memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

The Stone Baby

Some little stories rise up by chance and demand to be told, however ineptly. Here is a rather fascinating medical case which was recently recounted to me by my elder son, who studies (and works) at the University Hospital of Coimbra.


One day last year an elderly woman in her 70s was admitted to the hospital complaining of stomach pains and cramps. She was from a remote village of Beiras and had had limited access to medical care.


Apparently, about 60 years ago when she was fifteen, she became pregnant – father unknown. Month after month the baby grew silently in her womb with her scarcely being aware of it until it neared full term and time to be born.

But it wasn’t born. It had a stranger destiny. Over the years the (dead) foetus gradually calcified inside the womb, spinning its own white tomb. Sixty summers and sixty winters passed in the tiny mountain community with the timeless rhythms of the seasons.


Until last year at Coimbra Hospital where it was scanned, diagnosed and surgically extracted and caused amazement! Such a case hadn’t occurred for over two hundred years. It created quite a stir amongst the medical fraternity. James was helping in the radiology department at the time and actually saw the radio-imaging – it was a perfectly-formed embryonic fossil.

And now presumably it forms the chief attraction some Museum of Forensic Pathology somewhere … surreal, definitely surreal.


But let us turn our attention to this picture of a very different baby, alive and well, with her mother and father; a joyous sight, surely? But hold up there! Why are Baby, Mum and Dad in separate bubbles and what are those fish-like things sticking into Baby’s head? It all looks a bit weird to me, yes definitely weird.


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