It's something of a bittersweet coda: A 91-year-old Chilean woman learned earlier this year that she'd unwittingly carried a 4.4-pound calcified fetus for decades, and she now tells CNN it's the reason she and her husband could never have children. Estela Meléndez, 91, learned the true nature of the lump when she fell and doctors took X-rays. "The doctor said I had a tumor and that they needed to operate on me," she tells CNN. But a second X-ray confirmed that the mass was actually a calcified fetus, which is rare but certainly not without precedent. It's called "lithopedion," and is first described in the 10th century, reports the Washington Post.
Calcification typically occurs when a fetus grows outside the uterus and is thus not viable; if small enough, the mother's body simply reabsorbs the dead tissue, but if large enough, the fetus is surgically removed—or if not removed, as in Meléndez's case, it can calcify, thereby protecting the mother from infection. But because this baby had actually formed inside Meléndez's uterus, it likely prevented her from being able to get pregnant again. "We suffered tremendously because of this reason," she says; her husband recently died after 74 years of marriage and the couple spent years trying to conceive. Meléndez, meanwhile, will not have the fetus removed because doctors have deemed the surgery riskier than leaving the woman's body alone. (If this sounds strange, check out the story of the baby girl born pregnant with twins.)