History or Hoax May : Rabbit Babies

History or Hoax May : Rabbit Babies

Caroline Dew, Senior Editor

Humans generally give birth to human babies. This is a statement that few would dare to argue with. Most people nowadays would immediately dismiss anyone who claimed otherwise. Centuries ago however, when superstition and mystery surrounded the medical field, insane claims were made – And oftentimes, believed. This is the case with Mary Toft. Toft was born in 1701, and was made famous when in 1726, she convinced doctors that she had given birth. To rabbits. This ‘medical mystery’ astounded doctors at the time. Was Toft really giving birth to rabbits, though? Probably not, but we’ll look into it and see just what this is all about.


In 1726, Toft went into labor. Her family, astounded at the fact(?) that she was giving birth to rabbits, summoned the local surgeon, John Howard. He arrived, and to his amazement, helped Mary give birth to not one, but nine rabbits. It is worth mentioning that all of the rabbits were born dead, and that they weren’t whole rabbits, just rabbit pieces. But that didn’t change the idea that Mary was giving birth to something other than a human baby, which was in itself unheard of. He wrote to scientists around the country, urging them to help him figure out what was going on. Soon, even the king got wind of the situation. His Majesty himself sent two well known scientists – Nathanael St. Andre, and Samuel Molyneux.


When these men arrived, Mary explained to them what had happened. She claimed that several months ago, when she was a few weeks pregnant with her fourth child, she was working in a field. She claimed that she caught sight of a rabbit, and seeing an opportunity for free dinner, she gave chase. She didn’t end up catching the rabbit, but she continued to crave rabbit meat. She obsessed over it for months, until she began to give birth to these rabbit parts. The men performed tests on the specimens that she had given birth to. They took the lungs of the rabbits and placed them in water. The lungs floated, suggesting that the rabbits had breathed air before being ‘born’, which would have been impossible if they had truly been newborn. The doctors ignored this scientific evidence, and took Toft to London.


Toft was kept in a house under constant surveillance. While under surveillance, she suddenly stopped giving birth to rabbits. When a famous London physician claimed that he would need to examine Toft’s uterus in the name of science, she confessed. She had simply been inserting rabbit parts into her uterus, hoping to gain fame and a pension from the king. She was imprisoned briefly for her fraud, but was soon released. It is claimed that Mary gave birth to a regular, non-rabbit child, less than a year later. The doctors who defended her, St. Andre and Molyneux, were ridiculed and their careers were ruined. As of today, there is no real documented case of a woman giving birth to rabbits. But, then again, who knows.