In this article series, Sara Sadik talks with mamas about their ‘hiccup.’ Hers? “My daughter had hip dysplasia and was in a brace for seven months. I got through it by crying for weeks and then embracing retail therapy and buying dresses to disguise the harness… A LOT of dresses.”
Sara’s goal with these sit-down share sessions is to shed light on how each mommy’s hiccup echoes and resonates with many others who are struggling to find the magic or can take heart that the magic is often deeply imbedded in the dark and may need some neon glow bands to be revealed. Your hiccup might be post-natal depression, lifestyle change, or even a grouchy pediatrician. Get in touch to share your “hiccup.”
Zahra’s peanut-eating elephant
Zahra Abdalla is mom to three boys: Yusif, Adam and Sami. She’s someone you would be BFFs with after ten minutes because you sense her honesty – she’d say if you need to thread your upper lip or if your newest business idea is a no-go. With a husband in finance, I imagine she’s only faced luxury problems.
“Well, I have a hiccup story for you…” she locks eyes with me while I order us fruit salads with cottage cheese. “I got cancer when I was 14 weeks pregnant.” I didn’t know what to say, but she served it up. The elephant in the room was not only called out and labeled – we would soon be feeding him peanuts out of our palms. That’s how comfortable about the C word she is.
“Sami, my third born, was my lesson. And my wake-up call. At 14 weeks pregnant I found out I had thyroid cancer.”
Cancer affects millions of people, but I had never heard of a cancer preggo story. Call me naïve, but I hadn’t heard how thyroid cancer can strike anyone, even moms growing babies. Shouldn’t preggo mamas somehow be spared?
“I knew what I had,” Zahra continues. “School had just started and my doctor told me, ‘I have to break the news to every third patient and well, you’re number three.’”
Zahra straightens like a mama lioness as she recounts how she told the doctor and herself: ”I am not losing him at 14 weeks. He’s mine.” As she dabs at her tears, I think about how you can tell a lot about a person by the way they cry. Zahra is matter of fact, pressing down with a tea-stained napkin. She is the farthest thing from a victim and yet, there is something about her maternal pain that – even though years have passed – remains a well that doesn’t dry up. Every mama has that well.
“I had to think positively and say to myself, ‘This baby is going to be whatever you are.’ There was a factual realisation that whatever she or he would be thinking, smelling, and doing would be a reflection of me.”
She prepared to deliver early, but delivered naturally at 38 weeks. People try to be positive and try to keep perspective and gratitude and stay grounded. But trying, for Zahra, wasn’t and isn’t enough. She plans and executes. She chose to be positive and find a solution no matter what. “When he was 40 days old we did a thyroidectomy.”
She was so determined to give him what she’d given her other two boys that as she was wheeled out of surgery she asked for her breast pump rather than painkillers. She was given radioactive iodine. It was in a heavy package like a shot in a plastic cup and she had to consume lots of water to flush it through her system. “It was like I was in a prison cell, and straight out of a sci-fi movie. I was in an ironclad room where I was given food like a prisoner.” She had to step back from the door to allow the nurse to step in and drop something. No human contact.
“I’m a mentally strong person but this isolation, away from my kids, husband, and everyone, was breaking. I’m a visualizer so I kept envisioning that it was done and I was in the next phase. We pulled through as a family. It is through hardships that you know love.”
Her bottom line is there is no race to be happy. Focus on big picture. Life is about being grateful. That’s it. Not happy, not successful. Just grateful. Everything falls under that category. Use your life experience to get through things.
She is pragmatic in bulldozing past things, but her face lights up when talking about her brick oven pizza maker. Food is the silver lining. “I think I got thyroid cancer because I used to swallow thoughts and what I really wanted to say.” She is relaunching her brand with a fresh palate and template to her site: www.cookingwithzahra.com and a cookbook is in the works.
What’s her currency? (Because we all have a currency. Our ace up the sleeve. Our default defining sparkle.) “I’m strong willed,” she smiles. “If I say I’m going to do something I get it done.” We end up ordering another coffee and I ask her if she thinks I’m a good mom, if I should get my roots done, and whether or not I should ask for extra avocado on the side of my plate. She serves up her gold standard honesty… again: Yes. Yes. And yes.