Huang Yijun of China carried a stone baby inside her body from 1948 to 2009. At the age of 92, she finally had it removed.
While a 92-year-old woman delivering a 60-year-old baby may sound like a bizarre plot twist from the movie "Benjamin Button," it's true. Huang Yijun, 92, of southern China, recently delivered a child which she'd been carrying for well over half a century.
The baby wasn't alive, however. The woman was carrying a lithopedion or stone baby. It's a rare phenomenon that occurs when a pregnancy fails and the fetus calcifies while still in the mother's body.
According to Dr. Natalie Burger, endocrinologist and fertility specialist at Texas Fertility Center, lithopedions start off as ectopic pregnancies, a condition where the fertilized egg gets stuck on its way to the womb, implants and develops outside the uterus.
"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 most cases, Burger says, doctors will recommend the pregnancy be terminated due to the extreme risk to the mother. Or the fetus will simply die on its own due to a lack of blood supply. "The vast majority never get anywhere close to multiple months of pregnancy," she says. "They die, the tissue breaks down and they're gone."
In certain cases, however, the implanted fetus gets to an advanced stage before it dies. Too large to be absorbed by the body, the remains of the child or its surrounding amniotic sac slowly calcify, turning to stone as a way to protect the woman's body from infection from the decomposing tissue. Because the mother's body doesn't recognize the hardening mass as foreign if there are no other complications she can basically just go on with her life.