A new dad's life is in pieces after his fiancee died giving birth to their first child at Tauranga Hospital.

The little girl Shelly Cockburn [pronounced Coburn] had already named Kora survived, and her grieving father Kirk Ross has given up work to raise the infant without her mother.

Ross, 34, has told the Weekend Herald of the horrifying moments inside the birthing room when it all went wrong - after a normal pregnancy with no complications.

Ross, Cockburn's mother Hine, and the midwife were in the delivery suite at Tauranga Hospital on September 10 when the tragedy struck after 3am.

"We went in to have baby and she was going through the labour and she said her chest hurt.

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"That's when she had a fit, a sort of seizure.

"She had been labouring for about an hour. Everything was going good. She was pushing with the contractions.

"When she had her seizure or fit they hit an emergency button and all the doctors came running in."

Ross and Hine left the room as doctors worked to save the 29-year-old mother and baby.

"I was just scared really," he said.

"I didn't really know what was happening."

Shelly Cockburn, 29, was excited about the birth of her first child but never lived to see her baby daughter Kora. Photo / Facebook
Shelly Cockburn, 29, was excited about the birth of her first child but never lived to see her baby daughter Kora. Photo / Facebook

Doctors asked for permission to perform a caesarean section to get Kora out.

"That was the best chance of reviving Shelly," Ross said.

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Kora was born healthy and doctors quickly began CPR on Cockburn. Ross and Hine waited anxiously outside the room for about 20 minutes before a doctor broke the devastating news.

"They just came out and said unfortunately they couldn't revive her and she didn't make it.

"We burst into tears. It was very unexpected."

Ross said doctors told him they thought it was an embolism.

Ross, who worked at Port of Tauranga as a forklift driver, said he is taking it "day by day".

"I don't really know how I'm coping at the moment. I don't really know where to move on from here. It's pretty hard. It still doesn't really feel real."

He remains at his parents' family home in Maketu where the couple had been living. The couple were meant to be moving into a house this weekend, one Ross' parents were going to help them buy from a family trust.

"I can't really do that now."

Kirk Ross and 3-week-old daughter Kora Cockburn-Ross. Fiancée Shelly Cockburn died while giving birth to the couple's daughter at Tauranga Hospital. Photo / Alan Gibson
Kirk Ross and 3-week-old daughter Kora Cockburn-Ross. Fiancée Shelly Cockburn died while giving birth to the couple's daughter at Tauranga Hospital. Photo / Alan Gibson

Cockburn's parents will also help care for newborn Kora.

The sweethearts met while working in the kiwifruit industry in Paengaroa in 2007 and had been engaged for three years.

Ross and Cockburn, who had only returned to New Zealand from five years living in Perth in March, were also planning their wedding next year.

"We hadn't decided where. We were waiting until baby was born."

His fiancee had been excited about the impending arrival of their daughter in the weeks leading up to the birth. She loved babies and was very family-oriented, he said.

Cockburn's whānau, from Pukehina, a tiny beach settlement south of Papamoa in the Bay of Plenty, declined a post-mortem examination.

Ross had not met with the DHB over his fiancee's death but was offered grief counselling which he had not yet taken up.

Bay of Plenty District Health Board midwifery leader Kirsty Rance expressed her condolences and said because Cockburn's death had been referred to the Coroner she could not comment on the cause, but confirmed the DHB investigated all unexpected, serious events.

Kirk Ross said his partner of 12 years Shelly Cockburn was beautiful and made him laugh. Now he faces life without her. Photo / Givealittle
Kirk Ross said his partner of 12 years Shelly Cockburn was beautiful and made him laugh. Now he faces life without her. Photo / Givealittle

That process was now under way though no immediate risks had been identified after Cockburn's death.

She said the senior obstetrician involved met with Cockburn's family that day and offered to meet again, with the invitation remaining open.

Rance said maternal deaths during pregnancy and birth were rare. There were 2700 births at Tauranga Hospital each year.

In the just released 13th Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee report which holds the latest data on mother and baby deaths and baby brain injuries in pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum, it shows on average 10 mothers die each year nationally from pregnancy-related causes.

Since the PMMRC began investigations in 2006, 13 women had died from an amniotic fluid embolism around the time of childbirth.

"This is a rare pregnancy complication that occurs when the fluid that surrounded the baby during pregnancy enters the mother's bloodstream and causes an allergic reaction," according to the Health Quality and Safety Commission New Zealand website.

Ross described Cockburn as a great partner.

"She was beautiful. She had a great smile, and she was always happy. She always made me laugh."

Kirk Ross and Shelly Cockburn had been engaged three years and were planning for a wedding next year, after baby daughter Kora was born. Photo / Supplied
Kirk Ross and Shelly Cockburn had been engaged three years and were planning for a wedding next year, after baby daughter Kora was born. Photo / Supplied

Cockburn's tangi was held on the weekend after her death and she is buried at the Oreiwhata urupa at Pukehina.

A Givealittle page set up by Cockburn's cousin has raised almost $9000 and Ross said he would use the money to raise Kora and stay on paternity leave.

Cockburn's cousin Ricky Edwards wrote on her Givealittle page: "She had the biggest heart and absolutely adored her fiance Kirk who was right by her side in what should have been the happiest day of their life.

"Shelly would have been an amazing mother. She leaves behind her loving little family that will never forget her."

Tributes flowed on social media for Cockburn at the time of her death.

Her cousin, Bay of Plenty Volcanix rugby player Anahera Mohi, posted of her loss on Instagram.

"You were an angel on earth."

Five weeks earlier Mohi posted a photo of herself and a smiling, pregnant Cockburn.

"Hope baby is blessed enough to have a best friend like I have in you, raised as cousin but a love like sisters. So excited to love her," she wrote.

Cockburn replied: "Love you forever and always cousin."