We hear a lot about premature births, but no-one seems to talk much about very long pregnancies.

Doctors always calculate birth dates after a 280 day pregnancy but, as every woman knows, we don’t all have a 28 day cycle.  That said, there have been some really long recorded pregnancies.

Aulus Gellius reports that, after a long conversation with doctors and wise men, Emperor Adrian decided that the child of an irreproachably chaste woman, born eleven months after her husband’s death, was legitimate.

The Supreme Court of Frise (Northern province of the Netherlands) decided in October 1634 that a child born 333 days after the death of the husband was legitimate.

The Paris Parliament declared that the child of a widow, born after a fourteen month pregnancy, was legitimate.

Bartholinus mentions an unmarried woman from Leipzig who gave birth after a sixteen month pregnancy.

French and Scottish Law stipulate that the longest possible time for a pregnancy to last, and the baby to remain legitimate, is three hundred days.  Prussian legislation made it three hundred and one days.

Historical writers have often mentioned very long pregnancies of twelve months, fourteen months, fifteen months.  There have been pregnancies of forty-two to forty-five weeks, three years, twenty-three months, two years and even one of four years.

There is the story of a twenty-five year old woman who became pregnant on 10 February 1876, and felt her baby move on 17 June.  On 28 July, she almost had a miscarriage, and was advised to wean the baby she was breast-feeding.

She was expected to give birth mid-November 1876 but it didn’t happen until 26 April 1877, nine months after the first movements of the foetus and four hundred and forty days after conception.  The baby was wide-awake and weighed nine pounds.

Another case, from Clifton (West Virginia), is about a young woman who had expected to give birth on 1 June, but kept the baby until 15 September.  The foetus had remained in the uterus more than twelve months, nine of them after its first movements had been felt.

There are lots of these cases.  I shall end with the story of a thirty-five year old woman, expected to give birth on 24 April 1883 and who, in May, felt contractions which stopped.  During the next six months, she stayed about the same size, and it was believed several times that her first contractions had begun.

In September, the cervix dilated to allow the introduction of an index and middle finger which directly touched the head.  This state continued for a month, then the dilation disappeared.

During the last nine months of the pregnancy, the baby’s movements were sometimes unbearable for the mother.  At last, the morning of 6 November, after a pregnancy of 476 days, she gave birth to a little boy weighing thirteen pounds.  Both the mother and the baby were well, in spite of the use of chloroform and forceps.

So, why don’t we hear more about very long pregnancies?  Is it because our modern doctors would never allow us to go the natural distance?  Or is it because we demand immediate delivery when we arrive around the 280 day mark?

Strange, very strange.

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