The human race is capable of some pretty incredible feats, and that definitely includes motherhood. But limited by her fertility and health, a woman can only physically give birth so many times during her lifetime.
There may be a few women who have become famous for their supersized broods, but who really has the distinction of giving birth to the most children ever?
Legend holds that Valentina Vassilyev, a peasant from Shuya, Russia who lived in the 1700s, gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets between 1725 and 1765.
Although there may be some debate about precisely how many children Valentina birthed, her story has been fairly documented.
The case was even reported to Moscow by the Monastery of Nikolsk on 27 February 1782, which had recorded every birth. It is noted that, by this time, only two children didn’t survive past infancy, leaving the Vassilyev couple with 67 healthy children.
Other publications and articles in the late 1700s and 1800s mentioned the Vassilyev case but warned readers to take it with a grain of salt. Historians, however, generally agree there is a fair amount of truth behind the claims about the unbelievable number of offspring that came out from Vassilyev’s womb.
Experts say that Vassilyev could have had a genetic predisposition to hyper-ovulate (release multiple eggs in one cycle), which significantly increases the chance of having twins or multiple children. It is also not impossible for a woman to have 27 pregnancies during her fertile years.
However, the burden of labour is what really begins to undermine the credibility of Vassilyev’s 69 children claims – especially considering the setting of hundreds of years ago, out in the Russian countryside. She, therefore, would have had to be extremely lucky to have survived the hurdles for ushering 69 children into the world.
Not much else is known about Mrs. Vassilyev except that she is believed to have lived until her mid-70s. Mr. Vassilyev, on the other hand, married again after her passing and continued to procreate. Unfortunately, her second wife only managed to have two sets of triplets and six sets of twins giving birth to 18 children.
With a total of 87 children, of which 84 actually survived childbirth and grew up to see their father grow old, Mr. Vassilyev lived a fruitful, full life, to say the least.
Mrs. Vassilyev still holds the official, validated world record for being the most prolific mother ever and there’s doubt it will be broken any time soon.