Photography Andrew Coffey
Hayley Holt is expecting again, and feeling blessed. This coming May another baby boy is due – a baby brother for her son Raven.
Holt is used to pregnancy in the public eye. The nation mourned with her when her little boy Frankie Tai was stillborn in April 2020 six months through her pregnancy, and rejoiced at the birth of Raven on 3 July 2022, which also happens to be her birthday.
Raven’s first birthday was spent celebrating with her fiancé Josh Tito, family and friends. Holt’s mum, Robin, baked the cake which was the healthiest cake recipe Holt could find online, made with only natural ingredients including oat flour and sweetened with maple syrup and yoghurt frosting. Raven wasn’t a fan, though his 18-month-old cousin Cooper loved it, and Holt wasn’t surprised. He doesn’t have a sweet tooth, preferring vegetables and gnawing on a steak, and she doesn’t want to give him refined-sugar yet – though the former party girl is partial to sugar herself and happy to sup on sweet sodas since giving up the booze.
“If you drink enough, you can get a bit of a sugar high and go wild,” she jokes. “Though there are some great non-alcoholic options out there now that give you the idea that you’re not just drinking another soft drink. Sometimes tonic is good because it tastes more adult, and I’ve tried non-alcoholic sparkling wine. Now when I sniff an alcoholic drink it’s actually disgusting and so poisonous.”
Choosing to be alcohol-free
In her book, Second Chances, Holt writes with brutal honesty about her former drinking problem, and why she’s chosen life without alcohol. Her love of alcohol stemmed from being socially anxious and looking back it may also have had something to do with her mild ADHD with which she was diagnosed as an adult. “I drank to belong,” she explains. “As soon as I was a couple of drinks in, I was more comfortable and confident. I could just be silly with the crowd, join in conversations and adventures. Right from the very beginning, it was like this magic potion and I loved it.”
She discovered alcohol as a teenager, and it became part of her identity. Hayley, the party girl who drinks with the boys and a bit of a laugh.
“It was something I embraced, and I knew I was a larrikin, that I drank too much, but I didn’t care,” she says. “I was like, ‘it’s alright, I’m not really getting into any serious trouble’, but as you get older most people sort out their drinking or start to drink less or become a bit more responsible. That never really happened for me, and when you get older it just doesn’t really hit the same. People are like, ‘no, no, no, it’s time for you to do something about it’. It took me a while.”
It’s been nearly nine years since Holt decided to make the change, though if we’re talking AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) years, it’s 25 April 2021 since Holt had a drink and “a little slip off the wagon”.
She details the occasion in her book, which was the anniversary of the death of her son Frankie, who was tragically stillborn at 29 weeks. It had been a huge year of grappling with the grief of Frankie’s loss. She admits wanting to drink because she wanted an escape and to give her brain a break.
“What I should have done is have gone to an AA meeting a day. I should have blasted those meetings, but instead I fell off the wagon because I needed to shut off the thinking. So, in a way it was helpful because it did give my emotions and my brain a break from over-analysing everything, but it also confirmed that I’m never going to be a good drinker. I mean, it had been seven years, and even after all that time you don’t fix it or recalibrate, it’s always there and it’s always the same. So that was a good confirmation because I think when you give up drinking, that little voice in the back of your head is always there saying, ‘are you sure you have to go this far, this drastic?’.”
Today, rather than being split between her drinking and non-drinking self, Holt feels whole.
During her drinking days, as soon as she had a drink in her hand, that was a signal that she was allowed to relax and have fun, whereas when she was sober it was work, responsibilities, homelife, chores and the boring stuff.
“After I got used to not drinking, I found that my silly self was creeping into my work life, into my home life, and I realised that you can have fun with all of these things that you do. You don’t have to separate them,” she says.
Initially, social situations without alcohol were uncomfortable, but now she enjoys that aspect of it.
“I think a lot of giving up booze is about sitting in awkwardness and just accepting it for what it is. You actually start to enjoy it a little bit, it becomes kind of the buzz,” she says.
“It’s learning how to accept feeling uncomfortable and sitting in those really awkward feelings, or just knowing when it might be time to go as well. You have to accept that sometimes situations might be uncomfortable, and you’ve just got to embrace it.”
Writing a book
Holt’s book, Second Chances, is more than her alcohol journey – it also grapples with grief and Holt’s very public pregnancy and loss of Frankie, the baby she so desperately wanted.
Being in the public eye as a television presenter, former Dancing with the Stars performer and judge, successful snowboarder and having had a past high-profile relationship with former All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, Holt is used to receiving feedback from not only friends and family but also strangers. Most of the latter in this case were well-wishers, many who shared their own stories of loss and grief. It made her realise that it was a topic not often spoken of and mostly swept under the carpet. She wanted to show that you’re allowed to mourn baby loss. “At the time I felt like I was the only person in the world that it had happened to, until people started coming to me with their stories. It seems like there is a bit of shame attached to baby loss, especially in my mum’s generation,” she says. “Some of mum’s friends came to me and told me the exact same thing happened to them and their babies were whisked away as soon as they’d given birth and they were told ‘now off you go home’ and just pretend it never happened. No one was actually treated like they’d lost a baby.
“And even in my generation, almost every person I know has experienced a miscarriage and it’s always painful but not spoken about. I don’t know whether it’s a shame thing, or just that it’s hard to touch the idea of losing a baby, but I think people felt heard after I talked about it. It happened so publicly that they were able to share their story.
I know through AA and drinking that sharing your story is part of the healing because it gets it outside, gets it out.”
By sharing both aspects of her life – past drinking and the grief of losing a baby – in her book, she had a feeling that people might be able to relate and be inspired to think about their own experiences. Since the book’s release in April she’s had a lot of people get in touch and say it’s made them think about their own drinking, or they’ve experienced baby loss and now don’t feel embarrassed about sharing that.
There’s this myth that when you make it to 12 weeks, you’re fine and if you go past the 20-week scan you’re pretty much home and dry, Holt says.
Seeing a therapist helped her free herself from self-blame, which is common after having a miscarriage.
Was it something she did? Did she catch something on the plane? Was it her years of drinking beforehand?
“Self-blame is really damaging. My therapist helped me understand that it wasn’t my fault, just something that happens,” she says. “It’s also really helpful when you have these ideas and doubts, to ask your doctor. My doctor showed me how medically it was just a fluke, and that’s helpful. So, if you have doubts, ask the question.”
When Holt had a miscarriage after Frankie, her first thought was ‘I did it again’ because it happened after she’d done some yoga.
Therapy has helped Holt so much that she still goes to therapy “just for life, because it’s amazing”. She started therapy after losing Frankie and feels grateful that she is in a position where she can afford it.
“It helps you get your thoughts out and understand how you’re feeling, because I think that is the hardest thing. Often you don’t really know why you’re feeling the way you are, or even what you’re feeling. New Zealanders don’t have words for our emotions.”
Aside from talking about it, Holt’s advice to anyone suffering grief is to give yourself time and don’t feel like you have to get over it at a certain time and accept that you will probably never get over it.
“This is going to sound strange, but I looked at the positive things about the experience. What good things did it bring into my life? What did I learn from it, and how did it actually improve my life in a weird way? Switching that thinking really helped to get away from the darkness and see what kind of light it might have brought me.”
Speaking to others who have gone through a similar experience is really helpful. And lean on people who want to help as well but don’t feel like you have to be happy and put on a brave face, just do what you need to do in the moment, she advises.
“It’s different for everyone, but listen to yourself and what you might need in that moment. Anything is okay. If you need to be surrounded by people, do that. If you want privacy and want them to stay away, do that too. If you want to storm around the house in anger and cry, do that and really feel it because if you try and hide from the pain or those feelings, they’re going to come back out later.”
Realising that lots of others had been through the same thing also helped Holt move through her grief. “Even though that sounds really sad, this is life. Things are going to happen. You’re going to lose something or someone. Buddhists say that life is suffering, and I think that’s true and once you accept that, then you don’t have to ask, ‘why me?’,” she says.
“It’s also okay to be in a traumatic situation and not have to fall down the well as well. Joking can be helpful.
You don’t always have to match the experience with your emotions or behaviour.”
Being “an older mum” at age 43, Holt admits it is tiring and she marvels at parents with more than one child.
Raven is a good sleeper, so she and Josh feel fortunate in that regard.
When she was a professional dancer and snowboarder, it was the training that gave her energy. “I need to do some more exercise because when you don’t exercise, you get tired. The more you use it, the more you get,” she says.
In her drinking days, alcohol used to give her false energy at the end of a long day, though now she realises that was just using up all her resources and in those situations it’s just better to rest to recharge.
“A lot of people do the hell hangover where they’ll go to the gym and punish themselves and try and flush it out, but that doesn’t work. You need to lie down, don’t move and let your body do its job. I think people forget that resting is really important.”
These days, Holt prefers using meditation to energise. She was introduced to the practice by friend and yogi Claire Robbie.
“It’s a really useful and practical way of meditating. Twenty minutes, twice a day, and you can do it anywhere. You’re not in an alcove with incense and Buddhas, you can do it on the toilet, in the car.
You just need somewhere where you can sit, close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing.”
Holt likes to ground herself when meditating and be intentional about the energies she wants to bring in. Sometimes when she’s doing it, she’ll feel a whoosh of energy rise from her root chakra to her crown chakra, “tapping into the highest energy”.
“It sounds woo woo, but it’s important to try and surround yourself with a protective field so that you’re not getting everyone else’s energy. That can be really hard for someone who’s a bit empathetic as sometimes you might be feeling sad or anxious or angry and you don’t understand why. It might not necessarily be yours. Someone who’s around you is feeding you their energy,” she explains. “I add in that connection to the earth and to a higher power so that I can feel the beautiful energies that come with it, but you can just talk to your breathing – in out, in out – for 20 minutes and then you feel amazing.”
The social pressures of body image come with being in the public eye, yet Holt has become accepting of her post-baby body (after initially mourning it).
“It brings the freedom of not having to have the perfect beach body. I don’t think about it as much as I did back when I had a great body and hid it because you have these huge expectations,” she says. “I guess in the 90s there was heroin chic, and the supermodels were all tiny and we aspired to that. But now with social media there’s a whole extra pressure because you don’t just have to be that on the beach, you have to be that every day and you have to be there when you’re putting photos up on Instagram.”
On Instagram, Holt likes to be real.
And while being in the public eye brings negative as well as positive feedback, she focuses on the positive.
“Wilful ignorance is really helpful. I just don’t look at it or give it any energy. But I love the good stuff. I don’t look at the online comments, but my mum does and she feeds me the good ones.”
In addition to nature, what fills Holt’s cup up most is being with her family, and cuddles.
“I’m a big cuddler and Josh is going to hate me for saying this. He loves to cuddle, and Raven does too.”
The couple have a relationship where they try and help each other and be there to allow what the other needs.
“We try to make life fun and make life good for each other,” she says.
Being a mum doesn’t give her much alone time, which is usually her commute from Warkworth to the city before presenting TVNZ sports news. She uses the opportunity to listen to podcasts. Her go-tos are political podcasts When the Facts Change, Gone by Lunchtime and The Working Group.
Politics is in her blood. Her grandad, Wilf Holt, ran for a seat in the Bay of Islands in 1982 as a member of the Social Credit party. And she is humbled that the Greens thought she’d make a great MP and believes her role was to bring attention to the Greens and to the issues they cared about.
“I understand why people get frustrated by politicians and the games of politics, as they seem to have such a hand in our daily lives, but I can’t help but get annoyed by people who flat-out hate politicians and write them all off by saying they aren’t good people. Sure, it can be dirty sometimes, but most politicians across the spectrum have good intentions and want to make a positive difference. You’ve got to have someone running the country, and who is going to corral all this chaos if not politicians? Now, more than ever, I believe that we need to respect politics. Like it, or loathe it, it’s one of the most critical things in our society. It shapes the world. Opting out isn’t an option.”
A voice for our rivers
Like most people, Holt tries to live as sustainably as possible by avoiding plastic as much as possible, recycling, and is guilty of having a takeaway coffee every now and then.
Caring for the environment is extremely important to her.
“It’s frustrating that the answer is obvious, but it doesn’t look like the fix is possible. We’re stuck in this growth model where the economy is the most important thing and that’s what’s doing the damage,” she says. “It’s going to take big changes and I’m not sure we’re up for it. That sounds very depressing, but it’s helped me relax and just concentrate on my own environment, my family, and what I can do something about.
“I really think New Zealand should concentrate on its physical environment, the rivers and forests. I’d love to fix this. Rivers are amazing, they can regenerate themselves over time, we just have to leave them alone and stop filling them with shit.”
Right now, she feels New Zealand politics is going through a transition period where politics is becoming the issue rather than the issues. “You have to have the opposition, and you’re always having to take the other side of the issue, which I find really frustrating. Why can’t we all just work together?”.
Make-up Emma Peters of Aleph Beauty, hair Yelena Bebich of Aleph Beauty, styling Carolyn Enting. Oufit in the main image: Hayley wears Jaimie ‘London’ shirt and ‘Zoot’ trouser, jaimie.co.nz; and Silk & Steel Bianca hoops (Pearl + Gold), silkandsteel.co.nz.