COFFIN BIRTH: THE UNUSUAL POSTMORTEM EXPULSION OF A FETUS
Written by Oyebamiji Idowu on November 23, 2023
In the realm of human existence, death typically marks the cessation of life’s journey. However, amidst the quietude of the deceased, a bizarre phenomenon can occur – the expulsion of a fetus from a deceased pregnant woman, known as “coffin birth” or postmortem fetal extrusion.
This unusual occurrence arises from the buildup of gases within the abdomen of a deceased pregnant woman. As decomposition sets in, bacteria generate gases that expand the abdominal cavity, placing pressure on the fetus. This pressure eventually forces the fetus out through the birth canal.
Several factors contribute to the likelihood of a coffin birth:
Stage of Pregnancy: The later the stage of pregnancy, the higher the probability of postmortem fetal extrusion. This is because the fetus gains size and weight in the later stages, making it easier to be expelled by the gas buildup.
Time Since Death: The longer the time since death, the greater the likelihood of postmortem fetal extrusion. Bacteria have more time to produce gases, increasing abdominal pressure, as decomposition progresses.
Fetal Position: A head-down fetal position facilitates expulsion due to the alignment of the fetus with the birth canal.
Abdominal Distention: Conditions like obesity or fluid accumulation create more space for gas buildup, increasing the chances of coffin birth.
Caitlin Doughty, a mortician and author, explains that postmortem fetal extrusion can occur between 48 and 72 hours after the death of a pregnant woman. “As decomposition generates gases in her abdomen, pressure rises to a point where it exerts intense force on the uterus, causing the partial or complete expulsion of the unborn fetus from the mother’s body,” she explains.
Throughout history, accounts of coffin birth have been documented, with references dating back to ancient civilizations. In some cultures, coffin birth was attributed to supernatural forces or considered an omen of impending doom.
The true nature of postmortem fetal extrusion remained shrouded in mystery until modern scientific advancements revealed the underlying physiological mechanisms driving this phenomenon.
In 2010, archaeologists excavating a medieval cemetery in Imola, Italy, unearthed the skeleton of a pregnant woman with a cranial hole and the remains of a fetus between her legs. Examination confirmed this as a case of postmortem fetal extrusion. Scientists theorize that the cranial hole resulted from an ancient surgical procedure called trepanation, sometimes used to treat headaches or other ailments.
Due to modern embalming practices, coffin births are rare occurrences today.