Broadside #43 (Winter 2016 / 16.3)
The Stone Baby
I felt you; they said you’d be too small but my belly trembled under your feet. I sensed your entrapment, your restlessness, your need to feel and see more than my dark innards. I couldn’t free you, so I promised to talk you through every waking sensation until you could see the world for yourself.
Each day started on hello. I described magnolia sheets, pink dawns, buttered toast and bergamot tea. I sang the soap over my belly, whispered the breeze on my arms. We bounced along the garden path and you kicked in time.
We sunbathed under the gargle song of pigeons, and I ate cheese so strong I figured you’d taste it too. I lay on the ant-strewn lawn and we both heard me getting stung. I wondered if you shared my pain.
Each day, you danced mid morning and late afternoon, then slept till night, when you and I would murmur our way through the pre-dawn darkness. Time is liquid, and I sipped those hours from a chalice; they were sacred to me and remain so now.
I felt you at 11am, then I stumbled. It was momentary; a nothing — a twinge in the ankle, a stinging of the palms. I got up in seconds, but you didn’t kick again that day. I slept the sleep of the dead that night, and woke the lonelier for it.
I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t realise at first. I would have expected to know immediately, to feel it, as I’d feel myself, but I didn’t. Maybe I was too busy, getting things “ready”, as if birth isn’t just a separation of another kind.
I figured it out on the second day.
You never kicked again. I cradled your weight and you stayed warm, buried within me, deep and heavy. I still told you everything because that was my promise, and it became my life, if not yours.
I was glad to share it.
Three thousand weeks.
They said, “The growth inside you is dead, calcified.” As if you were a stone, a cast of what might have been, blocking my guts and weighting my step.
“It’s been fifty-seven years,” I said. “Fifty-seven years will slow a woman, more than any stone baby.”
I’m too old to be alone now.
It’s dawn. The sun cooks the sky and the thrush is waking, crying for a mate and the chance of eggs. On our bedside table, we have water, oranges, and honeysuckle in a jar. It smells like spring, even as it wilts.
I feel old, my lovely. We’re both old. I’ve sagged and stretched; I have to cup you in my hands before I stand, and soon my back will fail.
But for now, the bricks on the path are warming, my feet are ready, and my throat is clear. Let’s talk about today.
A lithopedion, from the Greek λίθος (stone) and παιδίον (small child or infant), occurs when a foetus dies during ectopic pregnancy, and is calcified inside the mother. Encased in its hard capsule, the ‘stone baby’ may remain in the mother for decades, during which time she might carry other healthy pregnancies to term. Only a few hundred stone babies have ever been recorded, some of them discovered sixty years or more after the original pregnancy.
My story was inspired by an article that particularly touched me, concerning a woman in her eighties who was told she’d had a stone baby inside her for over forty years. She recalled her pregnancy, but she never gave birth and so assumed she’d had a miscarriage. When she realised the baby was still inside her, she refused to let them remove it.
T Upchurch lives and writes in Cornwall, in a small house overlooking the Atlantic. Her work has appeared in various online and print publications including The Pygmy Giant, Ink Sweat and Tears, and National Flash Fiction Day anthologies (UK). She blogs at www.tupchurch.com and tweets as @tuwrites.