A baby girl born in Hong Kong, already “pregnant” with a pair of twins – her siblings – is back in the news after updated reports have surfaced regarding her developmental abnormality. The twin fetuses were “absorbed” by her body as she grew, and rather than being a tumor-like dermoid cyst, doctors say the tiny fetuses each had an umbilical cord linking them to a placenta-like mass inside of the infant’s belly.
Reports LiveScience on Feb. 10: “The baby’s condition, known as fetus-in-fetu, is incredibly rare, occurring in only about 1 in every 500,000 births. It’s not clear exactly why it happens.”
The mysterious medical condition, highlighted back in 2010, brought attention to the rare birth. “Weird things happen early, early in the pregnancy that we just don’t understand,” said Dr. Draion Burch, an obstetrician and gynecologist who practices in Pittsburgh. “This is one of those medical mysteries.”
At just three weeks old, the baby girl had to undergo surgery to remove the developing fetuses, which were estimated to be eight to ten weeks old. The fetuses had developed the beginnings of limbs, spinal columns, rib cages, an epidermis and intestines. The tiny masses were miniscule; one weighed half of an ounce, the other weighed only a third of an ounce.
Less than 200 cases of fetus-in-fetu have been documented. Dr. Yu Kai-man, the gynecologist who oversaw the births, said: “It was almost impossible to detect during the prenatal check-up, as the embryo inside the baby was too small. Since it is impossible for the little girl to have conceived the pregnancy on her own, the fertilization of the twin fetuses, of course, belongs to her parents, which has gone to the wrong place.”
According to LiveScience, the birth was reported in the Hong Kong Medical Journal, “which suggested it was possibly linked to the mother having multiple abortions.” The South China Morning Post, speaking of the theory that abortions play into this condition, said more evidence is needed.
“The widespread use of antenatal ultrasound in early gestation may provide more concrete evidence … and shed light on this intriguing condition,” the report said. According to the China Post, the World Health Organization has classified this condition as a type of cancer called mature teratoma, but researchers write “the theory of demised multiple pregnancy has gained much support recently.”
The Wikipedia page for the condition says that a fetus-in-fetu “can be considered alive, but only in the sense that its component tissues have not yet died or been eliminated. Thus, the life of a fetus-in-fetu is akin to that of a tumor in that its cells remain viable by way of normal metabolic activity.”