In 1955 in a small village just outside Casablanca, 26 year old Zahra Aboutalib is pregnant with her first child. She was looking forward to giving birth, but after 48 hours of painful labour, she was rushed to the local hospital. Doctors informed her that she would need a caesarean section. On the ward Zahra saw a woman in terrible pain die in child-birth. She fled the hospital fearing she would meet the same fate if she remained.
In the days that followed, Zahra continued to suffer excruciating labour pains but the baby remained resolutely in her womb. After a few more days the pains ceased and the baby stopped moving.
In Moroccan culture, it is believed that a baby can sleep inside the mother to protect her honour. Zahra believed this myth and put the pregnancy out of her mind. She adopted three children and in due course they made her a grandmother.
Many years later when Zahra was 75 years old, the pains suddenly returned. Her son being concerned for his mother's well-being wanted her to see a specialist. For this they had to travel to Rabat where they saw Professor Taibi Ouazzani. He suspected the protruding belly was being caused by an ovarian tumour and arranged for her to have an ultra-sound scan. This revealed a large mass that he could not identify.
He referred Zahra to a specialist radiographer for a second opinion. He could see it was a calcified structure of some sort, but it took a detailed MRI scan to reveal that it was the baby Zahra had conceived 46 years earlier.
Zahra had an ectopic pregnancy where the egg had implanted in the fallopian tube. The foetus that developed, burst out of the fallopian tube and continued to develop in the abdominal cavity. It survived by attaching it's placenta to vital organs around her stomach.
Professor Ouazzania was faced with a difficult decision when deciding if it would be safe to try and remove the foetus. The foetus weighed 7lb and measured 42cm in length.
When they operated they discovered that the foetus had calcified and was a hard, solid lump. It was, essentially, a stone-baby. More concerning was the fact that it had fused with her abdominal wall and vital organs.
After nearly 4 hours the surgeons manage to remove the calcified foetus from Zahra and the operation is hailed a success.
In an ectopic pregnancy, if the dead foetus is too large to be re-absorbed by the mother's body it becomes a foreign body to the mother's immune system. To protect itself from possible infection the mother's body will encase the foetus in a calciferous substance as the tissues die and dehydrate.
As the calciferous wall builds up, the foetus is gradually mummified becoming a lithopedion or stone babay.