As Cissé entered the delivery room to give birth to her 7 babies, her huge team of medical staff believed they were adequately prepared for whatever came next. An unexpected discovery proved otherwise…
Delivery Room Chaos
Halima Cissé had thirty weeks to prepare for this moment. Still, nothing could ever really have helped her process the news that was to come. One minute, she was giving birth; the next, she was gasping in shock.
Immediately upon entry, it was a blur of chaos as she watched the nurses and doctors rally around her. With 7 lives at stake, she knew it would be anything but an ordinary process. But, when she was told there was a major update, she realized how naive she had been from the start...
Where It All Started
Believe it or not, this was not Halima's first time in the delivery room. Just a few years prior, she had given birth to her firstborn child, and all had gone as smoothly as hoped. This pregnancy, however, had been different from the very beginning - mainly because there were 7 times the number of babies!
Cissé and her husband, Abdelkader Arby, had led a mostly simple life up until this momentous moment, with nothing to suggest this newsworthy event was in their future. Living in Timbuktu, Mali, Cissé was a student while Arby was serving in the Navy.
After getting married in 2017, Cissé and Arby settled into their new lives as a betrothed couple. After just two years, they couldn't believe their luck when they discovered they were pregnant with their first child. Nine months later, they welcomed a baby girl who they named Souda.
Considering everything had gone smoothly, and Souda was a light in their lives, they barely hesitated over their decision to expand their family further. With their daughter still a toddler, they were excited to learn they were expecting again. But this was to be no ordinary pregnancy...
Before allowing themselves to get too ecstatic over the news, the couple arranged to see the doctor who would confirm their findings. Sitting down for the ultrasound, Cissé prayed to hear a heartbeat and be told everything looked okay. Soon, however, she would get more than she bargained for.
Not only was there one healthy heartbeat, but they kept on coming. To the couple and the doctors' surprise, seven babies appeared on the ultrasound. It was a lot to process, and Cissé and Arby didn't know if they had what it took to handle it. They remained in the hospital for further evaluations for the next few weeks.
Once the excitement and shock of the news had settled in, the medical staff assigned to Halima began to grow concerned over the odds of success. They were aware that the septuplets had a one-in-two chance of making it through the entire pregnancy - and that was in a best-case scenario.
As reported by BBC News, there were additional fears over the well-being of the expectant mother. A woman carrying just one child is susceptible to issues such as nausea, migraines, fatigue, and back pain, so with Cissé carrying seven, it was not looking to be an easy ride.
Her Guardian Angel
Just when everyone started worrying about how the situation would turn out, a stranger arrived with a helping hand. But it wasn't just any old stranger; it was none other than Bah N'Daw - the transitional president of Mali. He had caught word of Halima's story and wanted to assist in any way he could.
In March 2021, the kind man arranged for the expectant mother of seven to be relocated to another health center. Although the doctors in her current facility were highly qualified professionals, this was a specialized case requiring top-class doctors. There was one catch, though...
The clinic that Cissé was being switched to was located in another country. Unable to refuse this incredible gesture, Halima and her husband moved to Casablanca, Morocco, to be treated in the Ain Borja Clinic. Having discovered their pregnancy just a few weeks prior, it had all been a whirlwind of chaos.
But deep down, they knew it was the right decision for their family's future and wanted to increase the odds of survival. As the birth date drew nearer, they looked back fondly on this relocation, understanding things could have worked out very differently had they not chosen to accept Bah N'Daw's offer.
The team of doctors at Ain Borja Clinic was not looking to leave anything to chance when it came to Halima's remarkable and high-risk pregnancy. The medical staff was working around the clock watching over the mother and her unborn babies. Realistically, however, the odds were not in their favor.
"Multiple births are risky for both [the] mother and [her] babies," BBC health correspondent Rhoda Odhiambo explained. "And a woman who is found to be carrying more than four fetuses tends to be advised to reduce that number in countries where abortion is legal."
Odhiambo explained that the doctors were doing what they could to avoid the babies being born earlier than planned, as is often the case in these situations. "Most pregnancies involving large numbers of babies end prematurely, and premature babies, those born before 37 weeks, are at risk of developing problems."
"They have immature lungs and are prone to infections such as sepsis because of their weak immune system," she continued. "Longer term, children born in multiples are also more likely to develop cerebral palsy — which affects movement." Of course, no one wanted this to be the result.
The statistics and odds for multiple pregnancies were bleak, and everyone involved in Cissé's case was concerned. It also didn't help that stories of successful septuplet deliveries were extremely limited in number. According to the website Raising Multiples, it was statistically unlikely all the babies would make it through.
The organization's statistics report that "around 40-50 births worldwide have resulted from a pregnancy involving seven babies." Tragically, however, many septuplets do not survive to birth or beyond infancy, and only three or four septuplet groups have resulted in all seven babies surviving.
A Case for the Books
Considering how rarely it occurs, it's understandable that those who birthed seven babies simultaneously are not easily forgotten. The first successful septuplet birth occurred in 1997, born to a couple in Iowa. Just one year later, a woman in Saudi Arabia matched this achievement.
In August 2008, a group of healthy septuplets was born to parents in Egypt. If Halima and her team of doctors could pull this off, they would join the ranks of these famous families and make headlines worldwide. Even then, she was already a well-known patient in the Moroccan hospital.
The Birth Plan
As soon as Cissé was admitted into the clinic, she and her team of staff began to curate a birthing plan which they believed guaranteed the best chances of success. Talking to Today, in July 2021, Dr. Youssef Alaoui looked back at the earlier stages of his team's efforts.
"Ms. Cissé was 25 weeks pregnant when she was admitted to our clinic, and our team was able to extend her pregnancy up to 30 weeks. We were a team of 3 resuscitators, three anesthesiologists, two gynecologists, three neonatologists [and a] catheterize. Not to mention our extraordinary team of midwives and neonatal paramedics."
A Power Team
In total, a staggering thirty-five medical personnel were assigned to Cissés' case. While it may have seemed slightly excessive at the time, every single one of them would soon prove vital to the delivery process. They would look back and feel thankful they had been so well-prepared.
Despite all of their medical expertise and all the careful planning, none of them could ever have predicted what would actually occur when the time came. The next chapter of this potentially historic journey was about to begin, and all bets were off on how it would turn out.
The Moment of Truth
The plan was for Cissé to deliver the seven babies via C-section on May 5, 2021. If all went successfully as planned, the mother would walk out of the hospital with her seven healthy, new children. With everyone so prepared for the worst, it was impossible for them to have imagined what did end up happening.
As the babies were being delivered one by one and medically inspected, there was an audible sigh of relief at the sound of each baby's cry. Then, the seventh baby was extracted, and the entire room gasped in shock. How had they not seen this coming? How had they made this grave miscalculation?
2 Unexpected Arrivals
Although there had been thirty-five people closely monitoring Halima's pregnancy for numerous months, none of them had picked up on the fact that there were 9 babies, not 7. After the seven planned babies had been born, 2 more were waiting to join them!
Nine babies born at once are referred to as nonuplets, something that occurs even more rarely than septuplets. Within a matter of minutes, the room's number of occupants had increased from 36 to 45. All the medical staff waited with bated breath to see how Cissé would react to this news...
Unsurprisingly, Cissé was completely blind-sighted by this news. She was already concerned about how she would handle caring for seven newborn babies at once; nine was another level. Talking to the Daily Mail in July 2021, she recalled how she felt upon hearing the news.
"It was a total shock when I found out that I was having nine babies. As the babies were coming out, there were so many questions going through my mind. I was very aware of what was going on, and it seemed as if there was an endless stream of babies coming out of me."
The Doctor's Perspective
In his interview with Today, Dr. Youssef Alaoui recalled the surprising incident. "The glimpse we got from the ultrasound made it seem like there were only seven [babies]. So you can imagine our surprise when we discovered nine of them during the birth," he explained.
"Luckily, this didn't faze us," Alaoui continued. "Since we have one of the largest neonatal resuscitation services in Morocco. Our teams were ready to welcome these children into the world and able to treat them in the best conditions." Now they were born, the nonuplets' journey was just beginning...
Before the delivery, Cissé had been concerned about how she would get through it all. With her husband back in Timbuktu looking after their eldest child, she feared how she would care for these babies all by herself. From experience, she knew how overwhelming one newborn is; she couldn't imagine seven!
Then, like a knight in shining armor, her sister Aisha arrived at the hospital, vowing to stay by her side through the delivery and the recovery. "My sister was holding my hand, but all I could think about was how would I look after [the babies] and who was going to help me?" she told the Daily Mail.
Plans for the Future
While the new mother rested and recovered from the significant procedure she had undergone, the babies were in the loving care of their aunt. But while she was appreciative of her sister's arrival, she feared what would be when Aisha returned to her life and left her sister alone.
Moreover, as details surfaced about the procedure she had undergone, she was shaken up to discover that she had been in greater danger than she had ever realized. If she had known how close to death she would come, she would have been more concerned about that than taking care of the newborns.
A Dangerous Situation
As reported by the Daily Mail, the expectant mother had lost a dangerous amount of blood while delivering her babies via C-section. Of course, given the number of tiny humans inhabiting her stomach, that was hardly surprising - but still, the danger had been real.
The staff calculated that Cissé had been carrying a staggering amount of weight in her stomach, with the unborn babies and amniotic fluid totaling 60 pounds! With these statistics in mind, one can only begin to imagine how Cissé felt in the last weeks of her pregnancy. Hopefully, it would all be worth it.
First Days on Earth
From the moment they were conceived, these nine babies were ready and willing to fight for survival. After beating the odds and successfully making it through the entire pregnancy, they were now in the outside world and ready to continue the battle.
Due to their limited size, they were all placed in intensive care inside incubators where the optimal conditions and environment could be manipulated. Considering there had been nine of them, this was not concerning in of itself, and everyone was optimistic that they would make it through.
A Historical Achievement
What had happened to Cissé and her nine babies was miraculous and record-breaking on many levels. Not only had they beaten the odds and survived the unthinkable, but they had multiplied from seven to nine while in the delivery room! They were the third-ever case of nonuplets on record.
As reported by ABC News, the first time an entire group of nonuplets was born was in Australia in the 1970s. After that, it took another thirty years until another similar case was documented in Malaysia. Sadly, Halima was painfully aware that although these births took place, they didn't always all survive.
Making It Official
Choosing to remain positive and not think about their children's odds of survival, Cissé and Arby felt it was essential to give them a real identity. Through all the chaos and drama, they had not sat down to think of names for their newborn babies - and now the time had come to do just that.
While all nine babies were lying in the NICU, Cissé called Arby back in Timbuktu, and the two settled on names for their five girls and four boys. The daughters were named Fatouma, Hawa, Kadidia, Adama, and Oumou, while the sons were named Mohammed, Oumar, Bah, and El Hadji.
A Price To Pay
However hard it was to remember all of their children's names, it paled in comparison to the task of looking after them. As detailed by the Daily Mail, Cissé and the team followed a regimented routine to keep the newborns in order, and the costs soon added up.
In just twenty-four hours, the babies would drink over twelve pints of milk. Over this time period, a total of one hundred diapers would be used and thrown out. And as if the cost of that wasn't enough, the now parents of nine newborns faced medical bills of over $1.3 million.
Another "Astonishing" Twist
Just when Halima and Abdelkader thought they had seen the end of the surprises, the Mali government came to the rescue one more time. On this occasion, they came forward to cover the expensive fees that had befallen the couple and threatened to leave them in a state of poverty.
Not one to take anything for granted, Cissé made sure to publicly thank those who helped them along the way. "It's astonishing the amount of work that's involved in looking after [the babies]," she said. "I'm grateful to the medical team [who] are doing all the hard work and the government of Mali for funding this."
Two months had passed since the nonuplets had been born, and they had still yet to meet their father. Their daughter Souda was being taken care of by a friend at home, so Arby was finally able to fly and visit his new children. It was set to be an incredibly emotional introduction.
"When I saw them, I was lost for words," a teary-eyed Arby told the Daily Mail. "It's been difficult to take it all in. There are a lot of things to work out about the future, but for now, we're just focused on looking after our babies and getting them home."
Trouble on the Horizon
Although Cissé and Arby dreamed of the day they would finally bring their new babies home, they were startingly aware of the fact their home was currently not fit for their family of twelve. They had much work to do before they could all settle down back in Timbuktu.
"We're unable to get involved in their day-to-day care, but that's a blessing because my wife needs the rest," Arby told the Daily Mail. "The big concern for me is not the size of my house, how many rooms we have, or money. [It's] making sure that my wife and children are okay."
Although some of the babies were now in perfect health, having fully recovered from the terrifying ordeal of being born alongside eight others, it was decided that the team of nonuplets would not be released from the clinic until September 2021. This had been the ruling of Dr. Alaoui, who put forward his reasoning.
"The health of some of the babies has improved significantly, and not all nine need to be in intensive care," he explained. "But we're keeping them there until all of them are stronger and to help them to bond. Our main challenge was to protect the babies and the mother, and I think we've achieved that."
Celebrating One Year
In May 2022, Cissé and Arby celebrated a milestone they had once dared to dream of. Exactly one year after entering the delivery room to give birth to seven children, they were now the proud parents to nine healthy children. Although they were still in the Moroccan hospital, they were making excellent progress.
"They're all crawling now. Some are sitting up and can even walk if they hold on to something," their father told BBC News in honor of their first birthday. "It's not easy, but it's great. Even if it's tiring at times, when you look at all the babies in perfect health, from right to left, we're relieved. We forget everything."
A Reunion To Remember
In December 2022, BBC News reported that the nonuplets had finally returned to Mali nineteen months after being born. Unfortunately, when the original release date arrived, not all the babies had been deemed fit enough to go home. As part of the effort to keep them together, it took over a year longer.
In recognition of this moment, Abdelkader Arby thanked the Malian government for its support. Being the only nonuplets to have all survived, they were a worldwide phenomenon with a Guinness World Record in their name. As noted by Arby, people were "very keen to see the babies with their own eyes."