As she went into labor, Halima Cissé was surrounded by activity in the delivery room. With nurses rushing around, machines beeping, and doctors making preparations, she knew this was going to be no ordinary pregnancy. As a matter of fact, Cissé was about to welcome seven babies into the world, but it soon became clear that something had changed. The young mom was surrounded by the most capable physicians in the hospital, and yet nothing could’ve prepared her for what would happen during the labor.
A normal life
As intense as this all sounds, this wasn’t even Cissé’s first pregnancy. She’d gone through the experience once before, but things were far less dramatic on that occasion!
In fact, the mom seemed to be leading a pretty normal life before this jaw-dropping event in the hospital delivery room.
Residents of Timbuktu in Mali, Cissé and her husband, Abdelkader Arby, were on two very different paths before they found out about the second pregnancy. She was registered as a student, while he held a position with the country’s naval forces.
According to the Daily Mail, the pair tied the knot back in 2017.
Their lives changed forever a couple of years later. Yep, Cissé and Arby became parents for the first time when they welcomed a little girl named Souda into the world.
Souda was just a toddler when her mom and dad received incredible news: Cissé was pregnant again — and this time with seven babies! Imagine how the couple must have felt when they saw the scan.
How the drama began
Cissé found out that she was pregnant with seven kids once an obstetrician-gynecologist checked her over. Before the appointment, Cissé hadn’t even been sure if she was pregnant with one child, let alone seven!
After learning the life-changing news, the expectant mother stayed at the facility for the next couple of weeks.
Chances of survival?
But there were some big problems brewing during that period. The specialists at the hospital were very worried about Cissé’s unborn children.
Apparently, they believed that the septuplets’ survival odds were below one in two at the time, so to say the outlook seemed grim would be an understatement. And the medics’ fears didn’t end there.
Cissé was in danger, too
As per the BBC News website, Cissé’s health was cause for concern, too. It’s common for pregnant women to struggle with all kinds of ailments — from nausea to migraines and from fatigue to intense back pain.
And Cissé was definitely susceptible to these symptoms. Carrying that many children at once put her own safety at risk.
An unexpected twist
One high-profile figure in Mali heard Cissé’s story and sympathized with her pain. Bah N’Daw, who was the nation’s transitional president at the time, decided to step up and help the young mom.
Incredibly, he facilitated Cissé’s vital switch to another health center in March 2021. But it did mean that she had to leave the country.
The switch to Morocco
Cissé was moved to the Ain Borja Clinic, which can be found in Casablanca, Morocco. That must’ve felt like a whirlwind turn of events for the expectant mother!
Yet it proved to be necessary, as the staff there were better equipped to give her and the babies the help that they required. This was incredibly important, especially as the day of the birth drew closer.
Why were people worried?
The doctors at the Ain Borja Clinic monitored Cissé day and night — and for good reason. Any pregnancy involving multiples is considered high-risk, and the extremely rare total of seven babies meant that Cissé and her future children were dealing with some seriously bad odds.
Rhoda Odhiambo, who works as a health correspondent for the BBC in Kenya, shed some light on what was at stake.
“Multiple births are risky for both [the] mother and [her] babies,” Odhiambo explained to BBC News in 2021. “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."
"[Plus], most pregnancies involving large numbers of babies end prematurely.”
Listing the dangers
“And premature babies, those born before 37 weeks, are at risk of developing problems,” Odhiambo added. “They have immature lungs and are prone to infections such as sepsis because of their weak immune system."
"Longer term, children born in multiples are also more likely to develop cerebral palsy — which affects movement.”
On top of that, stories about septuplets are extremely rare, so that played a big role in how the news was received. To give you an idea of the numbers, the website Raising Multiples shared some fascinating information.
If all went well, Cissé was set to join a very small group of people.
Apparently, up to 50 children had been born as part of septuplet sets going into 2009. But only three or four groups had all made it out alive at that time.
Now you can see why Cissé’s kids were given such slim chances by the doctors — and why they were the center of so much attention.
The success stories
Raising Multiples noted that the earliest documented group of septuplets to be born unscathed was recorded back in 1997. They were delivered in Iowa.
Another lot was welcomed into the world in Saudi Arabia some 12 months later. So you get the idea — Cissé could potentially be remembered for a very long time.
Cissé’s status in Morocco
And she was already one of the most popular patients at the Ain Borja Clinic, especially as her pregnancy progressed. Pregnant women will usually be ready to deliver their babies by the 40th week, yet as Odhiambo suggested earlier, that wouldn’t be the case here.
In fact, the expectant mom’s prescribed due date was some way off that mark.
The doctor’s view
To shed a bit more light on Cissé’s birthing plan, her doctor, Dr. Youssef Alaoui, spoke to Today in July 2021.
Alongside the other staff at the clinic, Alaoui was there for Cissé in her time of need. But not even he could’ve predicted what happened in the delivery room.
“25 weeks pregnant”
Alaoui explained, “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 three resuscitators, three anesthesiologists, two gynecologists, three neonatologists [and a] catheterizer. [And that’s] not to mention our extraordinary team of midwives and neonatal paramedics.”
An army of carers
Overall, a whopping 35 people were involved with Cissé’s case in Morocco prior to the day she went into labor. We’re serious!
And as it turned out, each and every person played a vital role when Cissé’s babies decided once and for all that it was time to come into the world. The team were right to be über prepared, as things took an unexpected turn in the delivery room.
It was May 5, 2021, and Cissé was getting ready to deliver her septuplets via C-section. Yet as it turned out, the medics had somehow gotten the number wrong.
As they delivered baby after baby, it didn’t take long for the doctors to realize that there were more than seven babies!
From seven to nine
To pretty much everyone’s surprise, Cissé wasn’t carrying seven babies — the correct figure was nine. Holy smokes!
That’s a set of nonuplets, in case you didn’t know. Suddenly, the bustling room’s population of around 36 people became a room of 45.
Unsurprisingly, Cissé couldn’t quite believe it. And can you blame her?
It was much the same for Dr. Alaoui and the other staff as well. Just how had they missed the extra two babies when they’d been doing the ultrasound scans? Well, the doctor continued his conversation with Today after the stunning developments at the hospital.
“This didn’t faze us”
Alaoui recalled, “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."
"Luckily this didn’t faze us, since we have one of the largest neonatal resuscitation services in Morocco.”
The babies were in the right place
“Our teams were ready to welcome these children into the world and able to treat them in the best conditions,” Alaoui added. As for Cissé, she shared her reaction in a tell-all chat with the Daily Mail in July 2021.
After an already difficult pregnancy, adding two more babies to the mix must have been quite an adjustment for the young mom and her family!
Cissé told the newspaper, “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.”
Thankfully for Cissé, she didn’t have to go through the experience alone. With Arby still stuck in Timbuktu, her sister Aisha provided some much-needed support by her bedside.
But while Aisha’s presence was undoubtedly helpful, it didn’t stop Cissé from worrying about the future. She knew that her world was going to turn upside down.
“Who was going to help me?”
“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?” Cissé admitted. Mind you, that very nearly turned out to be the least of her concerns.
Worryingly, the procedure to remove the nonuplets came close to ending Cissé’s life.
A lucky escape
According to the Daily Mail, Cissé lost a lot of blood while undergoing the C-section. Yet given how crowded it was in her stomach, we perhaps shouldn’t be too surprised to hear that.
In fact, the doctors on hand made a staggering prediction about the weight she’d been carrying in her midriff.
Bringing out the scales
Yep, the staff thought that Cissé was lugging around more than 60 pounds of excess weight in her stomach. The nonuplets were responsible for most of that, along with a large collection of amniotic fluid.
We can’t imagine how she must’ve been feeling leading up to the birth. But, as it turned out, the days following the birth proved to be the most challenging.
Beating the odds
Cissé thankfully managed to survive the scare, as did her nine little cherubs. Sure, they needed to be placed inside incubators, but that shouldn’t take away from what was essentially a small miracle.
The group beat the odds – which were already low to begin with when the number was originally at seven! The babies still had a long road ahead of them, though.
Even so, the youngsters’ survival earned them and Cissé a place in the history books. That’s right: ABC News reported that this was only the third case of nonuplets on record.
The first cropped up in Australia back in the early 1970s, while the second occurred nearly 30 years later in Malaysia.
Here’s the kicker, though. Not all of the children in those two cases survived the birth — something Cissé was painfully aware of.
As her nine babies were tended to in the NICU, or Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Cissé and Arby got to work coming up with names for the new little ones.
Naming the nonuplets
The nonuplets were made up of five girls and four boys. For their daughters, Cissé and Arby chose Fatouma, Hawa, Kadidia, Adama, and Oumou.
And the couple’s sons were called Mohammed, Oumar, Bah, and El Hadji. What a lot of names for the family to remember!
But looking after them is sure to be even harder. To give you an idea of what it might entail, the Daily Mail listed off the routine at the hospital.
Incredibly, the nine babies would consume over 12 pints of milk every 24 hours and use around 100 diapers. In total, the medical costs reached an eye-watering sum of $1.3 million.
In another amazing twist, though, Mali’s government stepped up again and covered all those fees. Cissé commented on this incredibly helpful gesture, saying, “It’s astonishing the amount of work that’s involved in looking after [the babies]."
"I’m grateful to the medical team [who] are doing all the hard work and the government of Mali for funding this.”
And Arby finally got to visit his family nearly two months after the nonuplets were born. He also spoke to the Daily Mail, revealing, “When I saw them, I was lost for words."
"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.”
“The big concern”
“We’re unable to get involved in their day-to-day care, but that’s a blessing because my wife needs the rest,” Arby continued. “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.”
According to the newspaper, Arby and Cissé’s kids were set to leave the clinic in September 2021. They could then meet their big sister back in Mali.
As to why the nonuplets needed to stay there for so long, Alaoui offered some insight. Bear in mind that this was a couple of months before the planned departure date.
Alaoui said, “The health of some of the babies has improved significantly, and not all nine need to be in intensive care. 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.”
More to come?
As for Cissé, she told the Daily Mail, “We’ll see what happens, [we] might [have] more [children]. But for now, we just want to get our babies back to Timbuktu to raise them.”
Though the family will have to wait a while to be fully reunited, keeping the babies together may be better in the long run. Separating multiples when they’re newborns could have devastating consequences down the line.
A unique bond
Many doctors warn against separating twins, triplets, and even nonuplets, and history has made it clear why. Multiples are born with a unique bond, so keeping them apart could be disastrous.
Just ask Bobby Shafran. For him, what started out as an amazing discovery quickly spiraled out of control.
Bobby was 19 years old when he first stepped onto his college campus SUNY Sullivan. The new freshman hoped to make new friends, but not as quickly as he was about to that day.
Strangely, everyone smiled and waved at him like they had known him for some time. It was also strange that they kept calling him "Eddy."
Bobby soon learned that he was being mistaken for someone by the name of Eddy Galland, but not just because he looked similar.
Supposedly, each was a dead ringer for the other, and so Bobby had to see this for himself.
One day, Bobby and Eddy decided to meet.
To make the reveal more dramatic, they decided to wear identical clothing and, without others fully knowing who was who, one stood outside the other's dorm waiting for the door to open.
One more step
A door separated Bobby and Eddy. The two had never seen each other before, but they were told by their campus friends "you have a twin".
Whether their friends were being literal or not, the two 19-year-olds would find out with a swing of the door.
Like a mirror
It came as a shock for the both of them. Rather than there being another person, it was like a mirror was standing in front of them.
This would be the start of Bobby and Eddy's time in the spotlight, but they didn't see all the twists and turns that lay ahead.
In the papers
The rumors were true: Bobby and Eddy were identical. Since each knew he was adopted, they drew the conclusion that they were long-lost brothers.
Their picture was shared in newspapers, and the story reached far enough to reach another 19-year-old, thanks to his adoptive mother.
Ms. Kellman saw her adoptive son David's likeness in the boys.
She shared the astounding photograph of Bobby and Eddy with him. After making contact with them, David reunited with his brothers. The news of the triplets spread like wildfire, and Bobby, Eddy, and David found fame they never could imagine.
Bobby, Eddy, and David took the world of pop culture by storm, appearing as a guest on talk shows like the Phil Donahue show and even making a cameo appearance alongside Madonna in the film Desperately Seeking Susan.
The world was shocked with how similar they were, and not just in looks.
The triplets grew up in drastically different environments, each living with a family from a different economic class: blue-collar, middle-class and wealthy. Even so, there was so much the three of them had in common.
Their mannerisms, personalities, even down to what they liked, including their tastes in women. Still, something wasn't right.
The trio enjoyed a great relationship as siblings. They even moved into an apartment together and opened the now famous SoHo Steakhouse "Triplets."
That success came with a price, however. As their fame grew, trusting each other became more difficult, and there was still the question of why were they separated in the first place.
It seemed like anyone approaching the triplets wanted to profit off their story. They were made promises by the media, that were soon broken as soon as their story broke.
On top of that, the brothers were struggling with mental health.
The bond between Bobby, Eddy, and David began to suffer as time went on. They started to recognize their differences, but stuck together as best as they could.
Nothing could prepare them for the many curveballs that were to come.
An end and a beginning
The trio's decline began in 1995. Around that time, the adoptive parents of the three were finding the truth behind Bobby, Eddy, and David's adoption.
And one sibling, in particular, felt increasingly overwhelmed by his inner demons.
Grief and truth
Eddy took his own life that year.
While the family, both related and adopted, grieved over their loss, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright published an article that revealed the disturbing truth of why the triplets were separated, and how it has happened to others.
Lawrence Wright's article uncovered a disturbing psychological study. The researchers involved sought to learn more about the concept of "nature versus nurture," which is a big debate when talking about children.
The three brothers' future was sacrificed to find an answer.
Stop for Morality
What is more powerful in shaping a human being? Is it our biology passed down from the previous generation (nature), or is it the environment and circumstance that we grow up in (nurture)?
Dr. Peter Neubauer, of the Child Development Center, would stop at nothing to find out.
An observed lie
Dr. Neubauer and his associates hoped to see how different or similar the children would be if they were separated — and never knew of their siblings.
Throughout the boys' childhood, a physician would often come to observe them. The adoptive parents were led to believe that the visits were merely to track the adoptive children’s progress.
Coping with truth
After reading the article that Lawrence Wright had shared with the world, Bobby and David were beyond furious. They felt used.
Even with happy families of their own, there was still a hole in their hearts from all the pain they endured. It was a bad time for a sudden movie deal.
A decision to make
British filmmaker Tim Wardle was fascinated by the triplets' story, and hoped to make a documentary with Bobby and David's support and blessing. The two brothers were suspicious of Wardle, as they had learned to be with anyone approaching them.
The filmmaker completely understood their hesitation and worked with them while they took their time in deciding.
A chance to speak
After four years of convincing them, Wardle finally brought Bobby and David on board to share their story.
They didn't care at all for the money, they just wanted the chance to tell the world what really happened, uncensored and unabridged.
Leap of faith
While there were concerns about sensationalizing the story to make it sell, Bobby and David took a leap of faith and made the documentary.
It became a booming success at the Sundance Film Festival, where Bobby and David began to find peace.
After watching the film's premiere at Sundance, Bobby and David felt like they could start to move on.
The audience's hushed reaction meant a lot to the brothers, and they even had many strangers walk up to them and offer them an apology and a hug.
Love and family
In the end, the two brothers found peace. They returned to their families, but would never allow them to be separated again.
While they can't forget the difficult times, they can move forward and focus on love and family. There was no point in fixating on getting revenge.
Dr. Neubauer died in 2008, and many of his files remain closed.
And now that Bobby and David have decided to move on with their lives, it seems as if those files will be closed indefinitely. With so much mystery still surrounding the "experiment," we can't help but wonder — how many of us have a sibling and just don't know it?