Last spring, Christina Anstead birthed a new baby.
Not her son with husband Ant Anstead. He arrived Sept. 6. Rather it was her solo HGTV venture, Christina on the Coast, that made its debut.
While a seeming companion project to Flip or Flop—the home renovation series that turned she and former husband Tarek El Moussa from struggling real estate agents into household names—the designer insisted it was "completely different." Now, instead of trying to craft an updated pad that will appeal to the masses, she was redecorating homes with one particular client in mind and even transforming the four-bedroom, 4,870-square-foot Newport Beach, Calif. spread she and Ant purchased together in 2018.
Even with her man, a seasoned pro himself thanks to four years of hosting gigs in his native England, joining her on-camera, she admitted to ET that she felt a wee bit stressed about striking out on her own. "I'm not gonna lie, yes, it is more pressure," she said, "especially knowing that the whole thing was followed from start to finish, and that's the first time I've ever done that on television. I definitely felt pressure for it to be perfect."
So far it's surely no flop with the second half of season two coming this summer.
And why shouldn't it match up to the rest of her world? Some three years after the shiny facade that was her marriage to El Moussa was shattered, she's completely flipped things around with a full-on remodel of her personal life.
Within weeks of connecting with the 41-year-old Brit in October 2017 she was so convinced she'd found her future, she recalled to People, "I was at a hockey game with my dad and I told him, 'I'm going to marry Ant.'" She did just that 14 months later and now the newlyweds have recently wrapped up year one of marriage with their blended family: the 36-year-old's kids with El Moussa—daughter Taylor, 9, and son Brayden, 4—his daughter Amelie, 16, and son Archie, 13, with previous wife Louise Anstead, their 7-month-old son Hudson and their beloved French bulldog Cash, all of whom played a role in their surprise December 2018 vows.
"It's like my life did a 180," she told People of watching everything fall place after her initial date with the host of the auto-focused Wheeler Dealers, which airs on Discovery in his native U.K. and the Velocity Channel stateside. While Ant credits her with saving him, breathing new life into his world a few months after he'd finalized his own divorce, she has a different take: "We saved each other."
Not that Christina was a damsel in distress type so much as someone who had been through a rough few years. Known for their good-natured ribbing and occasional competitiveness, she and El Moussa appeared to be one of reality TV's most solid pairs, which is what made the news that emerged in late 2016 all the more shocking.
The real estate power couple confirmed they were separating just as it came to light that police had been called to their Orange County, Calif. home months earlier. Per the incident report, El Moussa announced he needed to go on a hike to "blow off steam," and toted a gun along for protection on the off chance he ran into a mountain lion or rattlesnake. Though the couple later shared the cops had been called out of an "abundance of caution," they chalked the whole situation up to an "unfortunate misunderstanding."
Nevertheless, the pair suddenly found themselves faced with an unprecedented level of attention as paparazzi following them around their tony enclave and tabloids and viewers alike speculating about what could have caused their seven-year marriage to unravel so spectacularly.
"Let's be honest—it was awful," El Moussa recalled on the Dr. Drew Podcast in April 2018. "I mean, there was more PR about our divorce than any divorce I think I've ever seen...It was wild. On every single magazine, on every news outlet. It was just beyond me."
While we'd humbly remind him about a little couple once known as Brangelina, the exes did have the unique task of having to work together both to coparent their two children and to maintain the HGTV empire they'd been building since transforming their house-flipping business into a star vehicle back in 2013.
"Things have gotten significantly easier since January," Christina told ET in August 2017. "You know, the initial shock of it hitting the media was extremely stressful, having to be so public, but I feel like now everything's calmed down and everything's on the up and up."
By that point, they had reported back to set to shoot new episodes of Fiip or Flop, no longer as the husband-wife duo who discussed new listings over breakfast, but as somewhat copacetic exes, figuring out how to share a business without sharing a home.
"We do our best to be as professional as possible but every now and then we have to jab at each other—sometimes more serious than others," El Moussa said on E!'s Daily Pop in 2018. "It's kind of how it goes nowadays...I just watched the first episode last week and it is absolutely different than anything you've ever seen from us. We got into a few arguments that I didn't think were going to make camera and they did."
Still, they were cognizant of the fact that viewers were tuning in to see gut renovations of their properties, not two exes attempting the demolition of each other.
That second nature began to click right in and the pair, who first crossed paths as real estate agents in the early aughts, rediscovered a working relationship. "We met at work and we've always been working together and we also have two kids together," she explained to ET. "When it all first happened, we just kept everything quiet cause we were just trying to figure things out. We kept filming together, so just we just always continued and we've been doing it so long. I think we've filmed 120 episodes, so it just comes really easy for us."
The same could be said of her romance with Ant. Following false starts with hockey player Nate Thompson and businessman Doug Spedding, Christina knew fairly quickly she had found her match in the fellow divorcee with a resume to match her own.
Their first phone call lasted 29 minutes, she revealed in an Instagram post, and on FaceTime two days later they continued chatting for another two-and-a-half hours. "Two days later we met for the first time," she continued, "and we've been inseparable ever since."
Within weeks of going public in January 2018, the pair jetted off to Napa for a romantic getaway, followed by weekends in Las Vegas and Mexico. March saw them take a tour through his "old stomping grounds" in London, then head to South Africa on safari.
Clocking a half-dozen shared trips in as many months proved to be a fantastic way to get acquainted and by the time they were marking their six-month anniversary in late April 2018, Ant was gushing about the serendipitous timing of meeting a "proper travel buddy" months removed from his divorce.
"I've loved every second I spend with her! She totally gets me (which is rare) and we have done so so much in such a short time!" he wrote in an Instagram tribute. "Timing is weird! Very weird in a great way! A VERY great way! Looking forward to the next chapter."
Act two would see the pair get their kids involved with date nights transformed into family outings to Anaheim Ducks games and an August vacation to Hawaii that included a trip to urgent care and an impending hurricane that saw their flight canceled.
By then, though, it was clear they were in a permanent state of paradise.
"@ant_anstead you have showed me what real unconditional love is. You take me for what I am, flawed and a bit crazy, and love all of me just the way I am," Christina wrote on their first anniversary. "You have never once made me feel bad for anything in my past. You put me in my place when I need to be put there. Hold me when I'm having a bad day. I love this life with you. I love our blended family. I can't wait to see where the next year takes us."
The answer, of course, was down the aisle in a backyard ceremony kept secret from even the 70 attendees, who were told they'd be chartered from the couple's home to watch the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade Dec. 22. Instead, they arrived to an elaborate set up: rows of cross-back wooden chairs and an aisle of white rose petals leading to a floral arch ready-made for swapping vows.
"Got ya," Ant told the crowd as he stepped into position beside the pastor, waiting for their four kids (Taylor served as flower girl; Archie the ring bearer) and his Ines Di Santo-clad bride to join him. "We pulled off the perfect surprise wedding," she told People. "Seeing the happy tears of friends and family was priceless."
Post-ceremony, the group retired to a chandelier-laden marquee-style tent for a steak dinner arranged by Christina's publicist and longtime friend Cassie Zebisch. "We literally owe this wedding to her," the bride told People. "She pulled it off. She met with the vendors, she set up the catering. I wanted a Maestros theme, like a nice steakhouse. She did it all!"
Though they spent weeks worrying that someone would catch on to their plan—"The day we went to get our marriage license, the guy working was like hyperventilating, excited," she recalled. "We had to tell him this is a huge secret,"—in the end the stress was worth it. "It was just perfect for us," noted Christina. "Everything we wanted."
Coming home from their honeymoon in Bora Bora, she learned she was due more blessings, specifically a much-longed for addition to their family, with the man she credits with changing everything.
"Ant has been so supportive. He's very grounded. As he entered my world, there's so many false stories spinning out there and he's never said one word to me about any of it," she shared with E! News in 2018 "He always just says, 'You're an amazing person. You're an amazing mom. You're an amazing girlfriend.' He's so positive with me that he's just really lifted me up in so many ways."
It's a high she never dared dream about when at her lowest a few years back. But now, as she counts her blessings—a still-thriving career that includes her just-released health tome with nutritionist Cara Clark, The Wellness Remodel: A Guide to Rebooting How You Eat, Move, and Feed Your Soul, a satisfying romance, a family that feels complete ("We're definitely done! So done," she recently told Us Weekly) and a peaceful détente with her former spouse—well, life is pretty sweet.
"My kids are doing great. They're happy, they're amazing, they're so much fun," she told E! News. "Co-parenting is going really well...and we're both doing great as well."
Continued the star, "Things definitely get easier with time...I think that's true in most aspects of life."
She's holding tight to that little piece of gospel now as she navigates the early months with her admittedly "tough baby". Giving an update on life with Hudson three weeks in, Christina reinforced the idea that it's "not all Instagram filters of perfection that people put out there. F that." Her little guy, she continued, "will sometimes cry for hours straight."
And though she had him checked for some of the more standard feeding issues and even cut out dairy from her own diet, the solution that she landed on to keep him calm and help him sleep was decidedly low-tech: "What works is him tightly double swaddled in a dark cool room with very loud white noise."
Which, you know, super realistic in a house with six other people.
Her newest little guy has "definitely" been the hardest, she admitted to Us Weekly, but much like anything, they seem to have turned a corner in recent weeks, even giving him an Instagram shout-out April 6 for sleeping through the night. "Since he hit the 3-month mark, he's been doing a lot better," she shared. "A lot more smiles and coos and sleeping better, so I think we're on the right track."
She certainly, certainly is.
(Originally published May 23, 2019, at 3 a.m. PT)