She's known for her tough demeanour and no-nonsense attitude, but when Dame Valerie Adams talks about celebrating her first festive season with her daughter Kimoana Josephine, she can't help but go all gooey.
"I'm quite a strong, staunch person – nothing fazes me – but now I cry quite a lot," Valerie confesses to Woman's Day.
"The other day, we had her christening and she was Miss Pass-the-Parcel because everyone wanted a hold, but it meant her sleep was broken and on the way home, she was crying like she was hurt. I was bawling too, like, 'My baby is in pain!' The staunch Valerie is still there somewhere, but I've definitely softened up."
"Her aunty Josephine, who inspired her middle name, has already bought her the most gorgeous outfit and I can't wait to put it on her," the two-time Olympic gold medallist gushes excitedly.
"It's a little pink tutu with a T-shirt that says 'My first Christmas' and we've got a matching headband. I used to totally object to the colour pink, but now I'm OK with a little bit. I've changed, I know!"
Indeed, her eyes twinkling like fairy lights, it's a whole new Valerie we meet at our exclusive shoot with the shot-put champion, her proud husband Gabriel Price and their small but smiley six-week-old Kimoana, and it's all thanks to becoming a mother.
Speaking quietly as she breastfeeds her daughter, she continues, "Nothing prepares you to become a parent. I've never felt this kind of love for any human being in my life. Once upon a time, our lives revolved around my travels and competitions, and Gabe's career too, but now it's all about baby's sleep schedule. Nothing else in this world matters."
The new mum and dad, both 33, feel absolutely blissed out after the arrival of cute wee Kimoana – whose name comes from Valerie's beloved late mother Lilika's middle name – but it hasn't all been plain sailing.
"This is the toughest calling I've ever had in my life," says the sporting legend.
"I've trained 20 years to do track and field, and gone to multiple world champs, but nothing is as tough as that first month with baby. Emotionally, physically and mentally, it's hard yakka.
"I'm lucky if I get three hours of unbroken sleep a night and it doesn't help that I've got so many hormones in my system – and now there's another little person relying on me to navigate through life. But I've learnt so much and I'm still learning to be a mum now."
Yet despite the difficulties of dealing with a non-sleeping newborn, nothing compares to the challenges and heartache that Valerie and computer network engineer Gabriel experienced in actually conceiving their daughter.
A day after tying the knot in a traditional Mormon ceremony in March 2016, the newlyweds jetted off to Switzerland, where Valerie went into training for the Olympic Games. In August, she won the silver medal in Rio de Janeiro and almost immediately afterwards, they started trying to start their family.
A quick pregnancy would have made ideal timing for Valerie to be back in shape by the Commonwealth Games in 2018.
"I'd been on the Pill since I was 15 to control my periods for competition, but as soon as I was out of the Olympic Village, that went out the window," Valerie grins.
"We gave it a good crack, but nothing happened for two months, which we thought was weird because both Gabe and I were fit and healthy."
The pair visited Valerie's GP, who referred them to private specialists Fertility Associates, which found the sports star suffered from a low egg supply. Valerie was put on a course of tablets to increase the number of eggs her ovaries released and the couple were advised of the optimal times for conception. Still, nothing happened.
Because speed was of the essence, it was then decided the pair would undergo in-vitro fertilisation. One of Valerie's eggs was removed and was fertilised with Gabriel's sperm before being implanted back into her womb.
"We had to wait for two weeks to see if the egg stuck and it was the longest two weeks of my life," tells Valerie.
"That little egg was all I could think about. Then at two weeks on the dot, I woke up and realised I'd had my period.
"I broke down. It was like mourning a death. I'd put my heart, my soul, hours of prayers and thousands of dollars into it, then I flushed the toilet and it was gone.
"It was horrible – the worst experience ever. My heart was broken. All we could do was cry."
It was recommended at this point that Valerie have an MRI scan to find out what was really going on. She recalls, "It was meant to take 20 minutes, but I ended up there for an hour and a half because the muscle mass around my gut and my legs was too thick to scan."
When eventually a successful scan was made, the results were shocking. Valerie had endometriosis, where abnormal tissue grows on the outside of the ovaries, as well as adenomyosis, where this tissue grows into the uterine wall.
The scan also found that Valerie's ovaries were in an unusual place due to her over-developed muscles, while a blood test discovered she had low levels of the hormone that regulates menstruation, meaning she's likely to undergo menopause at around 43.
Despite the fact her beloved mother had suffered from endometriosis, and died from ovarian cancer in 2000, it was a huge surprise to Valerie, who had been breaking records and winning titles for years without suspecting their might be a problem with her "woman bits".
"It was a slap in the face," she says softly.
"Because of my physical state, I had no idea. I've spent my life trying to be healthy and active, but these were things I couldn't control and they were responsible for the one thing I wanted – children. It was disheartening to know there were still so many more hoops to jump through."
In light of the added complications, a different cycle of IVF was decided on. As well as four-times-daily injections, Valerie was also given a testosterone patch – which had to be approved by Athletics New Zealand due to doping concerns – to increase egg production. This resulted in the harvesting of seven eggs, of which six were fertilised and two implanted back into her womb.
Valerie recalls, "The whole thing took six or seven weeks and we were praying the entire time. But I wasn't going to sit around for the two-week waiting period because it would have driven me nuts, so I flew to America to see my grandma, who wasn't well.
"After just a week, my boobs started getting sore and achy. I thought, 'This is probably it,' but I didn't want to jump to conclusions because I'd already been disappointed once and it was so hard.
"At the 10-day point, I took about eight pregnancy tests and they were all positive. I just loved seeing the double lines over and over again. I kept them all until I got home to show Gabe! But I still wasn't convinced until I came home and the blood test confirmed we were going to be parents."
Undergoing IVF was an easy decision for Valerie and Gabriel, who are both of Tongan descent, but they acknowledge it can be a taboo topic in Pacific Island communities.
Gabriel tells, "There's a lot of religious belief intertwined with cultural norms and it's unfortunate that a lot of what could be available is frowned upon. Within the island culture, if someone isn't blessed with a baby, it's often blamed on something either the mum, dad or family did. We've got friends who have been trying for up to five years and have never even thought of seeking help because of the stigma attached to it."
Valerie adds, ""My feeling is, it's still my egg and Gabe's sperm, and looking at Kimoana now, how could you argue it was anything but a blessing? It's a bizarre subject, but I'm all for opening up if it helps our people."
The sporting darling publicly revealed her pregnancy at 20 weeks and continued training throughout, lifting weights right until 37 weeks. She remembers, "I got a lot of grief for that – someone told me the umbilical cord was going to strangle the baby and kill it – but I'd done my research and the exercise kept me sane."
However, towards the end, Valerie suffered from symphysis pubis dysfunction, in which the pubic bone separates due to pregnancy.
She grimaces, "It happened all at once and I was screaming my nut off. Gabriel didn't know what to do. Thankfully, I had an obstetrician who was happy to take our call at four in the morning!"
As Valerie had issues with her back and Kimoana's head was already through the vaginal canal at 38 weeks, the athlete was scheduled for a Caesarean on October 10. She was booked into Auckland Hospital under the pseudonym Mary Sarah Starbright.
"Everything went really smoothly," tells Valerie. "I lost over a litre of blood and they had to put me on oxygen, but I couldn't feel any pain – just some poking and prodding."
Gabriel, who stayed by his wife's side throughout the operation, adds, "It was really intense and I'm not sure I needed the play-by-play commentary from the technician, but before we knew it, the baby was held up over the curtain.
"She was covered in blood, but her eyes were open and she was giving us a look that was anger coupled with disappointment, like, 'Why did you take me out of here?!' I got to cut the umbilical cord and hold her for the first time, which was amazing. There were a lot of emotions – amazement, terror, elation and just a whole lot of love."
Smiling, Valerie continues, "I couldn't believe she was ours! I was stuck lying down, but they put her on my chest.She belted out a cry and my heart melted. My love scale went from zero to hero from the second I heard her cry.
"I remembered the journey we went through to have her and how far we'd come. It was pure elation and so much love for this little human being that had just come out of me. It was incredible. I've held babies, but this was mine to keep forever."
Valerie and Kimoana were in hospital for five days as the new mum had a persistent chest infection that was aggravating her Caesarean wound. "Every time I coughed, it was like a knife," she winces.
But eventually, the new family went home to their house in East Auckland, where they were met with 30 family members and a pig on a spit. "It's the Tongan way," laughs Valerie. "We were half asleep, but it was beautiful to see so much love shown for Kimoana."
Since then, their little girl's personality has started to emerge. "She's feisty!" says her proud mum. "She's a fidgeter and strong-willed. She'll wriggle out of any situation. She hates being swaddled – she just wants to be free! People tell us we should be stricter with her, but I don't want my baby to be sad!"
After being cleared by her obstetrician, the Olympic heroine resumed training last week and is feeling fit, thanks to twice-weekly physio visits and staying active throughout her pregnancy.
Valerie says, "I'm slowly getting into it. I'm feeling pumped and motivated. Because I've been with her pretty much 24/7 for the past few weeks, it's going to be hard for me to leave her, but a couple of hours a day will be OK."
When it comes to the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in April, Valerie confesses, "It's going to be interesting. There are a couple of young, new girls coming through, but I'm up for a challenge – I'm competitive and I've got experience on my side. I'll give it a good crack. My goal is to win and if I could be on that podium with baby in one hand, that would be a dream come true."
While she has previously declared she'll likely retire after that competition, Valerie now says she'll try to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 "if I get a second wind of energy".
However, she adds, "Now I've got Kimoana, it's not just my life I need to take into consideration any more. These days, baby comes first. There was a lot of sacrifice we had to go to, but there was a priceless gift at the end of it. She's my little miracle and I feel so blessed ... even if she just did a really squishy fart in my hands!"
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