'I Had a Near-Death Experience 7 Days After My Daughter Was Born'

I fell pregnant in Dubai in 2002, but I returned to the U.K. at 17 weeks pregnant. I went into labor prematurely at 35 weeks and in the end the delivery took just five minutes from start to finish. My mom had come to the hospital in the evening after I was admitted and the nurses said she should go home because I was going to have the baby the following day. She got home shortly after at 11.55pm and by 12.05am my daughter was born. I spent three days in hospital but because I was used to giving my babies a certain formula, I went home.

I'm Nigerian and we normally name babies on the eighth day, not on the day of birth. But by the time I went to bed on the eve of the naming ceremony, I had a headache that I couldn't shift. My relatives had arrived in London from Dubai for the ceremony and I remember walking up to my aunt and telling her that my head was pounding. But by the time I got to the living room I couldn't stand on my right leg. It was sudden, I didn't notice it coming and didn't understand what was happening.

My daughter and my mom woke up and my mom was screaming. Before I lost consciousness, I remember saying out loud that something was terribly wrong. I just kept saying, "I could die. What is happening to me?" The last thing on my mind was that I was having a stroke, but that's what was happening. The next moment I was out of it. I had multiple seizures.

My family called an ambulance, but unfortunately everything was against me that day. The ambulances were on strike, so they were running a light service, and no one knew when they were coming. By the time I got to hospital, my brain hemorrhaged and I was having multiple seizures. Then suddenly, during a CT scan, I apparently went quiet.

My heart had stopped.

I'm told hospital staff pressed the emergency button and doctors came rushing in. By that time, my sister was in bits because she knew what it meant when that happened. They brought me back to life but they couldn't find a surgeon to operate on me, so eventually I was transferred to another hospital in London. One doctor was an American returning to the U.S. that day, but he told my family he couldn't let me die. He said he wasn't assuring them that I would survive, and if I did, it was very likely that I would not recover from the stroke and that I would be in a wheelchair for life. My husband said he didn't care; he told the doctor to try his best to make sure I survived.

Funmi Had A Near-Death Experience After Birth
Stock image. Getty/iStock

During surgery my skull was opened and the clot was removed, and I was in and out of consciousness in the days after. But, I could hear my relatives talking in the background. They were coming in and telling me that my baby daughter had been named Aminat. I had tubes in my mouth and was connected to many machines, so they didn't know I was conscious. Two days later I was moved back to the original hospital.

My recovery was hard; it was a battle. I was put into an induced coma for a week because there was swelling on my brain, but I didn't "see" anything during that time.

My son would ask me afterwards: "Mommy, what did you see?" Some people say they saw flashing lights during a near-death experience, but I didn't see anything. Perhaps having a clot in my brain is why.

When I came out of the coma I started physiotherapy and speech and language therapy in hospital. I started working to move my limbs again in hospital, but it took about six months to one year before I could move my hand.

As I recovered, I was speaking and I thought people could understand me, but apparently they couldn't. It was very frustrating, I would repeat myself, but I was barely audible. The funny thing is that before the stroke, if I was speaking you wouldn't be able to hear any accent other than British. But after the stroke I reverted back to my native Nigerian language; the one that was spoken to me when I was young. It took me a year to re-learn English. I had to learn the ABC again and how to join letters together.

My mom looked after my daughter for a year and a half after my stroke. That was tough. My son was five and he lived with his Dad so everything was disjointed and confusing for children of that age.

The stroke affected my life more than you can imagine. My relationship broke down and my husband moved out in 2006 and the effects of the stroke also meant I wasn't able to do much at all for my children, so my mom brought someone over from Nigeria to look after me. That was very helpful; she took the children to school and back and did cooking and looked after the house. My ability to get meaningful employment was also reduced drastically and although I had a master's degree, I ended up in the care sector, cleaning people's houses. In addition to the stroke, the pre-eclampsia I had during that second pregnancy meant that my kidneys were damaged. I was on dialysis for a year and nine months until I got a kidney transplant in 2011.

Now, I can walk, talk and move my arms, but I still struggle with my speech and self confidence. When I'm in the midst of people I get anxious, thinking I'm not good enough. People wouldn't know something has happened to me, so when I open my mouth, they will just think I'm stuttering. So I tend to keep quiet socially.

Funmi Had A Near-Death Experience After Birth
Funmi Lawal had a near-death experience after giving birth to her second child. Funmi Lawal

But there have been positives. Since the stroke I have been able to start my own business. When I started to get better, I struggled with the lack of privacy, because nurses used to wash me. I looked around, but I couldn't really find much in the way of underwear on the market for people who had disabilities. So I created front fastening underwear that means you don't have to bend or stretch and can retain some privacy, even if others are caring for you.

I believe that if it is not your time, you won't die. I am an example of that.

Funmi Lawal is the founder and CEO of Clip-knix. You can find out more at clip-knix.biz and follow on Instagram @clipknixuk.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.