Wrapped in a cosy jumper in the lounge of her new home, Hayley Holt is finally in her happy place. After a painful 18 months, which saw the TVNZ sports reporter and her partner Josh Tito deal with the sudden and tragic stillbirth of their son Frankie when Hayley was six months pregnant, the pair have shared a difficult path together.
But a year down the track, life is better and brighter, and Hayley and Josh have something to celebrate – the purchase of their first home together. As she takes Woman's Day on a tour, long-term renter Hayley laughs that it took her a full week to feel like she wasn't squatting in someone else's home. But now, a couple of months in, she and Josh are finally feeling settled.
The lovebirds first started looking for houses in Auckland just as prices were peaking.
"That was really fun," Hayley says dryly. "It's just down to timing. If you don't have enough money for your deposit, you can't get in."
So they started looking further afield, which led them to Warkworth, an hour north of the city, where they have a ready-made community with Hayley's parents and many extended family members.
Even with the daily commute to Auckland for her presenting gig on 1 News, Hayley says she has immediately adjusted to the new pace of life.
"Although I need to go and get glasses now because I'm driving at night," she grins. "That's what happens when you get old – you move to the suburbs and you buy glasses."
She jokes that they have rounded out the "getting older" trifecta by Josh joining the local golf club.
"It's very middle-class – we've got our house and our golf membership!"
Their home is a 1950s weatherboard house with lots of character and original wooden floors. It was the first open home they looked at in Warkworth.
"It was meant to be," Hayley smiles. "It's got a beautiful view, and it's very quiet and quaint."
Being a renter in this day and age can mean constantly having to be on the move, and Hayley says she was unprepared for the feeling of stability that would come with owning a house.
"I didn't realise I had this tension and this unsettled, insecure feeling. As soon as we got the house, that feeling of contentment and calmness … I could really feel it. It definitely has a feeling of security with it, which is amazing. On the flipside, we now owe so much money to somebody else!"
It's clear from Hayley's upbeat demeanour that this year has been very, very different to its predecessor.
"Yeah, 2021 has been a revelation, really, in true happiness," she nods. "It showed me how I can feel happiness after tragedy and grief, which really heightened my feelings. I'd feel really sad, then I'd get really happy over the most simple of things, and then to go feeling so secure and loved …"
This sense of peace is something that had eluded her for "many years, even before Frankie", shares Hayley, who believes it's important to show people that it's possible to feel joy even after a devastating loss.
"A lot of people would tell me, 'You're so strong. I can't believe you got through that.' But I just had to. You can't choose not to. From the outside, it might all look terrible, but I saw the good things that came along too. I learnt to appreciate the light with the dark."
It's impossible to understand just how dramatically Hayley and Josh's relationship has shifted in the few years they've known each other. The pair met and became friends in 2018 and, a year later, they started seeing each other casually.
Then they went through the joy of expecting their first child together as good friends. When Hayley happily became pregnant, they decided to have the baby as co-parents. Spending more time together during the pregnancy and then lockdown, they fell in love. A year later, they bought this home together.
"We had to go through this whole process of learning about each other in a normal state too. Before we had Frankie, we had him to hold us together, then we had the grief process that held us together and now we have to hold ourselves together. It's wonderful.
"In a way, I feel lucky. I feel like we can handle pretty much anything."
After leaving morning TV to return to her old stomping ground of sports reporting, Hayley has spent a year settling into her new role on 1 News. As much as she adored working with the Breakfast team – their close bond was especially evident in the aftermath of Frankie's death – she says working in sports is less "heart-wrenching".
She explains, "Breakfast was quite intense and you really got the feels going every single morning. With sport, I get to go into work and laugh."
As a former champion snowboarder and ballroom dancer, and a presenter on The Crowd Goes Wild, sport has always been a huge interest to Hayley. But she insists, "The best part of my job is finding out the human stories behind the achievements – the sacrifices, the hardships, the intensity and sometimes the insanity of the training or conditions.
"It's fascinating to hear what drives people to excel, and how it affects their lives and those around them. Sport has mostly a positive effect on people and society. It's fun to get behind a team or follow a sport – you feel part of something."
And with her new job has come a sartorial change too. Gone is Hayley's classic presenting outfit of high heels and a pretty dress. Early on, TVNZ's head of news Paul Yurisich asked how she felt about her on-screen wardrobe and she admitted it wasn't what she would normally wear.
He told her, "Why don't we get you looking more like yourself and we'll put some sneakers on you?" And it's been flat shoes ever since, both in public and in the halls of TVNZ.
She laughs, "Every time someone makes a comment on the show, it's always, 'Oh, the sneakers! Aren't you lucky?' So my sneakers are the talk of the town!"
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