As the karanga chant rang out at dawn on the first official Matariki holiday, Seven Sharp reporter Te Rauhiringa Brown and Ahikāroa actor Mauri Oho Stokes separately sent a wish to the stars to conceive a much longed-for baby together.
Unbeknownst to each other, they both had set the same intention, desperately hoping a newborn would be part of their future after years spent trying to get pregnant.
Three months later in October 2022, while picking up dinner from the Pakuranga night market, Te Rauhiringa had the first inkling she was expecting.
“The smell made me feel really sick and the only other time that’s ever happened, especially towards kai I love, was when I was pregnant with the boys,” recalls Te Rauhiringa, 30, who is mum to sons Te Māpuna, 12, and Te Rangikohea, nine.
She and Mauri were due at a cast wrap party that night for the fifth season of bi-lingual drama Ahikāroa, but excitedly took a pregnancy test at home first.
“It had been about three years of trying and we had started talking about seeing a fertility specialist – that’s the point we were at,” recalls Te Rauhiringa, who was shocked but overjoyed to see the positive result. “It’s our Matariki wish come true.”
Mauri, 31, had been dreaming of this baby for so long, it took a while for the news to sink in.
“I’ve been involved with the boys for about six years, and had lots of practise with nieces and nephews, but I’ve always pictured my little baby running around the marae,” he shares.
Now eight months pregnant, it’s Te Rauhiringa’s third baby – another son – and her first with Mauri. They were cautious of celebrating too early, but as the second trimester arrived and they felt their boy moving and kicking, it was hard to contain their excitement. And their whānau feel the same way.
“I’m so excited for Mauri’s parents,” smiles Te Rauhiringa. “It’s their first mokopuna and his mum is going all out buying her own pram and car seat. I can’t wait to see him in their arms.”
Family is everything to the down-to-earth couple, who both attended kōhanga reo and kura kaupapa (te reo Māori immersion schooling), and fell for each other while exchanging messages online in their native language in 2017.
Their strong connection to whānau and revitalising cultural practices transcends everything they do both at home and in their work.
Te Rauhiringa is known for using te reo Māori in broadcasts on Seven Sharp and when she fills in as One News weather presenter.
“I feel like I have no choice but to be a role model so the next generation, my babies, and nieces and nephews, can see it’s possible to achieve whatever they want while holding on to their native tongue,” explains Te Rauhiringa, who also hosted the recent national kapa haka championships, Te Matatini, and acted in Te Pou Theatre play Hemo is Home.
“It doesn’t feel like mahi [work] because I’m so passionate about it.”
Pro-golfer Mauri is equally committed to the cause. He was inspired to pick up the clubs by former US Open champion Michael Campbell.
“He’s Māori and I thought, ‘If he can do it, so can I,'” recalls Mauri, who now runs his own golf-coaching business alongside his role as Thomas in Ahikāroa.
“Golf is a Pākehā- dominated world, so whenever I go back to Ahikāroa and get to speak Māori all the time, I feel like myself,” he reflects. “It’s very refreshing and grounding, and it’s really beautiful, giving our tamariki [children] and rangatahi [youth] a chance to jump in front of or behind a camera on a mainstream show.”
When it comes to the birth of their son, Mauri and Te Rauhiringa are planning a home birth, using traditional Māori practises with family by their side.
“This is just normal for my whānau and I,” says Te Rauhiringa, who grew up accompanying her midwife mother, Joanne Rama, to births. “We have our babies at home with karanga [ceremonial call]and karakia [incantations]. Everyone takes a day off school or work.
“I come from a big whānau, so whenever anyone goes into labour, there’s nine of us siblings there with all our babies.”
Mauri has attended several of Te Rauhiringa’s siblings’ labours and adds, “It’s so beautiful having a house full of people to sing or karakia.”
Turning to her darling, Te Rauhiringa shares how involved Mauri has been in the pregnancy and birth preparation.
“I’ve never experienced someone like Mauri actively bring his own matauranga [knowledge] to this space,” she enthuses. “He’s always listening to and learning new oriori [traditional chants] and karakia from his kāinga [home].”
The dad-to-be is humble and understated about his contribution, saying simply, “I just want him to enter the world, protected by the traditions of our tīpuna [ancestors]”.
The couple will use obsidian or pounamu to cut the baby’s umbilical cord once it stops pulsing and will tie it with a cord made from muka (flax fibres).
The placenta will be stored in a carved hue (gourd), which has been lovingly embellished by their good friend and artist Heremaia Barlow, before being buried back on their ancestral land.
They are also planning a tūā (traditional naming ceremony) and a tohi (dedication ceremony).
Mauri’s family are on board with the couple’s carefully considered plan, but it’s been a new experience for them.
His sister Atawhai Stokes is a doctor and his mum Kanewa Stokes, works supporting Māori into medical careers so birth outside of the hospital is not something they’re familiar with.
Despite this, Kanewa Stokes works supporting Māori into medical careers, so birth outside of the hospital is not something they’re familiar with.
Despite this, they’re so supportive, Te Rauhiringa is going to give birth at Mauri’s parents’ North Shore home.
“We’re going to go and live with them so their first mokopuna will be born at the home Mauri grew up in. Mauri can support me, but I want him to have support too. It really does take a village,” says Te Rauhiringa.
“We’re doing something people might call radical and some are amazed we do it drug-free at home. It’s nothing against hospital births. I believe each to their own, but for me, home is a sacred space and the epitome of mana motuhake [self-determination and authority] when giving birth, where we are in control of everything.
“I birth with the practises my mum instilled in me really early on,” she adds. “A lot of visual meditation, I see everything and visualise exactly how it’s going to happen. Regardless of the pain, I am prepared mentally and carry the strength of my ancestors with me.”
Te Rauhiringa is grateful for her previous quick births and the wisdom of her mum, who isn’t practising midwifery any more, but still runs kaupapa Māori antenatal classes and workshops.
And if there’s a medical need to go to hospital, the talented journalist insists she’s prepared for and accepting of that too.
Both Te Rauhiringa and Mauri are acutely aware not everyone will agree with their plans, but they’ve never been afraid to do what they believe is right and push the boundaries.
“I was a single mum at 18, but that didn’t stop me from getting a scholarship, going to university and pursuing everything I put my mind to,” tells Te Rauhiringa.
She hopes sharing her story will help normalise traditional practises so other women feel it’s possible to follow suit.
“It’s so important to me,” she says. “The leading cause of perinatal death is suicide and 57 percent of those mums are Māori. Multiple reports now show that kaupapa Māori practices are needed to address this.
“In te ao Māori, māmā and pēpi are accorded special status, and tikanga and cultural practices uplift and surround them with collective support.”
It makes for a busy life, but inspiring and empowering others is worth it. “I’ve had people tell me because they came to our show or saw us on TV, they decided to learn te reo Māori, so I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing because I never know who’s watching and willing to make a change,” says Te Rauhiringa, adding it wouldn’t be possible without her support networks.
“We’re so lucky to have our family and friends that take such good care of us and help with the boys. Without them, we couldn’t do any of it.”
And with the arrival of their son so close, the family is excited to take time off work and slow down for a while – something older siblings Te Māpuna and Te Rangikohea can’t wait for.
“They’re the best big cousins – they change their baby cousins’ nappies and give them bottles,” says Te Rauhiringa proudly. “This morning, they both came in to kiss my puku. They’re going to be the best big brothers.”