This Mother Gave Birth to 69 Babies

She was pregnant for a total of 18 years.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

My husband and I said we wanted a big family. We capped out at three kids, and not a day goes by that we don’t feel at least a little bit overwhelmed and outnumbered. But before I ever consider complaining about my journey through parenting, I will remember the astonishing story of Valentina Vassilyeva, who holds the world record for most births.

Valentina Vassilyeva was the first wife of Feodor Vassilyev; both were peasants and living in Shuya Russia in the first half of the 1700s. According to documents, Valentina lived to be 75, some of which appear in a book called Quadruplets and Higher Multiple Births by Marie M. Clay. Between the years 1725 and 1765, it is said that she gave birth to 69 children as a result of 27 pregnancies. The math shakes out like this; 16 sets of twins, seven sets of triplets, and four sets of quadruplets. The fantastic story was recounted and recorded by the Monastery of Nikolskiy in Moscow in 1782.

Sadly, the couple is said to have lost one set of twins in infancy, giving them 67 surviving children.

Who were these kids?

We don’t know who the surviving 67 children were. Unfortunately, their names and birthdates disappeared to history; this could be because the family lived in poverty when record-keeping wasn’t especially accurate for all social levels. There have been some disagreements about the number of children born to Valentina, but her incredibly prolific uterus did produce an eye-popping number of babies by all accounts.

The father was prolific as well.

Feodor Vassilyev had more than one wife. When is what I want to know. If his first wife lived to be 75 and birthed 69 children from 27 pregnancies over two decades, how old was Feodor when he moved on to his second wife and had another round of kids? According to records, Feodor’s second wife had six sets of twins and two sets of triplets totaling eighteen births in all. All told, he has 87 children.

Could someone give birth to 69 babies today?

Maybe? If it’s happened before, then there is no reason to think that birthing a high number of children isn’t possible. Perhaps a better question to ask is how ethical it would be to bring so many children into the world intentionally? And why would you want to? The 2020s are not exactly the 1700s when large rural families needed help running their farms. These days, diapers and daycare for one child is enough to bankrupt some families — can you imagine paying for 69 of them?

So, what happened to Valentina?

So, the story goes; she died when she was 75 years old. Not much is known about her life, although since we know that she was a Russian farmer’s wife and peasant during the 1700s, we can make some general guesses about what her life must have been like.

First of all, the Vassilyev family lived during the time of the Russian Empire, which was a feudalist society, thus making them serfs. You can think of serfdom as a form of slavery; peasant farmers were bonded to their lords or masters and assigned vast plots of lands to farm. In return, the lords would give each peasant family a small section of that land to farm for themselves but gave them zero time to work it, leaving them unable to produce their own food. Peasant life in feudalist Russia was incredibly harsh, and this may be why families strived to be as big as possible; the more hands available to help, the more likely they could tend their own gardens and survive.

I cannot imagine having to be pregnant for 18 years. Like you, I am curious to know what happened to the family tree; do any living relatives realize they came from one of the most famous examples of prolific mothers? The world may never know.

Essay Hustler | Book Writer | Rep’d by Folio Literary Management — Sign up for my newsletter here

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