Despite yearning to be a mum since she was a teenager and travelling solo to the other side of the world to make it happen, nothing could prepare Sharee Welch for the joy of finally having her longed-for baby girls in her arms.
"Before I had the twins, I never thought I could love anyone or anything so much," says 43-year-old Sharee, gently running her hand across the top of Mackenzie's tight blonde curls.
"She has the softest head – I can't stop rubbing it. She's my pretty princess, whereas Emma is my rock chick – she greets me every morning with a huge smile and is Mummy's ray of sunshine."
Falling pregnant has been a long-held dream for Sharee, but not one that came easily. She was 13 when she first started talking about being a mother and by the time she was in her 20s, she was collecting baby clothes and stockpiling the spare room as a future nursery. She says she's never met her soulmate but wasn't scared to become a single mum.
In the last six years, she's undergone IVF, intrauterine insemination (IUI), and sperm and egg donation.
Facing a two to five-year waiting list for embryo implantation in New Zealand, Sharee bravely travelled to a fertility clinic in Spain, IVF Spain Alicante, for her first heartbreaking unsuccessful round of IVF, before a second attempt finally worked. Creating her perfect little family has cost Sharee nearly $70,000.
"My message to people is never give up hope," she says.
Yet for Sharee, the joy of finally falling pregnant last year was marred by severe hyperemesis gravidarum – a pregnancy complication characterised by severe nausea, vomiting and weight loss. Suffering high blood pressure and unable to eat anything other than peanut butter on toast, she weighed 10kg less in late pregnancy than before she conceived.
"Those babies sucked the life out of me. I would go to bed at 10pm and wake up at 5pm the next day."
Sharee spent nearly half of her pregnancy on total bed rest. Her precious girls made their dramatic entry into the world by emergency Caesarean in September last year at just 34 weeks and five days.
"They were held up for a few seconds and all I could think was, 'Wow, they're so tiny – and their heads are covered in black hair!'" she laughs. "I felt pure love."
On the day Woman's Day visits, Sharee is expertly juggling both girls, who are now seven months old, with their mid-morning bottles. Emma – who is feisty, talkative and expressive – is propped against the cushions on the couch and learning to take her own bottle, while Mackenzie coos softly as she is wrangled into a tutu for the photo shoot.
"Her voice is so soft and sweet, it just melts my heart," smiles Sharee.
The twins were nearly nine weeks old before they were strong enough to leave Auckland Hospital and it took the same amount of time to get Sharee's blood pressure under control.
As a single, professional woman who was proud of keeping an immaculate house, the chaos that accompanied single parenthood and two premature babies was a shock.
"People say having two is not too much harder than one – and to that I say, 'Nonsense!' My witching hour would go from 4pm to 10pm and some nights I would lie on the floor crying from exhaustion with one baby on each side of me."
She says she couldn't have got through the early days without the incredible support team of her mum Trish James and her brother Steven Welch.
"Mum came to stay and we bunked down in the living room, taking turns to sleep," she recalls. "Steven is an amazing uncle, who comes over to mow the lawn, drop off food or just hold the girls so I can have a shower – I'm very lucky."
As the weeks ticked by, the twins got into a routine and slowly Sharee gained confidence as a new mum. Although they are being tested for hearing issues, the cherubic pair are meeting all their milestones and attracting a lot of attention when they leave the house.
"I love going out to the mall," she says proudly. "I call it the twin effect. People come up and go, 'Oh, are they twins? Are they identical? Are you their mother?' And then, 'Oh, where's their father?'" laughs Sharee.
She is still in contact with the doctors and nurses at IVF Spain Alicante, and tries to talk to the girls in basic Spanish as a nod to their paternal heritage.
Although she planned to return to her job as a dispatcher for an emergency service call centre, Sharee has recently resigned and bought a new house in the Bay of Plenty to be closer to her mum.
"Look at these two," she says, adjusting a bow on Mackenzie's head and nuzzling closer to both girls on her lap. "How can I even think about leaving them? The love I have for these babies just blows my mind. There is nothing I wouldn't do for my girls."
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