Each week Sonia Gray celebrates making Kiwis’ wildest dreams come true through her Lotto and Big Wednesday presenting roles on TV. But last month, the vivacious mother-of-two was counting her own very special blessings.
Her two greatest treasures, twin daughters Inez and Thandie, blew out the pink and white candles on their fifth-birthday cakes and headed out to start their first day at school.
The day signalled a big shift in Sonia’s life, and brought on an unexpected mix of emotions.
“Friends asked me a lot about how I was feeling leading up to it,” she says. “And I told all of them how great it was going to be. I thought, ‘They’re so ready for it’ and ‘Wow, I’ll have all this time for myself!’
“Well… I can tell you, I was a mess! I was quite traumatised by it all. I did a lot of crying. It was just weird.” It certainly didn’t help when she picked up her two gorgeous girls from school to find they weren’t happy about their new lives.
“Pick-up was terrible,” sighs Sonia. “Even physically, their little bodies were all slumped and sad. Then they said to me, ‘We don’t have to go back tomorrow, do we, Mum?’ And I was thinking, ‘Oh, just for the next 13 years, darlings!’”
She needn’t have worried, though, because by week two both her wee girls were in love with school, racing to do their homework and finding extra books to read. “I’m so proud of them – the pride feels like it’s just bursting out of me.”
She can’t help but feel a sense of delight too, as the girls’ personalities blossom. “It’s amazing how non-identical they are,” she marvels. “They don’t really even look like sisters, let alone twins. Thandie’s much smaller than Inez – a whole size smaller. Thandie’s got the blue eyes and the pale skin.
“The other unusual thing is that her hair grows really slowly; we haven’t cut it yet. Nezzie’s is all the way down her back and it’s thick, dark and we keep giving her haircuts!”
Watching the pair head off on their big day was particularly poignant for Sonia as she doesn’t plan on having any more children.
“Their birthday week, I was thinking, ‘Maybe I just need to have another baby,’” she laughs.
“But apparently that’s normal. I’m back to thinking clearly. I’m 90% sure we’re done. We’ve had a set of twins – imagine if we had another!”
It’s been a long, but rewarding road for Sonia. Plagued by pre-eclampsia during her pregnancy, the twins were born prematurely and had tremendous trouble feeding. Sonia went through four bouts of painful mastitis and also became extremely ill with a postpartum haemorrhage.
“I literally thought I was going to die,” she recalls. “I could feel myself drifting out of it, about eight hours through, when they couldn’t stop the bleeding. I was getting really angry, thinking, ‘I went through all of this to have these kids and now they’re not even going to have a mother!’ It was a hell of a year.”
Sonia quickly realised that having two little ones to care for was a total game changer and she needed to reassess. “I said to myself, ‘OK, this is how it is now; it’s not easy. You’re not going to be able to juggle too much – they need you.’”
After that difficult year, things did improve. “I’m making it sound terrible!” exclaims Sonia.
“There are plenty of people who have it worse, and it did get a lot easier. When they went to preschool, I suddenly had three days free, and obviously I’m pretty lucky getting to dress up and go on the telly every week, which is a nice break! Plus, I had tremendous support – my family and friends were incredible.”
Sonia and her civil-union partner, Simon Chesterman, are especially fortunate to both have parents in Auckland, who are only too willing to take the children for a night. “We are beyond lucky, getting to have Friday nights to ourselves when we need it,” she says.
Now Sonia is looking forward to some balance in her life as she gets stuck into more work with Lotto projects, as well as with the Mental Health Foundation, a cause close to her heart. “It’s very personal and important to me, because I have a long history with anxiety and depression and feel like I can be of some assistance,” she says.
She’s particularly interested in being involved in a new campaign that aims to support young women. “It’s a time when I really struggled in my life. And now that I’m the mother of two girls, it’s got me thinking about what’s out there for them.”
One thing she’s grateful for is that the girls will always have the support of one another. “They absolutely adore each other and it’s made it easier knowing they have one another. They’ll never be alone.”