Did You Know?
The earliest lithopedion found is the one at Bering Sinkhole, on the Edwards Plateau in Kerr County, Texas.
A stone baby is referred to as a lithopedion (litho meaning stone and pedion meaning child in Ancient Greek). Presented here are the conditions as well as some strange cases of stone babies in the ancient and recent past.
What are Stone Babies?
Lithopedion (also spelled as lithopaedion) or stone baby is one which is formed when a fetus develops inside the abdominal cavity instead of the uterus and dies during pregnancy. Gradually, it gets calcified.
If it is too large in size, the amniotic sac calcifies it to protect the woman's body from health complications. This extremely rare condition begins as an ectopic pregnancy, a case in which a fertilized egg is implanted in the fallopian tube and grows outside the uterus.
After studying several cases of stone babies from medical literature, German physician Friedrich Küchenmeister classified them into three types, namely, Lithokelyphos, Lithotecnon, and Lithokelyphopedion. Lithokelyphos meaning stone sheath, is a condition in which calcification occurs on the placental membrane, not the fetus.
Lithotecnon, called Stone Son or "true" lithopedion is a condition wherein the placental and ovarian membranes rupture, the fetus enters the abdominal cavity and gets calcified. And Lithokelyphopedion is the condition where both the fetus and the sac are calcified.
On most occasions, women carrying a lithopedion do not realize it. There have been cases where a woman gave birth to other babies while the calcified fetus was still inside her body. There have been around 300 cases of lithopedions documented by medical literature and a majority of the women with this condition, were aged over 40.
❑ The earliest case was that of a French woman named Madame Colombe Chatri who became pregnant at the age of 40. However, she did not give birth and was bedridden due to exhaustion and abdominal pain.
When she was autopsied after her death in 1582, there was a well-developed mummified fetus or stone baby found in her abdominal cavity. She had been carrying the stone baby for 28 years and her abdomen was puffed up and hard.
❑ Another remarkable case happened in Germany. Anna Mullern became pregnant at 48 and underwent labor pains, which lasted for seven weeks, but she never gave birth. Her belly remained swollen. Her doctor declared that it was a false alarm of pregnancy.
Later, Anna gave birth to two healthy children; a son and a daughter. When she died at 94, there was an autopsy performed on her body. Her physician found a hard mass of a stone baby inside her abdomen.
❑ A woman, Randi Jonsdatter, from Denmark got pregnant in 1803. She had been pregnant for 10 years after which she gave birth to a lithopedion, a dead calcified or a decomposed stone baby through an incision above her belly. The woman was about 50 years old and survived many years after the incident without any health complications.
❑ An American woman, named Rebecca Eddy suffered from what felt like labor pains when she first became pregnant and when she had an accident with a large kettle hanging over the fire. Slowly the pains abated and she never gave birth.
An autopsy was performed by Dr. William H. H. Parkhurst after her death and what was found in her belly was a perfectly formed stone baby. Eddy carried the baby for 50 years.
❑ Another astonishing case is that of Zahra Aboutalib, a woman from Morocco, who went through labor pains and was taken to a hospital where the doctors declared that she would require a cesarean section.
After watching another young woman die in pain on the operating table after undergoing the same procedure, she fled the hospital for she thought that she would suffer the same fate. She did not return for 46 years. The pain ceased after a few days and she never bore children again, but adopted three. Many decades passed and she became a grandmother.
The pains reoccurred when she was 75. Her son took her to the doctor, but the doctor couldn't identify the cause of pain. Later, another doctor suspected an ovarian tumor and sent her for scans.
This revealed a solid mass that could not be identified. Another specialist radiographer was referred who could identify it as a calcified structure. An MRI scan revealed that it was a stone baby Zahra had conceived 46 years before.
❑ A 70-year old woman named Antamma, from West Bengal, was suffering from abdominal pains for a while. She was then admitted to the hospital. After checkups, the doctors discovered a stone baby which she had conceived 35 years before.
The operation was successful and the baby was removed. The hands, feet, and head of the baby were found to be embroiled among themselves. Despite the incomplete pregnancy, Antamma gave birth to three children.
❑ A 92-year old woman, Huang Yijun, from Southern China delivered a lithopedion or stone baby after having carried it for 65 years. She wanted the dead baby to be removed by the doctors, but they demanded a huge amount of money, which she could not afford and so ignored it.
❑ The most recent case of lithopedion is that of a woman from Colombia. She went to the doctor for pelvic discomfort. The doctors identified a 40-year-old stone baby or lithopedion after an X-ray was performed on her.
The woman who was 82 years old had been carrying the calcified fetus for a long time without even realizing it. The woman is now expected to go through a surgery to remove it.
❑ An 84-year old woman from Brazil has been carrying a lithopedion inside her for over 40 years which she did not realize. This was found out only after she complained about abdominal pain and underwent an X-ray examination.
The face, bones, and few other aspects of the baby were visible in the images. She said that she had been suffering from extreme pain before and had consulted a local traditional healer who gave her medication that ended the pain. She assumed that she had miscarried the baby.
❑ In August 2014, Kantabai Thakare, a 60-year old woman was operated on and skeletal remains of an unborn child were removed from her body. After she complained of severe abdominal pain, an ultrasound was performed on her, which detected a lump in the lower right side of her abdomen.
According to the reports of Times of India, the remains of the unborn child had stayed in the mother's body for 36 years. Perhaps, this is the longest time a fetus from an ectopic pregnancy remained in a woman's body.
These were some of the weird cases of stone babies. One may wonder if cases of fetus in fetu are also related to those of stone babies. Well, fetus in fetu is a developmental abnormality wherein a fetus-like tissue is formed inside the body. The mass of tissue may start developing as a fetus but get wrapped inside its twin.
Such a case was reported in Hong Kong, where a baby was born pregnant with her own sibling. Or the mass of tissue may develop into a teratoma. A fetus in fetu may resemble a normal fetus, but has no functional body systems, which means it cannot live. And when a fetus dies inside the body and calcifies, it can be termed as a stone baby.