Tennessee Mom Learns She Has Sepsis Just Days After Giving Birth: I 'Could Be Dead Right Now'

Autumn Benjamin was diagnosed with sepsis just days after giving birth to her first child, and doctors say the new mom could've died

Photo: Courtesy Autumn Benjamin

Autumn Benjamin, of Tennessee, was eager to begin life with her new daughter, Layla Vance, but a near-fatal health scare nearly put an end to her journey as a mother before it even began.

“A week after I brought my daughter into the world, I almost left it,” Benjamin, 22, tells PEOPLE.

It all began in the weeks before Benjamin gave birth to her daughter on Jan. 25. Benjamin says she would sometimes feel feverish, but didn’t think much of the symptom, as doctors determined that she didn’t have the flu.

However, after welcoming the little girl, Benjamin’s symptoms grew worse.

Courtesy Autumn Benjamin

She came down with a severe fever, experienced dizzy spells fainted, and even found a blood clot while in the shower. She took Tylenol and listened to family members and friends who told her that her symptoms were normal after delivering a baby.

“The reason I didn’t go to the hospital initially is because I had people in my ear telling me I was over-exaggerating how I was feeling,” she recalls. “I had anxiety about leaving my daughter, because I knew if I went to the ER I wouldn’t have her with me. I didn’t want to go, and be away from her.”

Benjamin had been home for one week before she went to the doctor about her symptoms. There, her obstetrician told her she had severe sepsis, and the illness could have been fatal if the new mom had waited any longer to see a doctor.

Courtesy Autumn Benjamin

“She was upset with me for not coming in. She told me, ‘If you would’ve waited, you could be dead right now,’ ” Benjamin recalls, noting that she was devastated at the thought of her daughter growing up without her. “It was a very scary thought. I don’t want that for her. I wanted to be there for her every waking moment. I knew I had to get better.”

Doctors also determined that Benjamin’s pelvis was filled and “congested” with blood clots. She says this was likely due to pressure on her pelvis during the pregnancy. Doctors told her that the situation could’ve been deadly had she waited just one more day to seek help.

“She told me, ‘With how sick you were, you could’ve been dead within a couple of days. This is serious,’ ” Benjamin recalls.

Courtesy Autumn Benjamin

Although maternal and postpartum sepsis are more common in developing countries, the illness was responsible for 12.7 percent of pregnancy-related deaths in the United States between 2011 and 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite the condition, Benjamin was able to continue to breastfeed Layla a majority of the time. She says doctors gave her medication that would not impact her ability to breastfeed.

However, Benjamin says that her doctors used dye to improve her MRI results, and she was not permitted to breastfeed with the dye in her system. With that, the new mom says she went nearly 24 hours without breastfeeding her daughter, who was then bottle-fed breast milk.

Over the next two months, Benjamin underwent treatment, including blood thinners and medication. She says the recovery was difficult, as she dealt with the effects of giving birth simultaneously.

Now, Benjamin, who first shared her story with Love What Matters, says she’s reached a sense of normalcy, and is enjoying life with her first child and her boyfriend, Kevin Vance.

“The first couple weeks were so rough. Is this the price you pay? I was like, ‘I’d do it a thousand times over, but this sucks,’ ” Benjamin says. “I was miserable for those first few weeks. When I started feeling better, I really started to get to enjoy [motherhood].”

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