Twenty-three-year-old Indian woman Muskura Bibi gave birth on Wednesday to a “mermaid baby,” but tragically lost the child only four hours later, with doctors still unable to determine the baby’s sex.
According to a report from the Daily Mail, Bibi gave birth naturally at the government-operated Chittaranjan Deva Sadan Hospital in Kolkata and was only aware of the fact her baby had sirenomelia, or “mermaid syndrome,” when she first saw the child. She was reportedly unable to afford scans while still pregnant with her baby, with her poverty preventing her as well from taking proper medication during pregnancy.
Dr. Sudip Saha, a child specialist at the Chittaranjan Deva Sadan Hospital, believes that Bibi’s child became a “mermaid baby” due to poor nutrition and improper blood circulation from mother to infant. Doctors were not able to determine the baby’s sex due to an underdeveloped pelvis and fused legs, both of which are classic symptoms of mermaid syndrome.
“I had never seen such a baby before,” Saha added.
“It is the first case of sirenomelia in the state and second in the country.”
According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD), sirenomelia is an “extremely rare” congenital disorder where a baby could be born with their legs partially or completely fused. Signs of mermaid syndrome also include lower spine or lower limb anomalies, gastrointestinal issues, and absence or underdevelopment of the kidneys. The NORD fact sheet also states that babies with sirenomelia may be born with one foot or no feet at all, or with both feet intact but rotated externally.
Although sirenomelia is known to affect only one in every 60,000 to 100,000 births, mermaid babies typically do not live long, with the first such case in India only surviving for 10 minutes after birth. Oxford University medical historian Lindsey Fitzharris told the Daily Mail that sirenomelia is an “extremely fatal” disease, as most babies born with mermaid syndrome die within days as a result of kidney and bladder failure. She added that the condition occurs when a baby’s umbilical cord is unable to form two arteries, thus preventing blood from reaching the fetus like it should.
“There are no accounts of anyone with this condition surviving in the past,” said Fitzharris.
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Despite Fitzharris’ grim description of sirenomelia’s mortality rate, there have been examples of mermaid babies far exceeding their life expectancy. Shiloh Pepin, who was born with a number of missing organs on account of her sirenomelia, lived until the age of 10, surviving more than 150 surgeries and eight years of kidney dialysis before she died of pneumonia in October 2009, according to ABC News.
A 2014 report from the Daily Mail also cited two other examples of mermaid babies who were still living at the time the article was written — Peruvian girl Milagros Cerron, who was born with sirenomelia in 2004, and Tiffany Yorks, who was born in 1987 and cited as the oldest known mermaid syndrome survivor. Both Cerron and Yorks went through operations to have their legs separated, but were still struggling with mobility problems and other health issues at the time of the report.