A Modern-Day Miracle Birth
Silas Philips was born three months premature, but that’s not the most astonishing thing about his birth. Silas’ mother, Chelsea Philips, was admitted to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after just 26 weeks of pregnancy. Her doctors decided that, for the baby’s health and her own, it was time to deliver her baby via cesarean section.
The surgeon made the first cut and pulled baby Silas into the world for the first time. But the infant would have to wait to take his first breath of air. Contrast that with the medical staff in the room, who gave a collective gasp.
Doctors Can’t Believe Their Eyes
“Even though it sounds cliched, we caught our breath,” the presiding doctor, William Binder, later told the Daily Mail. “It really felt like a moment of awe…and one that will stick in my moment for some time.”
Despite his premature birth, Silas was born relatively healthy. In fact, the detail that shocked these experienced doctors was once regarded as a sign of good luck.
One in 80,000
Silas emerged into the doctor’s waiting hands still enclosed in his amniotic sac. Infants develop inside this bag of amniotic fluid, from which developing babies absorb oxygen. They also drink small amounts of the fluid, and, on the grosser side of the miracle of birth, begin urinating into it at about 10 weeks.
It is extremely rare to be born “en caul,” as the condition is known. Only one out of every 80,000 births leaves the amniotic sac unbroken.
A Dry Birth
In fact, the breaking of the sac is part of most births. You might know it as the “water breaking.” In most births, the sac ruptures shortly before the birth begins.
It seems that Silas wasn’t in a hurry to meet the open air! Interestingly, he was still absorbing oxygen through the placenta, a flat organ that helped to transfer nutrients into the developing baby.
Cutting the Cord
Silas entered the world protected by the sac of fluid that kept him safe from bumps and vibrations when he was in his mother’s womb. But he couldn’t stay there for long.
“He was seconds old and still in the water bag, with the placenta and umbilical cord tucked inside,” Binder said. The doctor actually had to tear the sac to pull Silas into the world. The infant started breathing without too much trouble.
Mom Is Last to Know
Silas’ mom was a little too busy undergoing surgery to experience the moment herself. Thankfully, Binder thought fast. He was able to snap a picture of the incredible infant—arms and legs and head fully visible through the thin tissue of the sac—before he cut the umbilical cord.
Mom got to see the photos later. “It was definitely like a clear film where you could definitely make out his head and his hair,” she told CBS News. “It was actually really cool to see.”
A Baby Unlike Any Other
When she saw the images of her sweet baby just after his birth, Philips knew she had something special.
“He was kind of in a fetal position and you could see like his arms and his legs curled up…And when I heard that was actually really rare, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re a special little baby.'”
En Caul Company
Silas was born at only 26 weeks, but he grew healthier by the day. Doctors told his mom he’d be able to go home from the hospital after just a few weeks in the NICU.
Rather than being shocked or upset by her son’s unusual birth, Philips grasped just how special it was. And this mom is in good company. Jessica Alba’s daughter Haven was also born en caul. The actress conveyed her excitement when she said, “The doctor had never seen anything like it before. He grabbed the nurse and said, ‘Look at this!'”
Extra Protection for a Premature Birth
In a way, it makes sense that this unusual birth happened to Silas. Most babies born with an unbroken amniotic sac are premature. In fact, some doctors have suggested that an en caul birth is safest for premature babies.
After all, the amniotic sac protected these infants the whole time they developed. Premature births can be dangerous. The extra level of protection—to say nothing of the extra oxygen being supplied by an intact placenta—can help keep these fragile babies safe.
A Mysterious Historical Phenomenon
Babies born en caul, or with a fragment of amniotic sac still clinging to their faces, have a long and storied history. In Medieval Europe, babies born with cauls were considered to be extremely lucky.
On the other hand, one Romanian superstition held that babies born with cauls would turn into vampires one day. We think we’ll go with the more standard European myth on this one.
Cauls as a Sign of Greatness
We already mentioned that Silas’ mom joined the hallowed company of Jessica Alba when her son was born in the amniotic sac. Well, they’re not alone. Both women are part of a long line of famous historical figures who were born en caul, or at least with a caul over their faces.
Such notables include Sigmund Freud, Liberace, Napoleon, Lord Byron, and the Dark Ages king of the Francs, Charlemagne.
Many Names, Many Destinies
Historically, different cultures have used a variety of names to describe babies born en caul or with cauls over their faces. Some in the English-speaking world call them “veiled births,” and name the babies born with this sign of luck “caulbearers.”
The Yoruba people of West Africa call the amniotic sac the Oke, and it is considered a good omen to be born with one. In Russia, people describe en caul births with a phrase meaning “born in a shirt.” This phrase has become synonymous with luck.
More Caulbearer Myths
If Silas had been born in a seafaring town a few hundred years ago, his mother could have made some decent gold selling his caul. One common superstition held that babies born with facial cauls were immune from drowning.
Midwifes would place a sheet of paper over a caulbearer’s face. The thin tissue of the amniotic sac would stick to the paper, and the midwife could then present it to the mother as a good luck charm.
Given the caul’s mythic importance as a token against drowning, sailors would pay a hefty price if they could get their hands on one.
In some circles, the myths about caulbearers have continued on to this day. New Age websites proclaim that the products of a veiled birth have the power of Remote Healing. Others say that these children are gifted with psychic powers. Still others say they’re born to a lifetime of frustrating deja vu.
Rare, Fascinating, and Ultimately Harmless
Whatever you believe about babies born with part or all of the amniotic sac intact, you should know that cauls are generally harmless for the infants lucky enough to be born with them. As we’ve mentioned, premature infants may even benefit from the extra few moments of oxygen derived from the placenta.
Some parents are alarmed at the sight of a newborn with a caul over her face. But the tissue is easily removed. Doctors or midwifes simply pull on the thin veil of flesh and it slides right off. Very few families keep their cauls anymore.
Some cauls are a bit trickier to remove than others. When a baby is born with a thick sheet of tissue over its face, doctors will make incisions to get the infant breathing. Then they’ll gently peel the rest of the caul away.
Silas, born inside an entirely unbroken amniotic sac, was among the rarest of the rare. We can’t wait to see how his destiny treats him as he grows up!