Ilyana Insyirah
Graduate of the Year
Western Australia 2015

Following a serious car accident that almost left her paralyzed, Ilyana Insyirah Mohamed-Hussain was told she could no longer be a nurse. After watching a movie called ‘A Walk to Beautiful’ about five women in Ethiopia suffering from devastating childbirth injuries, Ilyana was moved to become a professional midwife. Four years on, the Perth-based midwife was given the honor of winning the Graduate of the Year for Western Australia award and completed a transformational internship in Tanzania.

Assalamualaikum Ilyana! You’re a midwife. How is that like?

Being someone who does shift work, it varies how I spend an average day. If I work 3 consecutive 10-hour night shifts, the next day will just be spent in bed. Sometimes, I work a 12-hour shift which starts from 7 am till 7.30pm. There will be days that I work an 8-hour shift which either starts from 7am to 3.30pm or 1 pm to 9.30pm. Night shift starts from 9.30pm-7am or 7pm-7.30am. I do rotate around the whole hospital, which means I could be in labor ward for three months and postnatal wards the next couple of months. I can be posted to the clinics or the Adult Special Care Unit (ICU) for subsequent months. So there is no average day in my life. The only constant thing is my love for my Nespresso machine. -grin- Coffee is my life and I can drink up to 4 cups of coffee per day. The time I get up depends on Subuh which depends on the season, winter or summer. The first thing I would try to do is give thanks to Allah for giving me the opportunity to wake up and have another day on this earth.

High five! I love coffee toooo!!!! What inspired you to become a midwife?

My sisters and I were involved in a serious car accident in 2011. To cut a long story short, I barely survived. I literally broke my neck. I fractured my cervical spine from C1 to C5. The doctors were amazed that I could still walk. The car rolled over several times and there were some people who saw what happened and stopped to help us. Luckily, there was a nurse who stabilized my neck till the fire brigade and ambulance arrived. I can’t remember this, to be honest. This is what happened, as narrated by my sister. In the spinal ward where I was admitted, there were some people who broke just two cervical bones and were left paralyzed. Alhamdulillah, Allah has given me the opportunity to be able to walk. The recovery process took a long time. I was in a halo brace for three months and I was then on a hard cervical collar for another 2 months before having a surgery. I also fractured my left wrist and tore my wrist ligaments.

Due to my extensive injuries from the accident, I was told that I could no longer be a nurse. That really shattered me as I love being a nurse and helping people in any way I can. I’ve always strived to please Allah by making a difference in this world. To help people and give what I can for the sake of Allah. I want to make an impact on someone’s life, even if it was for a minute. Since I could not work at that point of time, I thought ‘why not study?’ I was determined to find another way to benefit society. One of the course units I took was Sociology. One day, we watched a movie called ‘A Walk to Beautiful’. The movie tells the story of five women in Ethiopia suffering from devastating childbirth injuries. Rejected by their husbands and ostracized by their communities, these women are left to spend the rest of their lives in loneliness and shame. It was a truly remarkable and a life changing movie for me. I felt uncontrollable sadness and I had the urge to want to help. The movie sparked my interest and there was no turning back. I knew that being a midwife would give me another outlet to give back to the community and sustain my passion.

I never thought pursuing midwifery would lead to bigger and greater things. I feel blessed that Allah has given me this path in life. I managed to travel to Tanzania, Africa to practice midwifery and was given the honor of winning the Graduate of the Year for Western Australia 2015. This award recognizes the efforts of nurses and midwives all over Western Australia. I never expected to be a finalist, let alone to win! I felt like I was just an Asian hijabi midwife, trying to find her way in life. It was an amazing experience. It’s not the win so much as the opportunity to meet health ministers and all those who have done so much for their community in their respective fields. I felt honored to be nominated based on my work and not my skin color or what I wear on my head. Alhamdulillah ‘ala kulli Haal.

Alhamdulillah. Thank you for sharing your story, Ilyana. What’s the most touching incident that you’ve experienced as a midwife?

Being in Tanzania for 5 weeks on a midwifery internship taught me so much. The lack of facilities and care given to the pregnant and laboring women was shocking and appalling. They were laboring on their own beds, on beds without linens. They were not allowed to have any support person. Some of them have not even had a sip of water throughout their 8 hours of labor, not to mention any pain relief. There is no such thing as an epidural. When it was time for them to have the baby, they could not push as they were too dehydrated and hungry. There was a woman who was so hungry that it overcame her urge to have the baby. Her midwife was pushing on her belly, forcing her to have the baby as the baby could die if it was not delivered soon. I managed to get some glucose drip in and gave her some water. I held her hand as she pushed the baby out. It was so shocking and sad. They could not speak English but I can never forget the pain and sadness in their eyes. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to look at you and tell you that everything is going to be okay. That is what a midwife is all about.

Being able to share someone’s laboring experience is the greatest honor I could ever wish for. It is such a private and loving moment when a new life is welcomed. When the couple leans towards each other and the look of love they show when they see the baby that they have been waiting for the past 9 months – that is the most awesome part of my work. To know that you were there to facilitate and help makes every moment worth it. Even if something goes wrong, being an advocate and a voice for the woman to ensure she gets what she wants is part of what a midwife does.

That’s amazing, ma shaa Allah. What drives you to strive for excellence?

To be honest, I am not the strive-for-excellence kind of person. In my line of work, there is nothing to measure excellence. I do the best that I can, with all the knowledge that Allah has given to me and with passion. The rest, I leave it to Allah. There is only so much I can do. People may or may not appreciate my efforts but I don’t do things for them. I do my best for my Maker. He is the source of my motivation and strength.

Aww… Fisabilillah always, in shaa Allah. What is the greatest challenge you have faced? How did you overcome it?

I remember the time in my life when I decided to wear the hijab. It was during the blessed month of Ramadhan, just before I began my journey to become a midwife. It was not because someone asked me to or because I was trying to please people. It was simply for my desire to please my Lord. It was one of the greatest challenges in my life. Being someone who came from a secular school and lives in a western country, I was so afraid that the hijab was going to define who I am as a person and people would judge me based on it. Being a minority in this country, especially being Asian, would already make me stand out, but being Asian who wears a hijab puts me in an even bigger spotlight. But Alhamdulillah, Allah has made it easy for me to transit. There are times where I feel that I am being judged by what I wear and I would get paranoid. But after a while, I realized that it is okay. With the hijab, I feel much more connected to the Muslim Ummah. Random hijabers would come up and greet me with salaam or a smile. I am connected to my fellow sisters in Islam. Some of my colleagues would ask about Islam and I am happy to share. Maybe, who knows InsyaAllah, they might learn to love Islam as well.

That’s so inspiring! What’s your latest project that you’re excited about?

I am currently finishing off a grad certification in child and adolescent health. This course helps me connect with parents and babies in the community. It also enables me to understand the different stages of development of the child. Here in Perth, we have child health nurses who would come and visit you at home after you’ve had your baby. This is to ensure that support is given and that mothers are coping well with their newborn. We would then see them again in the clinic when the child is at different ages – 6-8 weeks, 8 months, 18 months and 3 years old. There is also a new parent group that is run by child health nurses for first-time moms. This is to help new moms build connections and have confidence in their parenting. I am stoked to be studying and working in this field!

Who inspires you the most, Ilyana?

There is no specific person who inspires me the most. My family, however, is my source of strength. With them, I am able to continue and endure the bumpy roads I might sometimes be on. My mom, in particular, has never once let me wallow in sadness when I had my accident. She pushed me to study and carry on with life despite all my injuries.

I have been on my own in Perth for the past 6 years and it is hard being all alone. Everyone is moving forward with their life. My family always brings me up to speed and loves me in their own special way. My dad is the one who pushes me to look at the bigger picture while living in this world and be independent. Both my sisters continuously support me financially and emotionally. They are always there when I need them. They are my rock… And scissors and paper! -laughs-

Hahaha! That is really sweet. What is your hope for your community?

I feel that there is a vast difference in the health care sectors in Singapore and in Perth. More opportunities should be given to health professionals in Singapore and the health care sector should empower their nurses. My hope is for all nurses in Singapore to be given the opportunity to wear hijab at work. I feel really disappointed that nurses are not allowed to wear the hijab in Singapore, considering Islam is the 2nd biggest religion in the country.

Singapore needs to change its policies and allow basic rights to be given to Muslims. I have signed at least 2 petitions trying to get nurses to be able to wear the hijab but nothing has been done. The petitions show that the community wants this and they want a change in the system. If a country that has Muslims as a minority can give their nurses the freedom to practice their religion, I don’t see why a country that prides itself on being multicultural and multi-religious can’t. It speaks volumes of the society we have.

I am really fortunate to be given the opportunity to wear my hijab here in Australia. Even though we are the minority here, the respect and tolerance people have for each other is amazing.

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