The maternal mortality rate in the state is a third of the American average.
Kristen Terlizzi woke up on July 16, 2014, in the intensive care unit at
Stanford University to the news that the placenta connecting her to the
child she'd just given birth to had spread like a cancer through her
Six weeks earlier, Terlizzi, then 32, had been diagnosed with placenta
accreta, a condition that can cause the placenta to grow out of control.
In a normal pregnancy, the placenta develops inside the uterus, attaches
to the uterine wall, and then is flushed out of the body after the birth.
In accreta, which doctors believe is most often caused by scarring from
prior cesarean sections, the placenta sticks around and embeds. The condition
was exceedingly rare in the 1950s, occurring in only one in 30,000 deliveries
in the US. Today, because of the rise in C-sections, it shows up in about
one in 500 births. One in 14 American women with accreta die, usually from hemorrhaging
too much blood.
Childbirth is one of the most common reasons women go into hospitals, and
yet the American health care system handles complicated pregnancies with
a stunning lack of preparation and precision. Put simply, women who give
birth in the US have a greater risk of dying relative to other rich countries
— and the problem has been
growing worse at a timewhen America’s peers have continued to make pregnancy safer.
Terlizzi could have died too. But the fact that she lives in California
— a state that a decade ago decided to take the American tragedy
of maternal death seriously — may well have saved her life.