Precious gift of love

BRINGING JOY: Marama Hamahona, 36, holds her youngest of seven children, Hori, 6 weeks.
BRINGING JOY: Marama Hamahona, 36, holds her youngest of seven children, Hori, 6 weeks.

Many families have Marama Hamahona to thank for making their household complete.

The Ranui resident has dedicated almost a lifetime to bearing children.

But despite being satisfied with seven of her own offspring, Ms Hamahona and her partner continue to make babies for friends and family members who can't conceive naturally.

It's a process known as whangai and is common in many Maori families.

"I suppose I'm different to most parents," Ms Hamahona says.

"I have babies and give them out to family or people I know very well," she says.

Ms Hamahona, 36, started "giving children away" in 2002 after feeling content with her own but knowing couples who couldn't conceive naturally.

She agreed to make babies for those in need but under one condition.

"The parents need to be present at birth so I don't get all clucky and want to keep the child," she says.

Whangai means to feed and nourish.

It can occur in whanau members who are childless, whose children have matured and left home or when young mothers don't have the resources to raise their child.

Whangai embraces openness.

The child knows about their birth parents and can maintain close relationships with them.

Waipareira Trust's mental health support worker Josephine Parahi says the whangai practice has been around for many years.

Up until the 1950s it was common for parents to give their first born to the grandparents to raise.

Miss Parahi has no children of her own but is a whangai parent of 17.

She says it's important every child experiences love.

"I picked my daughter Elaine off the streets and every night I tucked her in bed and kissed her good night.

"I never told her to call me mum but after two years she said to me, ‘mum, now I know what love is'," Miss Parahi says.

"I was blessed with a mother's heart and love is what children need."

Ms Hamahona has given six families the pleasure of experiencing parenthood.

The doting mother has kept tabs on where all her children live.

"Three are in Whanganui, two in Rotorua and one's in Morrinsville."

She hasn't given a baby away in two years but remains open to the idea in the future.

"We've had a few family members say ‘can I have one?' and I say ‘I'll keep you in mind'."

"I have a couple of cousins who are all putting their bids in but I need to know the family really well. I wouldn't just give a child to a stranger," Ms Hamahona says.

She maintains a close relationship with all the children and sees them at family reunions throughout the year.

"It's cool but a little different when I see them," she says.

"They all look quite similar and have the same hair colour.

"I don't expect them to call me mum. They can call me aunty if they want."

Ms Hamahona says the whangai children are comfortable with the arrangement.

"They've all been brought up to have really good lives and are happy.

"I thought as they got older they might get angry and ask why I didn't keep them but they haven't."

It's the rewarding feeling of making a family complete that makes the process worthwhile.

"Families thank me every time I see them, they're very grateful," she says.

Western Leader