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Patient Stories

Maria’s Postpartum Hemorrhage Surgery

Our team delivered a healthy baby. And soon after, a healthy mother.

Maria had the kind of pregnancy many women dream about. She never had morning sickness, her energy rarely lagged. She was active most every day, running around with her young toddler, Vincent, blowing bubbles in the backyard. Delivery was equally enviable: Four hours after she checked in, she was holding her new baby girl, Nadia.

“I remember thinking in my head, this is too easy, how can this be,” Maria said. Within the next 24 hours, a placenta accreta would send Maria to surgery and the ICU.

First, it was just pain. That was all Maria knew for sure – she was in pain, and this was not what happened when Vincent was born. She began to get concerned – she was hooked up to two IVs, she wasn’t allowed to eat, she still wasn’t quite sure what was going on. Her concern escalated to fear, but she was stable and stayed so overnight.

The next morning, Maria learned she was hemorrhaging because of a placenta accreta. She was losing too much blood and clotting too much. Maria began to lose control.

“I was crying, and I just remember thinking I was going to die,” Maria explained. “I was screaming, not understanding how everything went so well and then felt like it was falling to pieces 100 miles an hour. My care team was just so calm in explaining it to me, bringing it to my level so I understood.”

A placenta accreta occurs when all or part of the placenta becomes inseparable from a woman’s uterine wall, creating massive blood loss after delivery. The condition is very rare – 1 in 2,500 pregnancies – but can be life-threatening if the hemorrhaging is severe.

Maria was taken for emergency surgery and underwent a procedure often used to treat heavy bleeding, called a dilation and curettage (D&C). When that wasn’t enough, when she was still bleeding too much, the team performed an embolization.

Quick detection and rapid response can save a mother’s life in cases of postpartum hemorrhaging. Northwestern Medicine is not only adept at emergency response, but includes leaders in clinical research in obstetrics and gynecology. Patients benefit from a range of resources such as a clinical trial on the impact of vitamins in preventing complications and high-level studies on how to improve abnormal placental blood flow that could otherwise lead to adverse pregnancy outcomes.

More than the life-saving expertise, it was the care and the support that impacted Maria.

Over the course of her surgery, Maria would require six bags of blood transfusion. In most cases, an unexpected placenta accreta will require a hysterectomy; thanks to the work of her team, Maria wasn’t one of them.

“I was in such shock and I just remember waking up and thinking, oh my gosh, I’m alive,” Maria said. “I seriously thought something was going to happen to me. I was thinking about the baby I just had, and my other one at home, too. I just kept thinking: They’re not going to have a mother. It was so scary.”

More than the life-saving expertise, it was the care and the support that impacted Maria. It was the guidance her whole team provided when she struggled to make sense of anything.

After her procedure, Maria couldn’t think straight, specifically, she couldn’t understand why she wasn’t allowed to see her new daughter. But her nurses knew what the mother needed. So one went to the nursery, setting it up so Maria could FaceTime with Nadia.

“That was special, because she didn’t have to do that. I know she didn’t have to do that, but she did,” Maria said. “I never would have even thought to ask, my mind frame was not there.”

Maria’s mind is now happily occupied with two children under three years old. As a healthy, happy family, they go on walks, run around the park. Vincent has a lot of energy; Nadia is just happy to tag along.

“It’s fun because she just started laughing and smiling the past couple weeks,” Maria said. “When you see her laugh and you see her smile, that for me has been the happiest time. Just to see that and to know that I’m here for it, because it could have been another way. I’m grateful to be here, to be able to watch them grow, to be a part of their everyday.”