Did You Know: One Woman, In Her Lifetime, Gave Birth to 69 Babies
Her name was Valentina Vassilyev and she was a Russian peasant who lived from 1707 to 1782 and gave birth to 69 children during her lifetime, comprising 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets, and four sets of quadruplets. Only two of the children born to Vassilyeva in the period c. 1725-65 died in infancy.
Photo not of Valentina Vassilyev: Joseph F. Smith posing with his multiple wives and children in 1904.
Although there may be some debate about precisely how many children Valentina birthed, her story has been fairly documented. Marie M. Clay unearthed a number of articles from the 1800s about the woman with 69 children for her book Quadruplets and Higher Multiple Births. While Clay admits there are some “variations to the story,” historians generally agree there is a fair amount of truth behind the claims about the unbelievable number of offspring that came out from Vassilyeva’s womb.
An awful lot of nippers
There are a lot of skepticism, of course. The burden of labour is what really begins to undermine the credibility of Vassilyev's 69 children claim – especially considering she lived hundreds of years ago, out in the Russian countryside.
"Nature would want to make limits," says Valerie Baker, associate professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the Stanford School of Medicine. "Pregnancy is the most physically rigorous thing a woman's body ever goes through."
In the past, every pregnancy was a risk to the mother's life; the risks for deadly complications, such as hemorrhaging, skyrocket with multiple births such as quads.
Mrs Vassilyev's multiple conceptions of twins, triplets and quadruplets further strains credibility. Fetal twins and multiple births come about in one of two ways: either multiple ovulated eggs are successfully fertilised by sperm – so-called fraternal twins – or a single fertilised egg divides into two or more viable embryos, leading to identical twins with the same genetic code. Point? These events are very rare.
True, multiple birth does run in families, so Mrs Vassilyev could arguably have been just an extreme example. But overall, her odds to have somehow conceived and then survived giving birth to 16 twins alone – let alone the quads – seem astronomical.
The Guinness Book of World Records found the claim plausible enough to name Valentina Vassilyeva as “The World’s Most Prolific Mother”: