The Child in Me

There is usually a time in a person’s life when they think back with nostalgia to the days when they were young and carefree, and some retain aspects of their childhood in their outlook in life. However, when a woman refers to the “child in me,” she probably does not mean an actual child. But in some cases, that can be true.

Lithopedion or “stone baby” refers to a rare medical condition in which a fetus dies outside the uterus, usually the abdomen, and the mother’s body is unable to expel it without assistance. There are about 300 cases in total, and in some the infant’s body stays in the mother for years before it is discovered or expelled. In most cases, the mother is unaware that she is harboring the body of a dead child until it becomes symptomatic (abdominal pain, swelling) or an examination for another condition reveals it.

The most recent discovery was made in August 2014 in India when an MRI scan of a 62-year-old woman admitted for abdominal pain revealed the hardened, calcified remains of a child lodged on the lower right side of the abdomen. It was the child she had been pregnant with when she was 24, and had been told had no chance of survival because it was growing outside the uterus. It is believed to be the longest ectopic pregnancy in history, although not the longest case of lithopedion, which goes to a woman in China, who harbored her mummified baby for 65 years. She knew it was there in 1948 but only had it removed in 2013 because she didn’t have the money to do it earlier.

The reference to a “stone baby” is based on the fact that when a fetus which has achieved a certain size dies, the mother’s body may not be able to expel it on its own. If the fetus is not removed, the body begins to calcify to protect the mother from the decomposing tissue and prevent infection.