Estelle Clifford is still getting used to the word "mum".
After high hopes, more than a few tears, three rounds of IVF and three years of having their book in the adoption system, Estelle and her husband Gibby welcomed their daughter Ava into their lives in May of 2019.
"It’s not that I’m not comfortable with it, it just sometimes, still takes me by surprise," Estelle told fellow Hits host, Stacey Morrison, about finally being a mother.
The Hits night show host opened up in the new episode of the Mums In Cars podcast about her journey with IVF and how she and her husband eventually came to the decision to adopt.
"[Adoption] had always been something in the back of our minds," Estelle said.
She explained that she and Gibby knew they didn’t want to let the at times heart-breaking process of IVF "break" them and after taking some time of "personal healing" knew that adoption was something they wanted to pursue.
Starting the long process with Oranga Tamariki - which included classes, house safety checks, financial sign-offs, and medical checks – the couple made a book of who they were that would be shown to parents wanting to give their babies up for adoption.
"We were pretty hell-bent that we were going to carry on with the adoption," Estelle said, even when it was made clear that adoptions within New Zealand are actually fairly rare.
"I think that roughly, during our time in the [adoption] pool [there were] around about 33 to 40 couples looking to adopt and I think annually [there were] anywhere between five and 10 adoptions," she said.
"They never quite know why a birth family chooses you - sometimes it might be to do with religion or your own background, it could be cultural things, it could be the kind of work you do – they just don’t know and it’s different for every family."
But after almost three years of having their hopes built up and brought back down again, Estelle and Gibby started to think it may not work out, and instead decided to focus on being the "cool aunty and uncle" to their nieces and nephews.
"We had talked about taking our book out of the pool," she said. "We were starting to think, there’s got to be more for us than just ticking along with this thing in the back of your mind.
"I felt a little bit lost about it."
However, just six months after coming to that conclusion and finding their peace with it, Estelle and Gibby’s world completely changed.
Recalling the moment her caseworker told her "you’ve been chosen by a family" over the phone, Estelle says she remembers feeling both elated and in complete disbelief.
"I’d been at the beach the day before," Estelle told Stacey about the day before she received the call, "and it was really calm and really still and I think I’d kind of just had a conversation with the universe, 'is this it? Am I at peace with myself? Am I OK?'
"I still felt like there was a bigger energy around me, but I didn’t know what it was and I was like, 'OK well, I’m in a little stable happy place'."
"And the energy was the baby that was meant for you," Stacey noted.
"Yeah," Estelle agreed. "I think I already had that connection. It’s really weird to think about now, but I always knew I was going to have a girl."
After the call from her caseworker, Estelle says she experienced a moment of stunned silence where she effectively had the equivalent of the nine months a mother carrying a baby would have to prepare, all at once in those short seconds.
The next stage was meeting Ava’s birth family – just two days after getting that life-changing call - which Estelle described as "the biggest audition of our lives".
"The birth mother, she was amazing," Estelle said. "She just blew our minds she just started she was like, 'Hey here’s all the reasons why I love you guys and here’s why I chose you'.
"I was so struck by her energy and her confidence about what she had chosen to do. [I] just hadn’t anticipated her to come so forthright and ready."
"From that moment I was like, 'yeah we’re doing this'."
Next, Estelle and Gibby got to meet Ava.
"I just knew straight away as soon as I saw her like 'yeah, you’re my baby'.
"I loved her right from the start," Estelle said about the darling girl she had been waiting for for so long. Isn’t it so weird? I just looked at her and I was like 'yeah, we got this'.
"You took a little longer, but you found me."
Then just over a week after meeting her, Estelle and Gibby got to bring Ava home with them.
"I think we’ve been really blessed with how this has gone," noting not all adoption stories go quite as smoothly. "We're all doing this from a place of love and that’s what makes it work."
Like all adoptions within New Zealand, Ava’s adoption is open, meaning that Estelle and Gibby are in contact with Ava’s birth family and often give them updates on her milestones.
While there are still more steps long the adoption process, Estelle says she can’t imagine her life – now as a mother to a nine-month old baby girl - any other way.
"I sometimes forget that I didn’t go through that birth journey," Estelle revealed. "It suddenly becomes very natural and you have been able to give yourself that space to get in tune with your baby and just accept things are a bit messy and crazy. You almost forget that I wasn’t part of that bit."
Listen to Estelle’s full Mums In Cars episode on iHeartRadio: