Back in 1554, in the small town of Sens, France, there lived a woman named Colombe Charti. And that year, she went into labor.
Colombe and her husband had not had any children yet and were excited to welcome their first baby into the world. She had carried her fetus close to full term, and the delivery was expected to go well.
But then, out of nowhere, Colombe’s contractions stopped, and her baby was never born.
So, for the next three years, she rested in bed and tried to recover from the emotional loss. At the same time, Colombe was suffering from bizarre pains in the center of her abdomen.
Her neighbors thought that the baby must have still been inside her body– which was a logical assumption at the time. However, Colombe went on to live for twenty-eight more years, and her baby never saw daylight.
Well, that was until she actually passed away. At that point, her husband was still wrought with confusion and decided to ask two surgeons for their help. The doctors ultimately performed an autopsy on Colombe’s body and discovered something they had never seen before.
Inside her abdomen was a very hard and roughly egg-shaped object. And at first, the surgeons believed they had unearthed some sort of tumor.
Once they actually broke into the object’s tough outer shell, though, they discovered a fetus. More specifically, a baby with a head, shoulders, two arms, and knees bent toward its chest. The fetus also had legs and feet– which were fused together– one tooth and a full head of hair. Additionally, the baby’s gender was discovered to be female.
This never-born fetus in Sens, France, is now one of the earliest known documented cases of a lithopedion. Also known as a “stone baby,” lithopedions calcify as time goes on and never exit their mother.
The phenomenon has only occurred a handful of times, with about three hundred known cases ranging back in time.
Lithopedions are thought to form following pregnancies in which the fetus actually grows outside of the mother’s uterus. And, if the fetus grows too large, it cannot be reabsorbed by the body.
So, it instead passes away unborn and can actually stay within an expectant mother’s body forever.
When Colombe’s lithopedion was discovered during the sixteenth century, though, it was unlike anything anyone had ever seen or heard of. And the “stone baby” intrigued ordinary community members and medical experts alike– ultimately getting passed around and studied over the following few hundred years.
And since the Sens lithopedion was discovered, forty-six additional cases of “stone babies” were documented within medical studies. Plus, over time, medical professionals came to conclude that lithopedions formed under three different circumstances.
First, the surrounding egg-shaped membrane could calcify while the fetus inside does not. Second, the hard membrane shell could rupture and cause the fetus to calcify. Or finally, both the membrane and fetus could calcify independently of each other– like Colombe’s baby.
And because these “stone babies” were never born, it was rare to discover a lithopedion until their mothers reached the end of their lives. In fact, a 1949 case study actually revealed that of the one hundred and twenty-eight documented cases of lithopedions, nine of the mothers spent over fifty years unknowingly carrying the “stone babies” within their abdomens.
Still, lithopedions are extremely rare. Cases of abdominal pregnancy– in which the baby grows outside the fallopian tubes or uterus– only represent one out of every ten to thirty thousand pregnancies. Then, calcification that results in a lithopedion represents less than two percent of those cases.
And nowadays, with advancements in medical technology and prenatal care, the odds of living with a lithopedion inside of you are incredibly low.
Abdominal pregnancies alone are already known to pose distinct risks to both mother and baby– so oftentimes, these pregnancies are terminated early on.
Additionally, the pregnancies that are not terminated are watched closely by medical professionals– and any abdominal fetus that does not survive is promptly removed before calcification can occur.
Despite that, though, we are still quite new to modern medicine. So, there are still some modern cases of lithopedions that are the result of decades-old pregnancies.
For instance, in 2014, doctors removed a thirty-five-year-old lithopedion from a seventy-year-old woman who lived in Mahaboonagar, India. Similarly, a ninety-two-year-old woman from southern China discovered she had been carrying a “stone baby” for sixty years in 2009.
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This content was originally published here.