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 entire abdomen.
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.