The Lakatani family have learnt that from adversity comes strength, and through their passion for the arts, they’re keeping the love alive for their own family and the community they live in.
This is where love lives. Inside a black and white-trimmed weatherboard bungalow in Auckland’s Avondale. Dad Malcolm sits with his arms outstretched on the back of the couch. He’s a big guy, in both stature and spirit. He’s had to be to help guide his girls – wife Deahne, step-daughter Izabella, and daughter Aundreah – through three years of sadness to the place they are now, a happy place filled with smiles and music and a bonny, bouncing baby boy, Trinity Soul.
In late 2011 the family were looking forward to welcoming a new addition. This was Deahne’s third pregnancy and she and Mal were both pretty relaxed. In fact, they didn’t go to their 12-week scan until about 16 weeks. That’s when they found out something was wrong. For the next week or so, they sat with the devastating news that their baby had anencephaly, which meant only part of her brain had formed. They had to decide whether to continue with the pregnancy or not, knowing that even if the baby survived to full term, she would only live for a matter of hours. They resigned themselves to a medical termination.
They named her Haven Amour.
About six weeks after losing baby Haven, the Lakatanis buried her. That night, still so raw with grief, the family was confronted again. Deahne remembers, “I opened my eyes and an ambulance was here. I’d had a seizure in my sleep”. Mal reluctantly recalls the dramatic details, “I thought it was one of those things where she was annoyed because I’d pulled the blankets off or something, but she was shaking. I didn’t know what to do. It went on for about four minutes. I was lost. It was a horrible time”.
Deahne was diagnosed with nocturnal epilepsy which means she only has seizures in her sleep. She was having them a couple of times a week, and Mal was bearing the brunt with middle- of-the-night ambulance calls and trips to the hospital. Every seizure was like running a marathon and Deahne was losing 1-2 kilograms each time. For months she was single-minded about putting weight on and getting back her strength.
Were the loss of baby Haven and the epilepsy related? “Well”, Deahne says, “that depends who you talk to. Certainly my Chinese acupuncturist would say ‘Of course it is’”.
It seems she’s been pre-disposed to epilepsy her whole life, but it was only triggered after the trauma of losing Haven.
New life, new love
Needless to say, the couple were wary about the prospect of trying for another baby. They agreed to wait until they both felt calm and healthy again. It took a couple of years, but eventually they were ready. Interestingly, Deahne didn’t have any seizures during the next pregnancy. Deahne jokes about it now, saying, “well, my Chinese acupuncturist would say it’s related”. But the medical fraternity’s not as willing to give such blatant confirmation. They may never know for sure.
Trinity Soul was born with a smile on his face. “He came out knowing," Deahne says. “It was like he knew he had a job here. It was as if he said ‘I’ve seen my sister, and I’m here now; it’s all going to be alright.’”
And what a smile. The kid sits on his Dad’s lap and bashes the ukulele. He giggles as his big sister, Aundreah, pretends to nibble his fingers. He turns his head to look at the visitor in the room and loses his newly found balance, toppling over on the floor, but doesn’t burst into tears.
Now they’ve found their equilibrium again, the family is focussed on their passions. For five-year-old Aundreah that’s school, which she loves, and performing. Mal recalls when she was three she spied one of his microphones in a cupboard and said “My gosh! A microphone! Can I have a turn?” and proceeded to make up a song there and then.
Fourteen-year-old Izabella splits her time between here and her father’s place, with a good number of early mornings spent in the pool, training for swimming meets. While Aundreah is only five, she thinks her big sister is the best, so Mal and Deahne won’t be surprised if early morning trainings are a part of their lives for another 15 years!
Deahne is back doing some freelance work as a social worker around the local schools, as well as running her online business, Noah and Bells (noahandbells.co.nz), which specialises in 100% cotton dresses which are reminiscent of the sorts of dresses she used to wear as a child. She started it as a single mum when Izabella was just three and now says “it still makes me beam with pride that I created this little empire by myself all those years ago”.
Mal juggles many hats – as a professional session musician, as a mentor for aspiring young musicians, and running the Little Souls Music Academy –- teaching music at preschools and primary schools around Auckland.
And as if all that isn’t enough, Deahne and Mal also run a community arts scheme, The Creative Souls Project, which provides a place for local kids in Avondale to explore the arts. Deahne recently took a group of boys who were getting into trouble at school under her wing and taught them all how to hand-sew. “The arts is the way we get these kids to the end of school”, she proudly explains.
Many hours are spent writing funding applications to the likes of APRA and the Ministry of Education, and while some of their work is funded, a lot of it is from their own pockets.
Deahne and Mal actually met when they were working at Avondale Intermediate together – she was a social worker, he was the music teacher. She needed a flatmate to help with the bills, he needed a place to live. A modern-day love story.
But over time they both became disillusioned with the politics and bureaucracy of the school environment, and now find greater independence and a sense of achievement by working just outside the formal education system.
Such is their profile in Avondale that they purposefully chose to send Izabella and Aundreah elsewhere to school. As Mal says, “we didn’t want them to get either a free-ride or, alternatively, a hard time because of their parents”. But they do get dragged around community meetings, volunteer at various events, and are being brought up with the family motto to “look after the place you live”.
Lessons in motherhood
In Deahne’s own words, they’re not your average family. She’s slight and Pakeha, Mal is a beefy Pacific Islander of Niuean descent, with a head full of dreadlocks. They have a big gap in ages between the kids. But she says the neat part of that is that they experience the joys and challenges of all the stages of childhood every day – puberty, pre-school, and teething all at once.
“When Aundreah was born, everybody thought I knew what I was doing because I already had a nine-year-old, but I was probably more of a beginner than I had been the first time. I was not the confident 20-year-old I had been with Izabella, and some days I found it tough – worrying I hadn’t been wise enough with the choices I had made with Izabella, and worried I was worrying too much now I was a ‘grown-up’ mum.”
But living through the loss of Haven, and Deahne's months of illness, has given them all a sense of priority. “We had the comfort of control ripped out from around us. Now we always say to each other that those little things – those niggly annoying things like who does the dishes, whether you’ve made your bed on time, how many kinds of vegies the kids ate today – they take up too many hours of worry that we can never get back.”
They also want other families experiencing the loss of a child to learn that it doesn’t have to become their entire identity. They work hard to keep Haven’s memory alive – Deahne wears an angel wing on her necklace, and on the living-room sideboard sits a small fabric elephant which was a gift from Sands, the organisation that supports families after the death of a baby. “For us, she is part of everything”, she says, “She’s just there all the time.”
The heart and soul of this family are very much alive –there's so much activity and passion. Their love for the place where they live is infectious. Avondale is lucky to have them.
Photography: Sam Mothersole, sammothersole.co.nz