Just as the Egyptian pyramid is home to the mummy, for 46 years, Zahra Aboutalib’s womb housed her dead baby! Believe it or not, this type of condition actually exists and has been around for some time now!
Birth is termed a miracle. But what’s even a greater miracle is a mum surviving a dead fetus. 46 years ago, a woman in a Moroccan village got pregnant. As she went into labour, she was taken to a clinic, where she happened to witness another woman die during childbirth. The incident was enough to make her pick up her skirts and run for the hills, never considering the consequences of that impulsive decision.
For Zahra Aboutalib, delivering her baby in a medical facility was an absolute no-no. Despite her labour pains, she continued with her life as we know it! Within a few days the pains were gone and Zahra believed she had lost her baby. She moved on and adopted three children whom she raised with lots of TLC, never thinking that the dead baby would be making reappearance in her life in couple of years.
Several decades later, the pains returned to haunt the 75-year old grandmother. Her children, concerned for her health, took her to a hospital where the examining doctors, awaiting test results for a suspected tumour, were in for a rude shock. The MRI scan of Zahra’s belly revealed the mummified baby, conceived 46 years ago.
This biological blunder was a result of an ectopic pregnancy (a condition which accounts for 10 per cent of all pregnancy-related deaths). Zahra had an ectopic pregnancy, where the fertilized egg stays in the fallopian tube instead of moving to the uterus. The pregnancy usually doesn’t make it to term and doctors advise termination within the first trimester. Had Zahra not fled the hospital 46 years ago, she probably would have been able to bury her child rather than just a calcified mass. And she could have conceived again. The mother in her mature years finally held the seven pound stone baby she wanted in her prime.
In rare cases, such as Zahra’s, the fertilized egg, at times, attaches to one of the ovaries or another organ in the abdomen, or even the cervix. In such an event, the mother’s life is in danger, but Zahra’s body – to protect itself from infection from dead fetus – developed a layer of hard calcified material around the dead baby. This hardened over the years and fused with both Zahra’s abdominal wall and the internal organs, making her surgery a tricky one.
However, as bizarre as it sounds, hers is not the first case of lithopedia, or stone babies, the term used by medical experts for such an occurrence. Fewer than 300 stone babies have been recorded in medical literature, dating back to the record of a 10th-century Spanish-Arabian physician and surgeon, Albucasis.
It is also possible that the 75-yearold grandmother, according to ancient Moroccan beliefs, convinced herself that her sleepy baby’s growth had been stalled in order to protect her. While some may choose to believe in superstitions and folktales, there is no shortage of small miracles taking place, like that of Vicky Campbell, 27, who had to carry a dead baby in the womb for five weeks before giving birth to his twin brother. It seems, we women, do have a strong womb that has enough room for the living and the dead!
In Indian, we are aware of Ahalya turning to stone (the Ramayana told me that!) but there is no record of stone babies in our country. But our neighbour China seems to have set the bar with 92 year old Huang Yijun, who carried her dead baby for over half a century. Since these babies are a rare occurrence they are known to cause quite a public sensation.
The good news is that Zahra survived it all and her name is now viral on the internet, resulting in awareness of the stone baby syndrome and the complications of ectopic pregnancies. And the sleepy baby that lay protected in her body, finally found its resting place in the world outside.