Children are the flowers of life, but most of us would probably have a small bouquet of 2 or 3. However, history tells of a woman who gave birth to a whopping 69 children back in the 18th century. According to some sources, her name was Valentina Vassilyeva, and she holds the Guinness World Record for the most children ever.
Today Bright Side offers you the chance to plunge into a story that tests the limits of a woman’s body, and decide whether you believe it or not. We also have a small myth-busting bonus at the end, so don’t miss it!
The overwhelming fertility of Russian peasants
Valentina Vassilyeva was the first wife of a peasant named Feodor Vassilyev from Shuya, Russia. The family lived in the 1700s, between 1707-1782. Valentina is believed to have died at the age of 76, having left behind offspring comprising of 69 children, only 2 of whom died as babies.
According to the Guinness World Records, who claimed her to be “the most prolific mother ever,” the woman went through 27 labors: 16 of them resulted in twins, 7 in triplets, and 4 in quadruplets.
Obviously, she wasn’t giving birth for the entire period of her life. When calculating her “fertile” years, we figured out that they would be from approximately 1725-1765. This leaves us with 40 years for 27 labors. This may seem enough at first glance, impossible at second glance, and dubious for the third glance, so let’s make some calculations.
You might know that an average pregnancy takes 40 weeks. However, the more children you have in the womb, the more likely it is that your labor will come earlier. According to the BBC calculations, Mrs. Vassilyeva could’ve had 37-week pregnancies with twins, 32-week pregnancies with triplets, and 30-week pregnancies with quadruplets.
If we add all this up, we get 936 weeks. A year consists of 52 weeks, so if we divide the resulting numbers, we get 18 years. So, Mrs. Vassilyeva had to spend 18 entire years of her life with a belly bump. Sounds pretty challenging in itself, doesn’t it?
Reproduction experts question the whole thing
While theoretically, Mrs. Vassilyeva had enough time to carry all the babies, there are a couple more facts to consider.
- First of all, there’s such a thing as multiple ovulation, when a woman’s body releases several eggs per cycle. Though this is not the most common thing in the world (approximately 5-10% of all of your cycles), there’s still a chance Valentina was just a phenomenon. A very special one, by the way, if she managed to avoid the vanishing twin syndrome: the phenomenon that happens when one of the twins (or several in the case of multiples) gets absorbed by the placenta, a stronger fetus, or even the mother’s body. The syndrome is pretty common in multifetal pregnancies and occurs in 21-30% of the cases.
- Second, pregnancy and labor is a challenging thing for a woman’s body. When pregnancies go one by one less than 18 months apart, the risk of complications increases both for the mom and for the baby. A woman’s body just doesn’t have enough time to recover from all the changes caused by the previous pregnancy and restore all the nutrients it lost. Now, if 2 back-to-back pregnancies are already risky, imagine having 27 of them, without having time to rest.
- Third, experts doubt this many children (as well as their mother) would survive even with today’s medicine, let alone in the 18th-century Russian countryside. At that time, every pregnancy was a risk. Add the fact that they were peasants and had to work and take care of the children at the same time. Oh, and don’t forget about food and clothes for the whole crowd. Parents here can very well imagine what we’re talking about.
This story is actually backed by facts
Now that you know all the scientific doubts and you don’t believe this could be true, let us tell you there are historical facts that speak in favor of the Vassilyevs.
There was a list sent by the Nikolskiy monastery to Moscow on February 27, 1782, which proved Feodor Vassilyev had 82 children alive at that time, from 2 marriages. His second wife “presented” him with 18 children: 12 twins and 6 triplets. The data from the list was published in 1834 in the Saint-Petersburg Panorama.
In 1783, The Gentleman’s Magazine published an article that included a list regarding the Vassilyev’s case. The author of the list says that the “extraordinary fecundity” may come from “the man singly, or the woman, or both jointly,” but it’s more likely that the reason was Feodor, as the story repeated with his second wife.
The Lancet’s article claims that the French Academy of Sciences tried to investigate the case and addressed the Imperial Academy of St Petersburg. They were told the Vassilyevs lived in Moscow and received favors from the government.
Bonus: “The Vassilyev family”
This photograph is often considered to represent the Vassilyevs, but this is actually a mistake. In this picture, you can see the family of Joseph F. Smith, one of the presidents of the LDS Church. He was married 6 times and became the father of 45 biological and 5 adopted children.
So, which side are you on after reading all these facts? Do you agree with the scientists that it’s almost impossible to survive so many labors and still have healthy children? Do you prefer to trust the historical facts? Or maybe you’re somewhere in the middle, with your own truth? Share your opinion in the comments below — we’re eager to know it!