'Stone Fetuses' Can Stay In A Woman's Body For Decades

Most babies stay in the womb for only nine months, but on occasion things go wrong, making that stay much, much longer. There is a rare, strange pregnancy phenomenon that can turn a fetus into calcified stone while still inside the mother's body.  

While it sounds horrifying, unborn fetuses calcify in mothers' wombs as a form of protection. The body is always trying to guard itself, and when a fetus expires inside the mother but cannot be reabsorbed, it can be problematic and lead to infection. The body calcifies the deceased fetus to keep the mother alive, and it works pretty well. Most stone babies do not cause serious health complications, and some women have carried around stone fetuses for decades without even knowing it. 

These lithopedion stone baby facts can appear a bit confusing, but it actually makes a lot of sense in terms of fighting off infection and a host of other pregnancy-related medical issues. Some of these images are not for those with weak stomachs. This is a rare medical diagnosis you're bound to never forget.

  • It Happens When The Fetus Expires Inside The Mother

    So, how exactly does a fetus go from being viable to calcified rock? Unfortunately, it begins with the expiration of the fetus. Stone babies only happen in the case of ectopic pregnancies (pregnancies where the fertilized egg attaches somewhere other than the uterus) that expire within the woman's body after a certain stage of growth. Most of the time with ectopic pregnancies, the fertilized egg attaches in a fallopian tube. When this occurs, doctors usually terminate the pregnancy or the fetus perishes on its own, and in early stages, it is just reabsorbed into or expelled from the body. 

    In very rare cases, however, a fetus from an ectopic pregnancy gets to be a big enough size where it can't be reabsorbed into the body or expelled after it expires, and it grows in an unusual place in the abdominal cavity. Even then, stone babies only happen in about 1 to 2% of abdominal ectopic pregnancies, which is already very uncommon.

  • Calcification Of The Fetus Is The Body's Way Of Protecting The Mother From Infection

    When the body senses the fetus has passed, it springs into action in order to keep the body safe. During pregnancy, this happens between 14 weeks and full term, so the unviable fetus is a notable mass and cannot be reabsorbed by the mother's body. Because the fetus has developed and expired outside the womb, it has no way to be expelled, either.

    To keep the fetus from rotting inside the body and potentially harming the mother or causing a life-threatening infection, the mother's body takes precautionary measures. It recognizes the deceased fetus as a foreign invader, so rather than breaking it down, it begins encasing it with layers of calcium, which sometimes also includes the amniotic sac and fluid. It's sort of like a mummification or fossilization process.

  • The Baby Truly Turns To Stone

    This calcium coating and replacement that takes place inside the mother's body is more than just a protective layer; what happens is much closer to the fetus turning into a mummy inside the mom's abdomen. The body mummifies the fetus in the mineral calcium, hardening the mass. 

    The body doesn't recognize the fetus as foreign, so it simply remains there without being broken down or expelled. Some women who have this happen later in pregnancy report it feels like they're carrying around a bowling ball inside them, which isn't all that far from the truth.

    Calcified fetuses are actually medically known as lithopedion, which means "Stone Baby" in Greek. It's an accurate term, and the results, like the one pictured, tend to be both fascinating and horrifying. 

  • Women Who Carry A Stone Baby Are Often Completely Unaware Of It

    Oddly enough, most women who experience a calcified fetus aren't aware of it. One would think a woman would notice when she didn't deliver her baby, or that she's carrying around a rock inside her abdomen, but that's not usually the case. Instead, women simply experience pregnancy symptoms, and then they go away. The woman may assume she's lost the pregnancy or be unaware of the pregnancy itself. A fetus in early stages is easy to misjudge as just a little extra weight or bloat, even for long periods of time. Most early discoveries of stone babies, and even some later ones, happen during unrelated surgeries or even during autopsies.

    Unfortunately, some women carry stone pregnancies because of a lack of medical care. Lithopedion fetuses need to be medically removed through surgery, and this procedure can be expensive or completely unavailable in less developed countries and cultures. Since the stone fetus is generally not harmful or incredibly uncomfortable, they simply carry it with them, whether or not they are aware that it has calcified inside them. 

  • They Usually Cause No Major Medical Problems

    Surprisingly, stone babies are not generally a dangerous medical issue. Most of these types of pregnancies happen in older women, with two-thirds of them being over the age of 40. Although they can sometimes cause complications in getting pregnant, most women of this age are not trying to start families, so it goes unnoticed. The body thinks of the stone fetus as just another part of the body after calcification, and in older women, doctors may even recommend the fetus not be removed to prevent complications from surgery.

    That being said, it is true that in rare cases, stone babies can cause some issues. People have reported intestinal obstruction, pelvic abscesses, and more. But most of all, it can lead to small changes and symptoms that can't be directly identified, especially in the occasional younger victims. As someone who experienced a stone baby pregnancy herself put it:

    I experienced symptoms from my head to my toes. Yet, no one knew to connect my mysterious and ever-changing symptoms with the cause. During the latter half of my twenties I spent chunks of time on disability in bed, sat for long hours in different doctor waiting rooms and took various tests. My frustration escalated to the point where I’d cry when a test result for a serious condition would come back normal. I felt many dark moments where I didn't think I’d survive.

  • The Phenomenon Has Been Recorded Less Than 400 Times

    To say this is a rare occurrence is a vast understatement. Ectopic pregnancies only happen in as little as 2% of pregnancies, which is how stone babies start. Of that number, only a very small percentage happen outside the womb or fallopian tubes. And of those, only a very small fraction ever grow to the point where they can not be broken down and reabsorbed into or expelled from the body and become calcified. 

    Even if this type of pregnancy is more common than imagined, there is not a lot of data to back it up. Since this pregnancy phenomenon doesn't normally cause serious harm, they often go unnoticed, which means they go unreported. In all, there appears to be less than 400 documented cases of lithopedion fetuses and that number might be even less than 300.