A fetus papyraceus is a fetus in a multiple pregnancy which has died and become flattened through mechanical compression in the womb. The result resembles a scrap of parchment paper. Depending on the gestational age of the fetus, various developmental features such as limbs may be distinguishable. Such fetuses usually emerge during the process of labor alongside their siblings; a fetus papyraceus does not usually pose a risk to the other baby or babies involved in the pregnancy.
The death of fetuses in a multiple pregnancy is not uncommon. Frequently, it takes the form of vanishing twin syndrome, in which a fetus simply dies for no apparent or known reason. In most cases, the body of the mother reabsorbs the fetus, leaving few traces that it ever existed. However, in rare circumstances, the fetus may instead be flattened against the side of the uterus by the sibling or siblings, creating a fetus papyraceus.
Sometimes, a mother may not be aware that she was carrying multiples, because the additional fetus dies at such an early age. In these situations, the emergence of a fetus papyraceus during labor can be a bit startling. In other cases, a woman is aware that she lost one of the fetuses, in which case it may be traumatic, as she may have assumed that it would be reabsorbed by her body.
Depending on the feelings of the mother and her medical team, a fetus papyraceus may simply be disposed of along with the placenta, or it may be offered burial rites as a mark of respect. In either case, if parents want to find out why the fetus died, they must specifically request an autopsy or analysis of the fetus. It is not always possible to get conclusive results about the cause of fetal death, however, which is something that parents should be aware of.
The fetus papyraceus is a form of stillbirth, also known as an intrauterine fetal death. Although the baby never had a chance to live, the parents may want to grieve for the loss of their child. Many hospitals recognize the trauma associated with a stillbirth, offering counseling and support services to parents who experience stillbirth. In the case of a fetus papyraceus, the parents may have a healthy sibling to celebrate, but it is still appropriate to mark the passing of the fetus that didn't make it into the world.