Thirty years ago in Russia, not far from Kovno, a Jewish peasant woman awaited her seventh baby. When her time came, she had mild labor pains, but nothing happened. Months later a doctor suggested an operation. She refused. Years passed, the family emigrated to the U. S., settled in Detroit.
Last fortnight, bothered by a heaviness in her belly at night, the old woman screwed up her courage to see Dr. Joseph Gilbert Israel, crack Detroit gynecologist. Dr. Israel palpated her abdomen, discovered a hard, round object like a baseball. His first astonished thought was that she, aged 66, was going to have a baby. But the object was too hard to be a living baby's head. Besides it was outside the womb.
Dr. Israel hospitalized his patient last week, called in two colleagues and an X-ray technician. The X-ray photographs showed that she was carrying in her belly what doctors call a lithopedian ("stone baby")—a retained fetus which has calcified. It was in the normal knee-chest position, head down and perfectly formed. Obviously the baby had died just at full term. Other lithopedians have been recorded, but they were invariably formless round masses. Dr. Israel decided that he had the only full-term lithopedian known to medicine.
After hearing the old woman's story, Dr. Israel guessed that what probably happened was this: After the ovum was fertilized, instead of traveling normally down the fallopian tube, it traveled upward, broke out into the abdominal cavity, caught and clung to the outside of the womb, received enough nourishment there to develop normally. But since it was outside the womb, the labor contractions could not expel it, and it died.
Last week Dr. Israel tried to make up his mind whether it would be better to leave the 30-year-old lithopedian where it was or take it out. At latest reports he had not decided.
This happens when a fetus dies during an ectopic pregnancy. The baby is too large to be reabsorbed by the body. This caused the body to surround the fetus with calcium. A woman can be pregnant for years with the dead child. The longest documented pregnancy 46 years.