As Simon and Katrina Gault play with their miracle baby on the floor of their elegant South Auckland home, their delight and joy is overwhelming.
“She’s been tested out. She’s fully operational and amazing – incredible,” beams Simon (49) as Hazel smiles, her tiny fingers wrapped around the MasterChef judge’s finger.
“They can tell you what it’s like, that your life will change when you become a parent, but the moment it happens, it’s like someone has flicked a switch.
“You think you know what love is, but when you become a father – that’s when you discover how powerful love actually is.”
But this is a family scene that nearly didn’t happen and behind their happiness lies a heartbreaking story that Simon and Katrina (38) have chosen to share in the hope that it saves other prospective parents.
“We’re quite private people. This is not a story we’d normally tell, but I think we have to in the hope that it stops others from going through what we’ve been through,” says Simon.
After marrying in a quiet Auckland ceremony at Mollies boutique hotel in September 2010, Simon and Katrina hoped to start a family. But after two miscarriages, the couple began looking at their options.
“I turned 38 in February and because we’d been trying for a couple of years, I was starting to get a bit panicky,” says hairdresser Katrina.
“I spoke to a client who’d had fertility treatment, so decided that even though we’d been pregnant before, it would be worth us getting tests done.”
Desperate to be a dad, Simon agreed. “To me the question wasn’t whether we could get pregnant – we knew we could – but why we weren’t hanging onto them,” he explains.
So in November 2012, Katrina booked an appointment at a fertility clinic, came home with tests for herself and Simon, and returned to the clinic alone a few weeks later for the results. But what she heard was the last thing she expected.
“As soon as I sat down, I was told Simon was fine, but I had bad eggs – they were too old and I should have had babies in my twenties,” says Katrina.
“I was told I had a chromosomal problem. I had an underactive thyroid, would go through early menopause and only had a 20% chance of getting pregnant naturally, so IVF would be ‘a very positive outcome for me’.”
“It was handled so incredibly badly – I wasn’t even there, so I couldn’t help,” says Simon, clearly angry and upset.
“There was this so-called expert, telling Katrina we only have a 20% chance of getting pregnant. Hello, we don’t have any problem getting pregnant.”
Katrina was sent into the next room, where a nurse ensured a distraught Katrina understood what she’d just been told.
“I was a blubbering mess,” she says. “I couldn’t bear being there any more. I had to get out and go to work. I was hysterical. I just thought my world was over – I couldn’t have children.”
Devastated, Katrina left the clinic and rang Simon, who suggested she take a three-month break from work.
“Katrina is healthy and fit, but we wanted children and the experts had told us IVF would have a positive outcome, so even though it was a pretty big financial outlay, we believed the experts – that we didn’t have any other option,” he says.
Last January, Katrina and Simon went back to the clinic for their first dose of hormone injections. “I couldn’t do it, so Simon was administering the injections in my stomach for me,” says Katrina. But just four days later, everything changed.
“I was outside cooking on the barbecue and Katrina had told me she felt weird. I felt sure she was pregnant,” the chef says.
“I’ve seen Katrina pregnant before. You know, don’t you? When women are pregnant, they look and act differently.”
Katrina took a test – and it was positive.“I didn’t believe it. I’d just been told I couldn’t get pregnant and I hadn’t done that brand of test before, so figured it was just the hormones from the injections,” says Katrina.
“Simon wanted to ring someone. He was worried the injections could affect the baby if I was pregnant, but we had our next appointment to get another lot of injections – the big ones – at the clinic two days later, so I ignored it.”
But as the couple were being handed the box of needles, Simon suggested Katrina do another pregnancy test.
“The nurse told us if the first one was positive, I was definitely pregnant, but she did another test anyway.”
When that came out positive, Katrina was sent for blood tests, and later that day got a call confirming the pregnancy.
“We were stoked,” says Simon. “We’d got pregnant by ourselves, with no need for treatment. It was awesome.”
Because of the previous miscarriages and the four hormone injections, the clinic wanted to track the pregnancy.
Blood tests every few days showed that Katrina’s hormones were rising well and the couple were cautiously optimistic by the time they visited the fertility clinic for their seven-week scan. It was here Simon met the fertility expert for the first time.
“As soon as we walked through the door, this horrible feeling washed over me,” recalls Katrina. “Before the door was even closed, the expert said, ‘Now, you don’t have to worry about the injections you’ve done. They won’t affect the baby.’ It made me feel better.”
Feeling more positive than they had for a while, Katrina and Simon watched as the doctor started the scan.
“It all felt so quick. At the time, I wanted [everything] to slow down – I was dying to hear the heartbeat, to see the baby.”
And soon, on the screen, there she was – their baby.
“It felt incredible,” says Simon, his voice cracking at the memory. “Then [she] did a measurement. And then... this...”
His wife takes over as Simon is overcome with emotion. “While I was still on the scan table, [she] told us, ‘This is not going to be a successful pregnancy,’” Katrina says. “All I could think was, ‘Here we go again.’”
“There was no compassion,” Simon, his voice shaking.
”I was saying, ‘But we can see a heartbeat. Surely that’s a good sign?’ [She] kept saying, ‘It’s not going to be a positive outcome.’”
The doctor explained that the measurements didn’t match up with what a seven-week-old foetus should be.
Dazed, Katrina asked if it measured right for six weeks. “[She] said – I remember this like it’s drilled into my head – [she] said, ‘No. It’s bang on.’”
After the scan, the doctor began to explain what the couple’s next option would be.
“[She] said if we wanted to get pregnant now, the only way it would happen is if we hop on an aeroplane to the US and buy an egg donor,” Simon recalls.
Within minutes, Simon and Katrina were given their options for a package trip to San Diego, which included their flights, accommodation and treatment.
“First, we only have a 20% chance of getting pregnant and our only chance was fertility treatment,” says Simon.
“Now we’re pregnant and we’re being told it isn’t going to be successful. We’ve jumped the fertility before we’ve even done it and told we have to go to the US. It was unbelievable.”
Devastated, he asked how much this would cost.
“It was about $45,000. I said that was a hell of a lot of money. And [she] replied, ‘I’ve just paid my child’s private school fees for a year. Kids cost you a lot of money, Simon.’ It was just disgraceful.
“What she said, the way she said it, how she dealt with us... Normally I’m the first one to stand up and be counted, but on this day, I dropped the ball. I didn’t fight back. We were just devastated.”
At the end of the meeting, the doctor booked Simon and Katrina in for another checkup scan the following week. But her next words shook them to the core. “She told us that if things hadn’t progressed, she would terminate the pregnancy and use the foetus for testing because of my chromosomal problem,” says Katrina.
“I was numb. I felt like I’d been drugged. I couldn’t understand how things could change so quickly. All the blood tests had come back fine, all feedback was positive – how could it go from that to being so horribly wrong, to being an unsuccessful pregnancy? We were completely broken.”
The couple left the clinic shattered and Simon mentally prepared himself for losing a third precious baby.
But Katrina had other ideas. Once home, she told Simon she didn’t want to return to the clinic.
“I didn’t want to hear any more,” she says. “I wanted to let nature take its course.”
Katrina rang the clinic to cancel her appointment and hasn’t heard from them again.
“I’m sure that expert had good intentions, but what we were told, the way we were told, it made the pregnancy a misery,” says Simon.
“I doubted every minute of it because we were told it would be unsuccessful. Even once Hazel was born I kept questioning, is she normal? Is this right? Hazel is our treasured daughter, the baby that’s not supposed to be here.”
Little Hazel developed normally and Katrina says she loved being pregnant.
“Even after 12 weeks we didn’t want to tell anyone, just in case. But it was quite difficult because I popped out quite early – and most of my friends know I don’t usually refuse a glass of wine!”
The couple were supported throughout by their GP, the team at Auckland Obstetric Centre, as well as a practitioner from Neurolink, a non-invasive treatment that “taps into” the brain’s intelligence to help the body function at its best – something Simon believes was the key to getting Katrina through the nightmare.
“They made me believe this pregnancy was going to work,” says Katrina.
But for Simon, the process was harder.
“I kept thinking, ‘How could this expert have been wrong? We hadn’t been told ‘maybe’. We were told this is going to be an unsuccessful pregnancy.’”
So although Simon cried when he felt the first kicks in Katrina’s belly, and attended almost every appointment and scan, deep down he still didn’t believe there would be a baby.
Remembers Katrina, “I felt fantastic and I was seeing the Neurolink practitioner every week, who made me feel positive and sure of myself. It was Simon who couldn’t relax.”
The pregnancy continued without incident – until Katrina’s due date arrived.
“It was the day of the last America’s Cup race and we were driving to hospital thinking what a great day this would be – we’d win the Cup and have a baby!” laughs Simon.
The pair were so caught up in the race that the distractions of worrying about what might happen next were almost forgotten. After a checkup, the pair went to the hospital café to grab a coffee, after which they were planning a walk.
“At the end, Simon got up and sprinted off, as he does,” recalls Katrina. “I stood up and suddenly there was water everywhere! I tried to get him to come back without drawing attention to myself – then he realised what had happened, grabbed my bag, and was like, ‘Right, right,’ darting about with my handbag. It was hilarious.”
Luckily, Katrina managed to return safely to the maternity ward where her contractions began in earnest. Ten hours and an epidural later, however, things began to change.
“I suddenly developed a pain in my side and the obstetrician, who was awesome, decided that I needed an emergency C-section,” says Katrina. “I was so disappointed – I wanted to push her out naturally. But it was still an amazing experience.
And so Hazel was born, screaming her lungs out lustily – with her father in floods of tears. “Go figure,” he smiles.
“Katrina was the first to hold her after she was weighed and checked and I took photos of everything. It was the most incredible moment of my life.”
While Simon’s professional world is still going strong – he has published three cookbooks, runs eight restaurants, is part owner in several businesses, as well as MasterChef beginning in February – the workaholic plans to spend more time at home with his beloved girls.
“I’ve been saying for a while I’ll slow down,” he says. “Now we’ve got Hazel, it’ll happen. Everything’s different.”