HERstory (Women and SRH): Shaakira Bodhania
Shaakira Bodhania shares with us HERstory about life and marriage as a wife, mother of four and entrepreneur.
Left to right: Yusuf, Ahmed, Nabeel and Shaakira Bodhania. Photo: Provided.
An outfit for every occasion
The hats a woman wears are multiple and varied in all shapes, colours and sizes. She can take one off in favour of another, but the occasion seldom comes and instead she wears her hats one over the other in different places and for different people.
Shaakira Bodhania (39) calls herself a ‘multitasker’ who wears three hats: wife, mother and entrepreneur. She might rearrange her hats now and then, but each remains crowned atop her head like teacups balanced on saucers.
She got married at 20-years-old – now 19 years of marriage – while completing her last semester of her final year in psychology at the University of Johannesburg. When she left high school, marriage was a distant thought in the future once she had obtained her degree and started a successful career.
“As cliché as it gets, ‘when love strikes you forget the rest’. Being so young and the first daughter from my family to get married, I went into it not understanding the full depth of what it was about. All I knew is I wanted to be with the person I love.
“I think as a young girl in-love we all have a fairy tale dream and imagine marriage to be perfect with all the romantic moments, and I suppose that’s what I thought it would be. However, real life can’t be butterflies and roses all the time,” she told To EmpowHER.
Shaakira soon learnt that the imperfections within each individual and how the couple is able to rise above them is when “the beauty that creates a beautiful marriage” can be seen.
“To me, marriage is a compromise, sacrifice and acceptance. My parents brought me up quite liberally and open-minded with a huge emphasis on family values, which encompassed love and respect. This allowed me to embrace change and challenges, both negative and positive, and have a healthy, amazing relationship with my husband (Ahmed) and in-laws,” she says.
Image one: Left to right: Mohammed Zaid, Nabeel and Yusuf Bodhania. Image two: Left to right: Yusuf, Humayra and Nabeel Bodhania. Photos: Provided.
Shortly after marriage, Shaakira fell pregnant with her first child. She was elated to become a mother for the first time as she says she has always loved children.
When asked about her pregnancies, she told To EmpowHER her pregnancies did not limit her daily routine, instead giving her bursts of energy.
“I loved being pregnant and, in every moment, I was in awe of Allah’s (God) beauty. I carried all my babies’ full term with natural birth. I don’t think any mom is ever ready for birth and what it brings, but all the pain fades away so quickly when you see the miracle in front of you,” she says.
She has given birth to four children: Nabeel (17), Yusuf (12), late Mohammed Zaid (8) and late Humayra (8). Mohammed Zaid passed on seven years ago and Humayra, two and a half years ago.
“My children have and always will be my greatest blessings. Losing two of my children has been the most difficult test I have ever had to endure because our children are an extension of us, their parents.
“Even though each one of my kids is unique in temperament, energy, preferences, style and personality, there were or are distinct traits that I see in each of them which has resembled that of myself and of my husband,” Shaakira says.
She describes her children as having “strong-willed spirit”, “kindness”, an “adventurous streak”, “sensitivity”, “spirituality”, “wit”, and “light-heartedness”.
After ‘happily ever after’
Her daughter Humayra is well-known from her four children. When Humayra was diagnosed with Pulmonary Hypertension (PH) at four-years-old, Shaakira and Ahmed created an Instagram account where they posted about Humayra and her journey with PH.
According to Shaakira, PH is a rare, life-threatening disease which affects the flow of oxygen to the heart. The arteries in the blood carrying oxygen to the heart narrow, increasing chances of heart failure. It can be contracted hereditarily, by taking certain medication or from pre-existing conditions.
She says there is no cure for PH in children and adults, however, treatment options are primarily aimed at adults and one has been made available for children.
The rare nature of PH has meant that limited research and clinical studies have been conducted on children. Shaakira says from what she has learnt, PH acts more aggressively in children.
“I will never forget the day we received the news of Mohammed Zaid’s diagnosis. Pulmonary Hypertension was a word I had never heard of, let alone knew what the condition entailed.
“This diagnosis meant a complete lifestyle change; a change that affected Mohammed Zaid directly but caused a ripple effect in our family unit. Acceptance brings about change and as a family we were determined that this illness would not define him, and as a family we would rise above it,” Shaakira told To EmpowHER.
The family had begun coming to terms with the effects of the disease on Mohammed Zaid by having to cart around oxygen and medical supplies when a few months later he succumbed to the condition.
Shaakira reflects on Mohammed Zaid:
“As parents we definitely learn more from our children. They see the world with innocence and clarity and most times tell us the hard truth.
From a very young age, Mohammed Zaid was a boy full of life with very high ambitions, confidence and steadfast on his beliefs. He always kept us on track. His vast love of Allah was admirable, and I constantly yearn to have the spiritual connection he possessed.”
Nine months after Mohammed Zaid’s passing, Shaakira was met with her greatest fear again.
“My four-year-old Princess Humayra was diagnosed with PH. This time I was stronger and I vowed that I would empower myself,” she says.
The things that break us
Shaakira and Ahmed continued their efforts to understand the disease by engaging with assistance and support from doctors and educating themselves via social media and reading about international case studies.
When describing the girl Humayra was, Shaakira says, “There’s a saying that superheroes live in the hearts of small children facing big battles. Humayra was indeed testament to it”.
“It was her determination to make people understand her struggle that the PH KIDS SA social media campaign was started with the assistance and support from my beautiful family and friends,” she says.
The PH Kids SA campaign garnered widespread support and created awareness about PH that it soon became “a household word in many homes”. Shaakira says the general public started to understand the symptoms, causes and challenges that children with PH experience daily.
The aim of the social media campaign was to remove the stigma of oxygen use, which she says was achieved when she saw children showing empathy toward Humayra. The result was increased support of other children with PH and different rare conditions.
Shaakira remains grateful to the support she has received and says she “will always be grateful for the beautiful friendships formed both locally and internationally”.
She does not regret the spotlight placed on Humayra at a very young age. She told To EmpowHER that when Humayra was looked at strangely, whispered about and laughed at for having an oxygen canular, it was her words of “teach them, mum” that made them tell her story.
Having her story told “made her stronger and fuelled her zest to keep fighting”, says Shaakira.
“She was limited in so many ways because of PH and seeing her disappointed when she couldn’t participate in normal activities would dishearten me. Humayra was always my drama queen diva. This gave her an opportunity to express herself through her pictures, videos, TV interviews and public speeches,” she says.
In 2015, five-year-old Humayra collaborated with her uncle Islamic nasheed artist Zain Bhika on his single Ca C’est La Vie. Shaakira says Humayra loved to sing and Ahmed would send Zain videos of her singing his songs.
“When Zain asked her to be a part of the video Ca C’est La Vie, she was filled with so much excitement. It was her dream come true and she loved spending time with Zain. He taught her so much and inspired her in so many ways.
“One of her defining moments was talking on stage alongside Zain at his annual concert [at the Great Hall, Wits University]. Seeing how brave she was at just six-years-old is a moment I will never forget,” she says.
Requiem of love
As a mother, Shaakira felt helpless being unable to physically take away Humayra’s pain. One of the challenges Humayra faced was being denied access into ZARA because she was seated in a trolley with her oxygen machine.
“After pleading and explaining the situation to the security and the manager, we were still prohibited from entry. I left with tears while Humayra and Yusuf looked scared. Things like this should not happen,” says Shaakira.
She was given the email address of the ZARA head office in Spain which she wrote to immediately. She says the response she received was “generic”, which led her to post about the incident on social media. The post went viral shortly thereafter and ZARA’s head office contacted her to apologise.
She explained that an apology was not enough and they needed to amend their policy in-stores for children with disabilities, whether they are visible or not. ZARA has since updated their policy.
Middle image: Shaakira, Humayra and Ahmed Bodhania during Humayra's final moments on the flight en route to India. Photos: Provided.
Humayra’s condition deteriorated in 2017 when her only available option was a double-lung transplant. South Africa does not have the facility for such a procedure in paediatrics, and en route to India where the surgery was due to take place Humayra passed away.
“From this opportunity alone, we know how fortunate we were to have the support on every level, and I would want every child in SA to have access to the best treatment available. I have studied further and continue to advocate for PH,” she says.
She completed a postgraduate diploma in paediatric palliative medicine at the University of Cape Town in 2019.
Although Humayra’s fight has ended, Shaakira is adamant that her fight will not be in vain. She says she will continue to try and make a difference in the lives of children who are diagnosed with PH.
“Humayra taught us to never give up and to smile and see the best in every situation. She faced her fears and rose above them. Her tenacity and bubbly personality are traits we miss so much,” she says.
Shaakira has not taken off the mother or wife hats, rather they have been stretched and resized after years of use. They may be weathered and the thread spooling at the edges, but each hat has become much brighter and much bigger from the love they have carried.
“‘Allah does not burden a soul beyond what it can bear’ (Qur’an 2:286)’. I get told that all the time and, ‘If it was me, I’d never manage’ but the thing is, this is not the life I chose yet it is the one Allah has planned for me.
“I take each day as it comes and try to live it in the best way possible, surrounded by the people I love,” she says.
Image one: Humayra Bodhania and her best friend Liyah Limbada at the Rare Disease Day Awareness Walk on February 28, 2017. Image two: Nabeel and Yusuf Bodhania. Photos: Provided.
Her advice for parents of children diagnosed with a chronic condition is to equip themselves with the skills needed in an emergency situation. She says this empowers the parent and gives them a system to create a calmer environment in such situations.
To mothers who are experiencing or have experienced the grievous loss of a child, Shaakira says:
“Grieve, and grieve the way you need to and at your own pace. Too often we are judged by society – if we cry in public or if we don’t. We’re all different. Let yourself be but most importantly, reach out for help and get the support you need. It’s a long, difficult road ahead. Breathe, live and love.”
MORE ABOUT SHAAKIRA
What are your interests and hobbies? I love spending time with family and friends, cooking and baking, exercising and of course, binging on my favourite series.
If you could go back in time to before you were married with children, what would you tell yourself? Relish in every moment and to always remain true to myself. I think it’s exactly what I’ve done so far and has got me through the hardest challenges.
What would you say to little Humayra and Mohammed Zaid if they were around? I would simply say I love you, and I miss you.
What advice do you have for women who want to get pregnant but are not aware of or ready for the responsibilities of caring for a special needs child? I think being positive, accepting the situation but most importantly, to always remain empowered, gain insight, education and get support for the condition you are facing.