Raising one child is challenging enough, but what about 69 of them? Well, one woman from Shuya, Russia, is considered to be the most prolific mother, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. According to several sources, Valentina Vassilyeva is considered to hold the world record for birthing 69 children in a period of 40 years; back in the 18th century. Her story has long been a case of heated debate with some claiming it to be impossible. However, the official Guinness World Records website credits Mrs. Vassilyeva from the Russian Federation with the officially recorded number of children born to one mother. Here, we are listing some key facts as well as Vassilyeva’s story and it is up to you to decide whether it is in fact credible.
Valentina Vassilyeva was Feodor Vassilyev’s first wife, who was a peasant from Shuya, Russia.
Born in 1707, Feodor Vassilyev, a peasant from Shuya, Russia, married Valentina, and between 1725 and 1765, had 69 children together. According to a local monastery’s report to the government in Moscow, between 1725 and 1765, Mrs. Vassilyev popped out 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets, over 27 separate labors. Vassilyev is said to have lived until the age of 76.
The Guinness World Records credits her with being “the most prolific mother ever”. According to their website: “Numerous contemporaneous sources exist, which suggest that this seemingly improbable and statistically unlikely story is true and she is the woman with most children”.
Let’s consider the mathematics of the Vassilyev maternity.
If you take into account the fact that triplets and quadruplets were born in a shorter-than-average time period, then she could have had time for 27 pregnancies in the 40 year-span. Making a rough estimate, we get 16 twins times 37 weeks; seven triplets times 32 weeks; four quadruplets times 30 weeks. This suggests that Mrs. Vassilyev would have been pregnant for 18 years of the 40 years.
The average pregnancy takes 40 weeks but doctors suggest that the more children you have in the womb, the more a woman’s fertility plummets. The BBC reports that the ability to become pregnant goes down with each pregnancy, since successive labors take their toll on a woman’s reproductive anatomy. So, if we calculate Mrs. Vassilyev’s maternity cycle, she walked around the town with a baby bump for 18 whole years. Either Feodor Vassilyev and his first wife were really lucky or they were experts at mathematics and were able to calculate Vassilyev’s ovulation cycle to hit the mark.
Experts try to undermine the credibility of Vassilyev’s 69 children claim – especially considering the setting of hundreds of years ago, out in the Russian countryside.
Today, the field of medicine is advanced and is capable of reducing mortality rates more than ever before. In some cases, caesarean sections are necessary and the World Bank reports that at least eight women per 100,000 undergo extreme complications in the UK. Meanwhile, in one of the poorest countries on the planet, Sierra Leone, the rate is 1,100 per 100,000 maternity related complications.
This is why experts have a hard time believing Mrs. Vassilyev’s story, since she survived 27 consecutive labors without any modern medicine and out in the country side. Mrs. Vassilyev’s multiple conceptions of twins, triplets and quadruplets further raises suspicions, since the events are extremely rare to occur. The Guinness World Records also notes that 67 of the 69 children survived their infancy.
Mrs. Vassilyev’s story is however, backed by the Nikolskiy monastery.
On February 27, 1782, the Nikolskiy monastery sent a list to Moscow, which had details of Feodor Vassilyev and his 82 children from the two marriages. After Mrs. Vassilyev passed away at the age of 76, Feodor re-married and had 18 children with his second wife, who had 6 pairs of twins and 2 sets of triplets. In total, he had 87 children of which 82 survived infancy. The data from the list was published in 1834 in the Saint-Petersburg Panorama.
The first account about Feodor Vassilyev’s children came in a 1783 issue of The Gentleman’s Magazine, which stated: “however astonishing, may be depended upon, as it came directly from an English merchant in St Petersburg to his relatives in England, who added that the peasant was to be introduced to the Empress”.
However, during the 1900’s, when the French Academy of Sciences attempted to verify the claims, they approached M. Khanikoff of the Imperial Academy of St Petersburg. M. Khanikoff informed the experts studying the case that any more studies or interviews with the family was unnecessary since most of the family members are alive and it is a burden on them.
Bonus: This image has been circulating the internet, claiming it to be a picture of “The Vassilyev family”. This is however, false. The picture is in fact of the family of Joseph F. Smith; who was married 6 times and became the father of 45 biological and 5 adopted children.
So, what do you think of the Vassilyev family’s story? Do you support experts who analyzed the claims with modern science or historical accounts? It is also not impossible for a woman to have 27 pregnancies during her fertile years.