After a five-year stint in hospital with her girls, Tiff found love again and welcomed a new baby. But her latest birth brought back her old fears.
As little Kenzie McLeod sleeps contentedly in her big sister Eva's arms, she's blissfully unaware of the joy – and the drama – her first week of life has brought her smitten family.
Usually open to documenting their highs and lows on social media, mum Tiff, 38, couldn't bring herself to share about Kenzie's dramatic delivery earlier this month for fear of what other people might think.
Her eldest daughter Mela, 15, had recently suffered a serious back injury and Eva, who had almost died when she was born 13 years ago, was also sick.
"So," explains Tiff, "it felt like we had this constant run of chaos and I didn't want people going, 'What is this woman doing, having sick kid after sick kid?' I didn't want to share what had really happened to our baby."
In the lead-up to Kenzie's planned Caesarean section delivery, Tiff's obstetrician had warned her and her husband Jason, 41, that all babies born via C-section were at risk of having extra fluid on their lungs, but the couple weren't fazed.
Yet, as Kenzie was born, this proved to be the case. As soon as she was pulled from the womb, she was struggling to breathe and the newborn was whisked away for what seemed like an eternity as medics tried to suction the fluid from her lungs.
Says Tiff, "I was like, 'What's going on?' I could feel something was wrong, but everyone was so busy working on Kenzie that they didn't have time to explain."
For the mum-of-four, the touch-and-go delivery brought back some heart-breaking memories.
After her dramatic birth, Eva had been whisked away to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and the first Tiff knew of her baby's fate was when she received a phone call to say Eva's heart had stopped beating.
The tiny tot had a hole in her diaphragm, causing her organs to push up towards her heart and lung cavity, stopping the lungs from forming properly.
She spent her first three months in a coma on life support and, at just six weeks, she underwent the first of many surgeries. Doctors didn't expect her to survive, and numerous bouts of pneumonia and several strokes later, Tiff says it's nothing short of a miracle that Eva's alive today. Her stomach and bowel do not function and she is fed nutrients through her blood stream.
"Not being able to see your baby after they're born, it's terrible," confides Tiff, who recalls how once Kenzie had been born, it was announced that she, too, was being rushed immediately to NICU.
"But Jason said, 'My wife had a really traumatic time with one of her other births – you need to let her hold the baby first,'" she recalls gratefully. "All I could think with Kenzie was, 'The next time I see her, she's going to be on life support, too.'
"I've spoken about Eva's birth a lot, to the point it almost feels like I'm telling someone else's story. But it wasn't until Kenzie was born and they wouldn't let me see her that I realised the trauma's still there."
Jason went with Kenzie, who was put on a CPAP machine to help her breathe, and as soon as possible, Tiff was wheeled in on a bed to see her precious baby.
But because of the recent RSV outbreak, no one else was allowed in NICU.
"I was so confused!" recalls Eva, who was waiting downstairs with Mela and younger brother Cooper, 5, to meet their new sister.
"We didn't want to scare them because the older two have grown up in hospital, seeing the worst of the worst," explains Tiff, talking about the five years when she and her two daughters were permanently based in Auckland's Starship Hospital so doctors could monitor Eva's condition daily.
"But they got to finally meet her a few days later."
Kenzie's health was eventually given the thumbs up and as the Weekly visits the family at their West Auckland home, the battle-weary household is breathing a sigh of relief and reflects that it finally feels like life has calmed down.
"She's a real cruiser and just absolutely adored by everyone," smiles Tiff, staring down at her beautiful baby while she breastfeeds on the couch. "Jason chose the name Kenzie, which means the world to me, because she's named after our beloved friend Makenzie Perry, who passed away from cystic fibrosis at the age of 16.
"Makenzie was on the hospital ward with us the whole time until she died in 2013. She was the cheekiest, funniest human, who if even the smallest essence lives on in our Kenzie, then we know she will make life magical."
Jason, who started dating newly single Tiff when she was living in the "Starship bubble", agrees and knew everyone would love the name.
The couple married four years ago. "One of my friends put my profile on dating app Tinder because they said I needed a boyfriend," tells Tiff.
"Then they swiped left on every guy that they didn't like the look of. I was going, 'I don't want to be on this, I've got two kids, we live in hospital and I'm going through an horrific divorce!'
"But then Jason's profile came up and they told me, 'Oh, this guy looks nice' and we matched. So we talked online for a few weeks and I tried my best to put him off because I thought who would take the three of us on?
"Jase had such a different life – no kids, a full-time job with a tidy little house."
But taking on a relationship with a woman and two kids who were transitioning out of hospital didn't faze the automotive service manager.
"Jase had to learn how to do IVs and sterile lines," says Tiff. "He sold his house so we could get a bigger one when we decided to move in together. My kids instantly loved him and he instantly connected with them. He's our rock."
He isn't afraid to show his emotions, either. When Mela recently made her way up on stage at school to receive an award – after a year that saw her unable to walk properly when a ballet jump caused significant injury to her diaphragm – her stepdad admits he may have had something in his eye.
"Oh, Jase nearly cried on the way in just thinking about her walking up!" reveals Tiff.
"No, I was just glad we didn't have to carry her up there," he winks.
"She went from this healthy 14-year-old to experiencing major damage to her thoracic nerve, which caused her to jerk constantly. We had to carry and shower her. The agony Mela pushed through to heal her back has been incredible, although she has a little way to go still."
Their next challenge will be surgery for Eva, who needs her back reconstructed to fix scoliosis, which has caused her to have a 75-degree curvature of the spine.
"It'd be nice if life could give us a smooth run, but throughout the tough times, I've learned there's so much love around us and, as a family, it's brought us even closer together."