Throughout the last two seasons of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, the Kardashian sisters have talked a lot about reproductive health, even including a visit to their local Planned Parenthood in May. But it wasn’t until Kim began documenting her pregnancies with North (four) and Saint (one) that we began to learn and understand just a bit more about placenta accreta, a potentially life-threatening pregnancy complication where the placenta attaches itself too deeply into the wall of the uterus. The condition is seriously scary: In worst-case scenarios, it puts both mother and baby at the risk of bleeding to death during delivery.
Kim Kardashian has put a public face on placenta accreta, but she’s just one of a growing number of women who are experiencing this once-rare condition.
Between 1982 and 2002, the rate of pregnancies affected by placenta accreta rose by over 500 percent; now it affects one in 533 births. And Stanford Medicine reports that up to seven percent of patients will die from this mysterious complication.
This nearly happened to Sarah McQueen, 34, of Ontario, Canada. With previous training as a birth doula, McQueen had been mentally and emotionally prepared for her own labor and even worked alongside a midwife to prepare for her own special day. It wasn’t until she went into labor when her own midwife started to realize that McQueen was bleeding more than usual. McQueen’s entire pregnancy was without complication, but it wasn’t until the vaginal delivery of her son that she discovered she had undiagnosed placenta accreta.
“The midwife began to traction the cord, which brought on the start of a massive hemorrhage,” McQueen tells Brit + Co. She lost so much blood that she went into hemorrhagic shock and began to lose consciousness.
If placenta accreta is diagnosed prior to birth, a new mother can undergo a c-section combined with a special delivery procedure that spares the uterus. Because this wasn’t the case with McQueen, she feels lucky that doctors were able to not only save the life of herself and her child, but also her uterus.
“It is a very real life-threatening condition and the risk of a hysterectomy is very real for most survivors, as well as other very significant damage to their bodies,” she says.
Amy Lukasik, a 39-year-old from Illinois, was eight weeks pregnant when she suffered a subchorionic hematoma bleed and mistook it for a miscarriage. Her doctors determined her baby was in perfect health, but recognized that her placenta was low lying and sent her along for further testing. From there, she received a double diagnosis of placenta previa and placenta accreta, which put her at a high risk for hemorrhage both during the pregnancy and after delivering.
For many women, carrying a high-risk pregnancy and undergoing a complicated delivery can be noted as extremely stressful situations. After delivery, some women have reported suffering from anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Lukasik and McQueen report that they have suffered from these symptoms (at times) and turned to online communities including the Hope for Accreta Worldwide support group to chat with other mothers like themselves.
“I think women stay silent during their accreta pregnancy because they do not want to scare their family or children. Often, since accreta is not well known, they themselves know little about their condition and need to research and learn,” says Lukasik.
For this reason, both Lukasik and McQueen think that Kim Kardashian’s decision to go public about placenta accreta can help other women by raising awareness and starting a conversation.
“I feel the more that people read about and discuss accreta, the more the world will begin to understand not only the condition, but the effects it has both physically and emotionally on the mother,” says Lukasik.
For Kim Kardashian, those effects may mean there won’t be more pregnancies in her future. Kardashian has publicly hinted that she and husband, Kanye West, plan to use a surrogate for their next child.
In the meantime, it’s important for all folks to understand what exactly accreta is — including medical professionals — and ensure we have the proper care available. Part of this means catching the condition early. For that, Lukasik offers pregnant women one piece of potentially life-saving advice: During pre-natal appointments, ask to have the ultrasound wand moved over to check for a defined uterine border and to see if the placenta is clear of placental lakes.
“It only takes moments and can save lives,” she says.
Were you or anyone you know diagnosed with placenta accreta during pregnancy? Talk to us @BritandCo.
(Photo via Pascal Le Segretain/Getty)