This Mom Went Viral On TikTok with Her Traumatic Birth Story

"It's not easy to reconcile being clinically dead as your child is born," recalls Kayleigh Summers.

Photo: Courtesy of Kayleigh Summers

Throughout Kayleigh Summers' pregnancy with son Callahan, the Philadelphia-based school clinician says she was fearful about complications during childbirth. And though close friends and family tried to calm those fears, when the time came to welcome her baby, Summers' nightmare would become a terrifying reality.

On that fateful July day in 2019, Summers was 10 centimeters dilated and, as she recounted in a previous blog post on her website, The Birth Trauma Mama, "ready to push." While waiting for her doctor, who had exited the hospital room with a promise of a short return to deliver the baby, Summers began to feel ill. And while the nurse tending to Summers at the time said it's normal to feel generally unwell during this stage of labor, Summers knew something was wrong — specifically, she felt there was an issue with her heart. But as she began to cry out that she knew something wasn't right, the monitors near Summers' bed began to shed light on what she was experiencing. Within mere moments, Summers slumped over in her hospital bed, "eyes open but nothing behind them," she says in the blog post.

Immediately, a nurse hit the code blue alarm, which typically signals a patient is in cardiac arrest. Summers, who specifically went into what's called cardiopulmonary arrest, was promptly taken to an operating room, where CPR was initiated and doctors performed an emergency c-section. Although Callahan was safely delivered six minutes later, Summers herself "was dying," she explains. "They successfully resuscitated me after the c-section, but I coded again a few minutes later," shared Summers on her website. "After the second resuscitation, I began to bleed and A LOT," and entered a state known as disseminated intravascular coagulation, a condition in which your blood no longer clots. A balloon had been inserted by doctors into Summer's uterus "to try to stem the bleeding from that location," she recalled. (

Courtesy of Kayleigh Summers

Summers didn't know it at the time but she had suffered an Amniotic Fluid Embolism, a "life-threatening, acute and unexpected birth complication that can affect both mother and baby," according to the AFE Foundation. The condition is described as the rapid collapse of a mother and or her child "as a result of an allergic-like reaction to amniotic fluid (the fluid that surrounds the baby in the uterus during pregnancy) entering the maternal circulatory system," according to the foundation.

While still in critical condition, Summers "was bleeding from everywhere," she said in her blog post. And, as a result, a massive transfusion was needed, with a total of 143 units of blood product being transfused by the end of the horrifying ordeal. Summers also received a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus), in order to curb the bleeding and ultimately help to save her life. Doctors were able to spare one of her ovaries.

Generally, AEF itself is looked at as having two phases, with the first as "rapid respiratory failure" that can lead to cardiac arrest. The second is the "hemorrhagic phase," in which the mother bleeds at the wound site," according to the AFE Foundation.

At the same time, Summers' heart and lungs were not working at full capacity, prompting doctors to put her on ECMO (Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation). This life-saving machine allows blood to be pumped outside of the body "to a heart-lung machine that removes carbon dioxide and sends oxygen-filled blood back to tissues in the body," according to the Mayo Clinic. And while the ECMO machine kept Summers alive, doctors were still struggling to get her heart pumping efficiently again. They ultimately determined that they'd need to implant an Impella, which is a tiny device that allows the heart to rest and recover by temporarily aiding the heart's pumping function to deliver both blood and oxygen to the body, according to Abiomed, a medical company that specializes in circulatory and oxygenation support.

Fortunately, after two long days in the hospital, Summers health turned a corner, and she was able to be taken off the ECMO machine, according to her previous blog post. Still, it wasn't until five days after her son's birth that she learned what happened to her.

"I remember [my ob-gyn] was at my bedside holding my hand to the right of my head and my anesthesiologist was on my left side, down near my hip, holding my hand," wrote Summers in her blog post. "I remember her telling me that I had an AFE. I remember mostly holding it together and nodding thinking it finally made sense given where I was and all of my tubes and lines. Then, she told me I needed a hysterectomy [and one was performed], and I started to cry," also noting four liters of blood had been found in her abdomen.

Summers was eventually discharged from the hospital in late July. And while two years have passed since her terrifying experience with AFE, she says it will always be part of her.

"It's been a long journey to get where I am today. It's not easy to reconcile being clinically dead as your child is born," Summers tells Shape. "I am absolutely devastated by the way my baby was born, and yet I am so grateful to my care team and the medical advancements that saved my life and allowed me to watch my son grow up."

Summers — who has had no further issues with her heart — has become something of a viral sensation since sharing her birth story online. Her TikTok page has amassed more than 4.7 likes and features videos of Summers detailing her near-death experience, all the while raising awareness about AEF. The Birth Trauma Mama website was also created in the hopes to "help other moms who have experienced birth trauma or difficult postpartum journeys," she explains. To emphasize the commonality of traumatic births, Summers not only addresses her own journey on her Instagram account but also the harrowing stories of other mothers, as well.

"Jena and I decided to start this page as a safe space for mamas to come together and share about their difficult birth/postpartum experiences (and the good ones too!)," wrote Summers in a January 2020 Instagram post. Then, she told me I needed a hysterectomy, and I started to cry."We hope to share some education, insight, and personal experiences around birth trauma and the effects it can have on postpartum mental health." (Read more: The Pregnancy and Postpartum Mental Health Issues No One Is Talking About)

Summers' post continued: "As beautiful as becoming a mother is, it's also crippling at times. Experiencing a trauma during what should be one of the best days of a mama's life only complicates this.⁣ We would love to connect with other mamas and talk more about these topics, which are so close to our hearts."⁣

Summers' followers have also praised her for being so open about her chilling experience. "Thank you for this," commented one follower in a recent Instagram post. "Your account gave me the push to start working through my own birth experience when I didn't want to face it. I have a lot of work to do, but I'm so thankful I took the first step!"

Another added, "I'm so thankful to you. Thank you for always sharing your story and giving other mamas a place to feel safe and seen. I come here on the regular when I find myself dwelling on my trauma. When it feels like the world has moved on but I'm stuck on that day. Thank you for giving me a space to still struggle with it."


"It's not easy to reconcile being clinically dead as your child is born."


Although many have sought comfort from Summers' social media platform, others have looked to her channels as a guide. In fact, Summers says a nurse even reached out to her on TikTok to say that her story inspired a medical unit to brush up on their AEF knowledge. "The next week they had a patient suffer an AFE and were able to save the mom and baby," she says. "I've also received a ton of feedback from other moms who have experienced birth trauma and have found comfort in the space I created on Instagram. It's the first time some of them have felt seen and validated in their experience."

Though rare, recent research cited by the AFE Foundation notes that an "estimated incidence of AFE is 2.5 in every 100,000 births or 1 in 40,000 deliveries in North America." Survivors, as well as their inner circle, "are at greater risk for experiencing lasting emotional effects after a traumatic event," according to the foundation. Those feelings can include guilt, isolation, anxiety, depression, or posttraumatic stress.

Courtesy of Kayleigh Summers

"I've learned that it's okay to be both angry and grateful," says Summers. "It's okay for the day your baby was born to be both the best and worst day of your life. Feelings are not mutually exclusive; we can feel them both at the same time. Birth trauma can be devastating, but with therapy, support, and community there is hope for healing." (

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