Stone baby

>> Sunday, March 08, 2009

It's a funny thing, you know: you hear about something you probably would have been happier never knowing about, and then you find yourself simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by it, obsessing a little even though you'd rather forget about it. You pick over it like a scab, and it has that fascination a scab has, or a peeling sunburn--you know it's a terrible idea to pick at it, that it won't heal, but... but there it is, this thing that's annoying and distracting and easy to fixate on.

This week, it's lithopedions. And it's lithopedions because we're told that a ninety-two-year-old Chinese woman has finally produced, or birthed--or however you'd rather put it--a sixty-year-old "stone baby." We are told that a lithopedion (this is your Word Of The Day, by-the-by; see if you can drop it into casual conversation) is a rare event in which a fetus dies during an ectopic pregnancy and calcifies--becoming a fossil, basically--in the abdomen, sometimes remaining there for years (or decades). This is apparently a real and well-documented thing, although I must point out that the source for the story of the ancient Chinese woman is the British tabloid The Sun, and that these weird and unverifiable stories come out of Asia--China mostly, and occasionally India and what used to be called the Indochine peninsula, but practically never Japan (a largely urban country with a consumer electronics fetish, so that any wacky news story must be true because it is inevitably recorded and posted to the internet in nearly real time)--you never know if they're true and usually they're not, they're mostly regurgitated urban legends (the next time you see the news item about the tourists with their dog in the restaurant and they can't read the menu but they want to order something for the dog and, well, you know, please remember it's so old it probably appears in the Jewish Apocrypha).

So, you know, notwithstanding the photograph (and count yourself lucky--I wanted to hotlink to it, but The Sun won't let me; go to the article yourself if you want a gander), I have at least two reasons to suspect this particular lithopedion story is crap: the source and the mere fact it's a "crazy rural Asia (China)" story are both strikes against it. And yet, it appears this is a real phenomenon, that there are all these other instances where a woman's response to "Congratulations, is it a boy or a girl!" ends up being the Charlie Brown-ian, "I got a rock." And this is a terrible and fascinating thing to contemplate, this idea of a woman getting pregnant and staying pregnant for months into years into decades, and all the time she has this child--"stone baby" is what the Greek lithopedion means, see--all the time she has this child slowly turning into a rock in her gut. I imagine it looking like a squashed and imperfect soapstone carving of an infant, worn smooth by age, looking something like an ancient artifact dug out of a pit, though intellectually it obviously would have to be something else, something nastier and organic, a yellowish mass, I'd expect, misshapen, yes, but streaked and mottled like organic detritus. Something like a kidney stone, I guess, and maybe not even all that baby-shaped.

I keep coming back to some sense of the inanimate thing as something it isn't. Does she give her stone baby a name, does her calcifying babe have a soul? These aren't rational thoughts, or even serious ones; this is the line of thought of a wannabe-writerly fellow who has spent far too much time with Stephen King and Flannery O'Connor on the page and Rod Serling and Chris Carter on the boob tube. Here is the premise of an X-Files episode, here is the reveal on the final page of the the Southern Gothic (and good Catholic that she was, surely Flannery O'Connor's dead baby would indeed have a soul, no?). We can make these silly, mildly horrific thoughts into serious, severely horrific thoughts, of course: should the Christians who believe the soul enters the body at conception be right, let us hope it departs before the too too solid flesh becomes surprisingly moreso.

The morbid thoughts, though, are more gleefully (yes, gleefully!) fascinating: she climbs up the narrow steps to the same Universal Studios' house-façade seen in Psycho, patting her distended belly. Somebody asked how long she's been pregnant, we don't believe her, she must be wrong; she drops references here and there to the one lover she knew when she was sixteen (and she is far older now, far far far older, indeterminate age but as old as Hollywood might allow a woman to be). Later she gives painful, bloody birth in a driving storm with the assistance of a Craftsman™ utility knife and a roommate who might not be a lesbian. With maybe fifteen minutes remaining, she'll place the rigid form in the cradle, rocking it and cooing at it, baby talk, nonsense. And we will think she's a monster though she's done nothing wrong, a monster because she is a freak, but we will pity her as we recoil in disgust. She will rock her stone to sleep and then in the middle of the night she will hear it crying; she runs into the bedroom and snaps on the light and there is silence, the camera will come around to see what she sees lying there amidst the blankets, and then we will be cheated by the cut to black for the rolling credits. We argue about it after, over pancakes and coffee at the IHOP, which is the only thing still open after the last show, and you'll say her wish became real and I'll say she's obviously insane and we're meant to experience her fractured perception; we will disagree as we wait for the check, point out the flaws in one another's interpretation standing by the register, and wonder silently if we're wrong during the drive home.


mattw Sunday, March 8, 2009 at 11:41:00 AM EDT  

We saw an episode of Law & Order or something where the woman had "stone baby" that she thought of as a real baby, and then she killed someone, I think.

neurondoc Monday, March 9, 2009 at 9:44:00 PM EDT  

Scrubs brain with caustic substance. I really don't want to know about this...

Random Michelle K Monday, March 9, 2009 at 10:26:00 PM EDT  

I think the more fascinating medical story was the guy who gave birth to his own twin: fetus in fetu.

neurondoc Tuesday, March 10, 2009 at 9:57:00 PM EDT  

I am working on a post for the puke bucket. I can't let you out-gross me.

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