Weddings are a stressful and emotional time for any bride. But for Vaha Kaafi, giving birth to her first child just 16 hours before her nuptials was one of many challenges the Auckland woman had to face before walking down the aisle.
Vaha, 24, delivered her gorgeous baby daughter Ofeina the night before marrying her love Tai Kaafi, also 24. Despite the exhaustion and lack of sleep, the brand-new mum and nervous bride-to-be couldn't rest. She had to change from a hospital gown into her custom-made wedding dress and tie the knot in front of 350 guests. Furthermore, it was a traditional Tongan wedding, with two full days of celebrations.
"I was tired and exhausted," recalls Vaha. "But the doctors gave me the all-clear to get married. I knew I was blessed to be marrying the love of my life with our newborn baby with us. It was meant to be."
The flight attendant shed many tears – of joy and sadness – during the ceremony as Vaha was supposed to be giving birth to triplets but earlier in her pregnancy she lost two of her babies, making tiny Ofeina a true miracle.
"During my first scan at seven weeks, I looked at the screen and saw one heartbeat," she tells. "Then I was told that there were two more heartbeats. I was going to be a mother of triplets!"
Sadly, by the time Vaha went for her next scan at 16 weeks, she was devastated to discover the twins had died. She eventually suffered a miscarriage and carried only one baby to full-term.
"It was great that our daughter could be at our wedding, but there was also sadness that our twins were not with us," Vaha shares. "This made me realise how lucky we are to be parents. Our daughter is a blessing."
Vaha and Tai, who met five years ago at their Auckland church, found out they were pregnant in April last year. They scheduled their wedding for December 21 and planned the birth for October – the triplets were going to be three months premature, which is common for multiple births.
Organising a huge wedding for 350 guests required early booking of caterers and venues, and thousands of dollars in non-refundable deposits. After the devastating loss of the twins, an early birth wasn't required and Vaha's due date changed – to the same day of her wedding!
"We had to make a tough decision," tells Vaha. "We couldn't get our deposits back, so we decided to go ahead with the wedding."
But it was touch and go. Vaha prayed that she'd give birth before the ceremony because her worst fear was having her waters break while walking down the aisle. Three days ahead of the wedding, her contractions started and one day before saying "I do" she was admitted to the maternity ward at Middlemore Hospital.
"The hospital staff knew I had my wedding to attend, so we were all praying that baby would arrive that day."
Sure enough, at 7pm on December 20, Vaha gave birth to a beautiful and healthy girl, weighing 3.4kg. She was exhausted and lost about four litres of blood, due to her complicated pregnancy.
Husband-to-be Tai was by her side, prepared to call the wedding off so his fiancée could rest.
"Vaha's wellbeing was more important," asserts the plumber. "I wanted to make sure she and our daughter were OK. They were my priority."
Despite the large amount of blood she lost, Vaha was discharged at 11pm and had 12 hours to prepare for her big day. Although she was craving rest, Vaha refused to cancel because she didn't want to let her family and friends down.
A last-minute appointment with her seamstress was all that was needed, as Vaha's wedding dress was originally fitted while she was nine months' pregnant.
Seeing the challenges Vaha had to make gave Tai a newfound appreciation for his wife and confirmed that she was the one for him.
"It strengthened the love we already have for each other," he says proudly.
The couple were married by Vaha's mum Ivoni Fuimaono, with eight bridesmaids and eight groomsmen by their side.
Vaha has 12 siblings, but her dear brother Halatau Naitoko was keenly missed from the celebration. Halatau was the teenage courier driver mistakenly shot dead by police on Auckland's Northwestern Motorway in 2009 in a tragedy that shocked the nation.
"We've been through so much as a family," Vaha says through tears. "I'm glad my family can come together for a happy occasion. Halatau was there in spirit."
A month has passed since the wedding and Vaha has fond memories of the special day she hopes to share with her daughter when she gets older.
"I wouldn't change a thing," she says.
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