When broadcaster Toni Street first set out on the long and emotional surrogacy journey that would eventually result in the birth of her adorable baby Lachie, she couldn't help but worry about the bond she'd have with her longed-for third child.
Would she love him in the same way as her daughters, who were carried naturally, she wondered, or would their connection be somehow different?
But as her not-so-little toddler clambers over her, planting kisses on Toni's face and shouting "Mama!" at the top of his lungs, it's clear those fears were unfounded. In fact, the besotted mum can't help but well up when talking about her beautiful boy, who was made possible thanks to the selflessness of her best friend Sophie Braggins.
The New Plymouth-based businesswoman and mum of two stepped in as a surrogate mother, carrying little Lachie to term in the ultimate gift to Toni and her husband Matt France.
"It feels quite ridiculous that I even had those worries now," Toni admits, kissing the top of her tot's head. "But surrogacy is such an emotional rollercoaster.
"In some ways it seems like a lifetime ago and in other ways it's like it was yesterday. It still amazes me that it happened and we went through it, and every single day I am still blown away by what Sophie did for us. She's given us such incredible joy and love with this little man."
Just like his two big sisters, 18-month-old Lachie is an energetic bundle of joy, and on the day of our photo shoot he's making it very clear he isn't keen on his midday nap.
Instead, he roams the house in nothing but a nappy, his toothy grin melting the hearts of the Woman's Day team.
"He's like a little prince," laughs Toni. "He has everyone wrapped around his little finger!"
The down-to-earth TV and radio star – who recently made the surprise announcement she's moving from The Hits to Coast next month – might have been up since 4.30am for her breakfast show, but she's a whirlwind of energy, somehow managing to focus on our interview while organising her busy household.
With nanny Mary in support, she makes sure that four-year-old Mackenzie, or Mickey as she's known, is picked up from kindy in time for dancing, and sends her parents Wendy and Geoff, visiting from Taranaki, to collect seven-year-old Juliette, (aka Juju) from school.
Ballet clothes are gathered up and snacks are packed into lunchboxes. It's a classic scene of organised chaos, and Toni, 36, admits the juggle between work and family is real.
"I'm not going to lie, it's a constant struggle!" she declares. "Some weeks run more smoothly than others."
Toni says that maintaining routines and structure doesn't come naturally to her, and that it's husband Matt, a sponsorship manager, who keeps things on track. He ensures the children are fed and bathed early, and in bed by seven each night.
"He is much more disciplined than me and I think it's probably what keeps our family ticking over, even though we're so busy," she tells.
"Sometimes I'll try to bend the rules, but I always regret it because things really go off the rails when we're tired or out of sync."
And doting Matt, 36, is also firm when it comes to taking care of Toni, who was diagnosed with rare autoimmune condition Churg-Strauss syndrome in 2015.
The life-threatening illness struck immediately after Mackenzie's birth and left Toni on the verge of organ failure. Three years later, she fell dangerously ill again after a severe reaction to antibiotics caused a frightening liver injury. Both times she was hospitalised and off work for several months.
"Matt lives in fear of me getting sick again," she explains. "So he's always doing everything he can to help me stay healthy. He makes sure I go to bed early and I don't overload my schedule. I do have a bit of a problem with saying 'no' to things, but even he would admit I'm getting a lot better at that."
While her gruelling early starts are terrible for her social life, Toni loves the freedom it gives her as a mother.
The fact she's home from work around mid-morning each day means she's able to spend precious time with Lachie, coach her girls' netball teams and be on the sidelines on sports days. She tries to be at school and kindy pick-ups most days too.
"I've always said that the breakfast shift is amazing for parents," she says.
"Most of my time at work is when the kids are still asleep, so we're not missing out on each other. I am incredibly grateful to be able to work full-time in a job I love, yet still be so present."
She tells us she's excited about heading to Coast, where she and her current co-host Sam Wallace will join Jason Reeves to relaunch its breakfast show.
The new role comes amid a raft of NZME radio changes announced last month, with Jono Pryor and Ben Boyce replacing the existing Hits crew, and Laura McGoldrick moving to an afternoon slot.
Toni readily admits the new job came as a surprise, but she can't wait to sink her teeth into a fresh opportunity.
"Having the chance to rebuild and shape our own show is really exciting," she smiles.
"It did come out of the blue a bit, because we were all so happy and settled at The Hits, but it makes total sense to spread us out on to the stations that suit us best. Coast is really popular with women in a similar stage of life as me, people with busy lives and kids and all that, so I think it'll be great fun.
"I'm devastated to say goodbye to Laura because she's become such a great mate, but I'm stoked to still have Sam at my side. He's basically my work husband so I'd be lost without him."
However, their first day on Coast, April 27, also happens to be Mickey's first day at school, leaving Toni with a dilemma.
"That was a stressful moment when I realised that clash, but thankfully we've agreed to pre-record the final 30 minutes of the show, so that I can be there. I'd hate to miss my child's first day, it's such a milestone."
Toni doubts there will be tears though, given just how badly her little mini-me is counting down the days until she's a school girl.
"She's 100 per cent ready for school and so am I," Toni laughs. "She's lucky having a big sister there. She already knows the school and loads of her little friends from kindy are there. She's a real social butterfly. I think she'll probably turn up on day one and announce: 'I've arrived!'"
While introducing a third child into their already-busy household has added to the juggle, there's no doubt Lachie has made them happier than ever. His sisters smother him in love, and Toni says there's no sibling rivalry, which she puts down to the age gap between the girls and their brother.
Juju mothers him, while Mickey loves play-wrestling on the floor with him.
Toni says, "He's quite a mix of the two girls – he can be thoughtful like Juju, but also a firecracker like Mickey. He's very chilled, which I think is typical of a third child. He's had to fit in."
Toni is all too aware that Lachie (created via IVF with Toni's egg and Matt's sperm) is their miracle baby, and without Sophie, or Aunty Willow as they call her, he simply wouldn't be here. Unsurprisingly, the childhood friends now share a deeper bond than ever, and Toni says it fills her with awe watching Sophie with Lachie.
"Lachie becomes quite serene when he's with her," she shares. "He just sits quietly on her knee, snuggled in, whereas any other time he barely ever sits still. And Sophie definitely has a special place for him. She adores him in a way that's different to with the other kids."
The two families see each other often and Toni is conscious of making sure Sophie knows just how grateful they are. She shows us a text message she sent the day before, again thanking her for their precious boy.
"I have these moments where it just hits me, that without Sophie we wouldn't have a son and the girls wouldn't have their brother. It's a constant feeling of appreciation."
With 2020 shaping up to be an exciting year, Toni has a lot to look forward to. There's the new job, her sister Kirsty is expecting a baby, and Lachie turns two in August.Toni and Matt also recently celebrated their 10-year wedding anniversary with a child-free weekend on Waiheke Island.
"It was heaven," recalls Toni, showing us the stunning new diamond ring her romantic husband gave her to mark the special occasion.
"It was a rare chance to be alone together and reflect on everything we've been through. We've had so many ups and downs, but we feel very lucky – we still love being with each other and we want the same things in life. We're super-excited about the next decade now!"
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