Pregnancy can be pretty terrifying for expectant mothers. Even a normal, healthy pregnancy is accompanied by intense bodily changes and hormone shifts that can be extremely difficult to cope with. Yet none of that can come close to the horrors of what happens when women die while pregnant. As it turns out, babies born in coffins is a thing and it's more terrifying than the bubonic plague.
The phenomenon is commonly known as coffin birth, and it's a completely natural occurrence. When a pregnant mother dies, sometimes her body will force the fetus out of the womb post-mortem, "birthing"a stillborn child. Coffin birth has been observed by some of the most unfortunate archaeologists in the world and has been confirmed as real phenomenon. It's one of the more gruesome and depressing facts about the burial process, and the more coffin birth facts you know, the less likely you are to ever want to get pregnant.
Archaeologists Have Found Cases Of Coffin Birth In Excavated Tombs
When excavating an ancient tomb, the last thing most archaeologists would expect to find is the skeleton of a fetus half-protruding from its mother. There have been several cases where archeologists discovered just that, but fortunately, those discoveries are helping us better understand this macabre phenomenon. In 2017, scientists announced the discovery of a coffin birth that dated all way the back to the 1300s. The Italian mother was found near the modern city of Genoa alongside multiple of her children, including a stillborn that is believed to have been a coffin birth. The mother and her children were likely victims of the bubonic plague, as sampling of their DNA found trace amounts of the disease in their systems.
There Are Extensive Historical Records Documenting Coffin Births
If you go back a couple hundred years in medical records, you'll find quite a few accounts of documented coffin births. One 17th century text has the following quote about a woman found to have delivered after death:
"April ye 20, 1650, was buried Emme, the wife of Thomas Toplace, who was found delivered of a child after she had lain two hours in the grave."
Another report from the same century described a woman who had a baby "hanging between the thighs" three days after her death. These are just a few of the numerous cases on record.
Post-Mortem Fetal Extrusion Isn't Just An Ancient Phenomenon
While modern preservation techniques practically eliminate the chances of a coffin birth, not every corpse gets the treatment it needs before things get gross. One report describes a pregnant woman who was found several weeks after her death from a heroin overdose, and the description of the body is one of the most horrifying reads on the Internet. The woman was bloated, green, and had a half-born fetus protruded from her body. Both the woman and fetus were confirmed to have died from the overdose, and there were no signs of labor before death. The autopsy confirmed that the fetus had been forced by the gasses building up in the mother.
A Buildup Of Gasses During Putrefaction Is The Likely Cause Of Coffin Birth
The science behind post-mortem fetal extrusion is as messy as the result, but researchers believe they've figured out why this happens. It has everything to do with putrefaction, which is what happens to your body after you die. As your cells begin to decay, they start releasing large amounts of gasses as a waste product. The gasses can start to build up to the point that they need to find an escape route, which can often cause the body to burst. This process could be the explanation for coffin birth, as the excess of gases can theoretically push the baby out as they look for a way to relieve the pressure.