With six boys, The Casketeers’ beloved stars Kaiora and Francis Tipene know a lot about having a new baby, but this time it is very different. Because their new baby, due in September, is a much-wanted girl.
“I’m over the moon and everything else,” says Francis, 39, as he and Kaiora share their news with the Weekly.
The couple had been planning a new child for some time, but had decided it wasn’t to be. Then Kaiora discovered she was pregnant.
“We were trying for a baby, but we’d stopped,” shares Francis, who says he had been making quite an effort.
When the couple went over to London to attend the Queen’s funeral last September, Francis thought it might be a good time to try.
“So, I did a bit of trying over there. And I thought this might be our lucky, lucky time and we could give the baby a royal name, but it wasn’t. Then we went to Honolulu for a conference and I thought it would be a good time to try because it would be amazing to say to my child, ‘You were conceived in Hawaii,’ and I would have given our baby a beautiful Hawaiian name. But then it didn’t happen.”
But Francis didn’t give up.
“We went back to Fiji for a holiday with the kids, and I thought if this child is conceived in Fiji, that would be great because we love Fiji and have had lots of vacations there, and there were a few Fijian names we could think of.” But it wasn’t to be.
“So, we gave up and what I learned is that when you don’t try, sometimes it happens.”
At Christmas, the family went home to Pawarenga in the Far North.
“And, boy, did I get a Christmas present!” exclaims Francis.
When Kaiora found out she was pregnant, they did the maths and were both delighted that their daughter was conceived in such a beautiful, spiritual place.
“We needed to go home to our whenua [land] and our whānau for this to happen,” says Francis. “I don’t want to be like a rude dude – we all know how children are made – but it’s really spiritual and it’s meaningful for us.
“We tried in all these different countries, but then we come home to the little old town of Pawarenga and this is where it all happened – and rightly so.”
Kaiora discovered she was pregnant after having what she calls an “off” day.
“I had a severe migraine and felt a bit nauseous, but I put it down to lack of sleep and failing to take care of myself properly,” she recalls.
“So, I took the day off to get some sleep or go shopping – to do something for me.”
That evening, she was putting Francis Junior, four, into the shower and saw a pregnancy test sitting on the shelf in the bathroom.
“I pulled it out and saw it didn’t expire until August this year, so I thought why not use it?” she tells.
Kaiora says she did the test, then put it back on the shelf while she dried off Francis Jnr. Then she had a quick look and there were the two lines which told her she was pregnant.
“Junior comes along and rips the test out of my hand, and starts playing with it like it’s a pen, and I’m telling him not to run outside with it!” she laughs. “Right then and there I decided we would make it a present for Francis.”
So, she and the lad wrapped the pregnancy test up in some paper left over from Christmas, and put a bow around it.
“I told Junior he could give it to Dad as a present. I got all the kids in the lounge and then said to Junior, ‘Go on, give Dad his present!’ But he just runs up and throws it at him! Francis opened it and immediately had a bit of a tangi [cry].”
Then the rest of the family were jumping around with excitement that they were going to get a little brother or sister – except Francis Jnr, who couldn’t get his head around a baby being in Kaiora’s tummy.
“He couldn’t understand why my tummy wasn’t huge if it had a baby in it,” jokes Kaiora.
As the pair recall this story, they are giggling together like a couple of teenagers enjoying their first love, even though Kaiora has just turned 40 and Francis is 39.
“It’s quite neat, isn’t it?” laughs Francis.
They agree that they’re having a very nice time at the moment, largely because in the past year they have pulled back on working long hours to spend more time with their boys.
“We come into work later and we go home earlier, which means the mornings aren’t such a huge rush,” explains Kaiora. “Because the kids are our focus, they have all of our attention in the morning.”
Adds Francis, “We have beautiful staff at work. That’s how we’re able to do this. They’re able to manage and run the week, and without them, we couldn’t do it. We’ve been given a blessing really to be able to do this. I know a lot of mums and dads can’t do that. So we always make sure we appreciate the time that we have.”
Kaiora says that even though she’s quite capable of doing the morning school drop-off with the kids by herself, Francis will come too so they can all have that time together.
Francis has a son from an early relationship, Haimona, who is 22, and the other boys are Nikora, 17, Moronai, 15, Mikae, nine, Mihaka, eight, and Francis Jnr.
With the baby due in September, the couple was prepared to wait until they had a scan which would tell them the sex of their baby, but Kaiora saw a chance to give Francis another surprise.
She tells, “I saw a few posts on Instagram with these mums who had found out early, so I talked to my midwife and she told me I could get a blood test which was 99.9 percent accurate. It was expensive, but I really wanted to do it for Francis.”
But when the results came through and the midwife rang to tell her, Kaiora suddenly had cold feet.
“I realised that this should be something we find out together, so I asked her to text me a pink heart if it’s a girl and a blue heart if it’s a boy.”
Then Kaiora couldn’t open the text on her phone and started having a bit of a meltdown.
“I had no idea what was going on,” remembers Francis. “I was trying to organise some catering for a funeral and we had sausage rolls but no tomato sauce, and I was yelling, ‘Where is my wife? I need her to help me!'”
Finally, Kaiora turned up and took Francis into the private lounge at their funeral home and told him to sit down.
Kaiora continues, “I said, ‘I’ve got something to tell you’ and of course Francis started getting really worried.”
She then told him about the blood test, gave him her phone and told him the answer was in a text, then went to the toilet.
“I came back and he hadn’t opened it, so I told him to hurry up and do it.”
Francis confesses that when he saw the pink heart, he could not talk. He gets emotional just recalling that moment and says it took him a minute, and then he said, “Is this real?”
Kaiora thought something had gone horribly wrong, but then he turned the phone around and showed her the pink heart. “I grabbed her and cuddled her, and we both cried,” he says.
For the Tipene whānau, a baby girl is a much-wanted and precious gift as there is only one niece among the all-boy cousins.
“I had to get on our Facebook family group really fast to tell them all at once because we couldn’t risk someone finding out and then someone finding out after them,” he laughs.
The couple then told their sons by filling a giant balloon with pink pieces of paper and getting them to pop it.
Francis tells, “They all started running around with happiness, except Francis Jnr, who started running around shouting “Happy New Year!” He didn’t quite grasp the pink thing.”
Meanwhile, Kaiora is taking extra-good care of herself in these early days of pregnancy. Her last three babies came early, so she is determined to make sure she takes the time off she needs when the birth date approaches.
“Francis Jnr came five weeks early and I was working full-time,” she says. “It was the end of the year with lots of things to do for the boys, so this time I’ll take that maternity leave and rest up. Also, Francis told me that he would take six months off, so that will be great if he’s still keen.”
Another thing that will help the couple cope with a newborn is the news that they’re taking a break from their popular TV show. They have completed the sixth series of The Casketeers, which will screen sometime this year, but after that they will press pause.
“We wanted a bit of a break from the pressure of filming,” admits Francis. “We won’t say it’s over, but it turns out the timing couldn’t be better with our baby on the way.”
As the family heads towards September and their new baby, they’re spending time thinking about names. They are being bombarded with suggestions from their excited extended whānau and they already know they will be honouring the grandmothers on each side.
“When we announced the date, all the family in Pawarenga put two and two together and realised that she was conceived up there,” says Francis. “They were saying, ‘See what happens when you come home? You should come here more often!’
“It feels so beautiful that she was conceived there and so whatever we name her, there will certainly be ties to home.”