel his kicks. And I know Matt and I are going to work really hard to bond with him because it's obviously a different connection when you haven't had him growing inside you for nine months. But it doesn't upset me because the alternative is not having a baby at all. So ultimately, I just feel incredibly lucky."

Now, with her illness behind her and baby number three just weeks away, Toni – who will take at least six months' maternity leave from The Hits breakfast show – can't help but think about that magic moment when she will meet her wee boy at last. She plans to be by Sophie's side when the day they've all been waiting for finally arrives in mid-August.

"Sometimes I feel like this whole journey can't possibly be real," she says. "But it's getting closer now and I can't wait to meet him. I feel emotional just thinking about it."

Toni’s surrogacy diary

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