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A lithopedion originally starts off as an ectopic pregnancy. Dr. Natalie Burger, an endocrinologist and fertility specialist at the Texas Fertility Center states “Usually an ectopic pregnancy will mean a [fallopian] tubal pregnancy, but in a small percentage of cases, the pregnancy can actually occur in the abdominal cavity — in places like the bowel, the ovary, or even on the aorta,” she says. “These are very rare locations and they can be very dangerous.” In these instances, either a termination is recommended due to the possible risks to the mother; or the fetus will simply die on its own due to a lack of blood supply. Once the fetus dies, the tissue breaks down and it is absorbed back into the body.
However, in Huang’s case; the pregnancy reached an advanced stage before the fetus died. With the fetus being too large for absorption, the tissue and the surrounding amniotic sac slowly calcified. Eventually, the calcified remains turn to stone to protect the mother’s body from infection as the tissue decomposes. Since the mother’s body does not recognize the fetus’s remains as foreign, she can normally go on with her life as long as there aren’t any complications. The average span of a “stone pregnancy” is 22 years. However, when Huang was told her baby died in 1948, she did not have the financial means to remove the fetus, so she “ignored it” and continued living a healthy life for another 60 years until she began to have stomach pains. A scan revealed the dead stone child inside of Huang’s womb and the baby was finally removed.
As of 1996, there have only been 290 “stone baby” cases documented. Women who live in countries with limited pre-natal care are often unaware that they are carrying a lithopedion until a serious health issue arises; including intestinal obstruction and pelvic abscesses. Additionally, there can be issues with future pregnancies and fertility as a result of carrying a lithopedion.
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