Came across a strange story yesterday on Fox News Latino. The mummified remains of a fetus, which weighed 3 pounds and 12 ounces, were found during an abdominal X-ray exam of a woman in the Dominican Republic who had been suffering stomach pains for decades. (A girlfriend of mine tells me that there was an episode last summer on the series All Saints that featured a similar condition.)
In looking at the Wikipedia I discovered that such a fetus is termed a Lithopedion and that though it is rare it is not unknown.
The cause was already described in 1881 by the American journal of obstetrics and diseases of women and children, Volume 14, Issues 1-2, p. 331, which states
Sometimes the foregoing inflammatory changes do not occur as the result of the death of the fetus, in which case the fluid contents of the sac is reabsorbed, the walls collapse and come in contact with the fetal cadaver. The skin of the latter, and at a later period the deep seated soft tissues, undergo fatty degeneration and form a greasy substance, consisting of fat, lime salts, cholesterin crystals, and blood pigment. At a later period, the fluid portions absorb, so that nothing remains but the bones, lime lamellae, and incrustations upon the walls of the sac, or the fetus may shrink up like a mummy, preserving its shape and organs to the minutest detail (Spiegelberg). A fetus thus altered is termed a lithopedion. It can remain imbedded in connective tissue for years without injury to the mother. The lithopedion of Leinzell was removed in 1720 from a woman ninety-four years of age who had carried it for forty-six years. The presence of the lithopedion does not prevent pregnancy from taking place. In some cases, it may, after years, excite suppuration – a result which is fostered, according to Spiegelberg, by pregnancy and labor. Recovery may follow the artificial extraction of the foreign body, or death may result from inflammation and the discharge of pus.
I found an earlier story entitled The curious case of the stone baby that among other things decries the common tendency to create curiosities out of such phenomena:
In 1582, the autopsy findings of Madame Chatri – complete with illustrations depicting the woman and her stone child — became an instant medical bestseller and the calcified fetus was quickly sold to a wealthy French merchant (sort of the P.T. Barnum of his day) who put it on display at his museum of curiosities in Paris. The fossilized fetus reportedly changed hands several times after that, finally ending up in the King of Denmark’s royal museum in 1653. Two hundred years later, the museum was dissolved and the stone fetus was transferred to the Danish Museum of Natural History.