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

Laura Allan
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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 dies inside the mother but cannot be reabsorbed, it can be problematic and lead to infection. The body calcifies the dead 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 Dies Inside The Mother

It Happens When The Fetus Dies... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list "Stone Fetuses" Can Stay In A Woman's Body For Decades
Photo: andrewmalone/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

So, how exactly does a fetus go from being a live, growing baby to a chunk of calcified rock? Unfortunately, it begins with the death 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 die 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 dies 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 dies, and it grows in an unusual place in the abdominal cavity. Even then, stone babies only happens in about 1-2% of abdominal ectopic pregnancies, which is already very uncommon.

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

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Photo: capturedbychelsea/flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

When the body senses the fetus has died, it springs into action in order to keep the body safe. This happens between 14 weeks of pregnancy and full term, so the dead fetus is a notable mass and cannot be reabsorbed by the mother's body. Because the fetus has developed and died 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 dead fetus as a foreign invader, so rather than breaking it down, it begins being 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

The Baby Truly Turns To Stone is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list "Stone Fetuses" Can Stay In A Woman's Body For Decades
Photo:  Flickr upload bot/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

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 baby in the mineral calcium, hardening the fetus. 

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

Women Who Carry A Stone Baby A... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list "Stone Fetuses" Can Stay In A Woman's Body For Decades
Photo: Kit4na/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

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 assumes she's lost the pregnancy and moves on with her life. 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 on stone pregnancies because of a lack in 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.