Women that are pregnant with more than one baby are said to have a multiple pregnancy. Twins and triplets have become more common because there are more women undergoing in vitro fertilization and taking fertility drugs. Fraternal (nonidentical) twins are the most common of multiple births. Fraternal twins happen in 1 out of 80 pregnancies.
Quadruplets, sixtuplets, and septuplets are definitely far less common than twins and triplets. The chances of a woman having quintuplets without the use of in vitro or fertility drugs is 1 in 55 millions births!
The more babies there are, the less chance they have for survival. A normal pregnancy with one baby is anywhere from 38-40 weeks. For twins the average pregnancy is 36 weeks. A triplet pregnancy is 30 weeks. The average length of pregnancy decreases with each additional baby. Babies born earlier than 38 weeks can have underdeveloped organ systems and low birth weights making them more susceptible to illness and infection. This makes higher-order multiple birth that much more uncommon and special.
There have been many notable multiple births throughout history. Unfortunately, prior to the 20th Century the mortality rate for multiple births (for mother and babies) was extremely high. The mortality rate for a normal birth was even high. One can only imagine a delivery of twins or triplets without any of the medical technology that is available today. There are also not many surviving medical documents surrounding the few successful multiple births that did occur. Personal letters and physician quotes taken from newspapers are sometimes all that are left to verify such births did in fact take place. But we’ve found a few cases that are simply amazing. So many babies at once!
15. Luck O’ the Irish
While the chances of having quadruplets today are around 1 in 800,000, the Smith quadruplets were born long before hormone therapy or in vitro fertilization. The Smith quadruplets were born in the year 1750.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith lived in a small farming community outside of Kinsale, Ireland. They owned a farm raising chickens and cows. Mr. Smith and his wife, Jane, became pregnant. But, this was definitely not a normal pregnancy. With ultrasound not being in the realm of possibility (fetal ultrasounds wouldn’t be around until the 1950s!), Jane probably thought she was going to give birth to an octopus!
It was undoubtedly a huge surprise when she gave birth naturally to four healthy boys! With limited records having survived from that time period it’s unknown how many lived until adulthood but records do show that they were live births. Talk about luck o’ the Irish! Who needs four leaf clovers when you have a set of quadruplet boys?!
14. The Famous Quintuplets
The Dion quintuplets were the first quintuplets to survive their infancy. Elzire, the mother, thought she was perhaps carrying twins. No one suspected quintuplets were even a possibility, but on May 28th, 1934, that’s exactly what she had! Elzire and her husband Oliva welcomed quintuplets into the world! The babies were each two to an embryonic sac–except for Emelie. Doctors believe that there had been a 6th baby that was expelled during the 3rd month of Elzire’s pregnancy and that baby had shared an embryonic sac with Emelie.
Elzire and Oliva were completely unprepared and overwhelmed with having five newborns. They already had five children to provide for. Once word got out about the unusual event, the Dionnes were inundated with gifts and donations from all around the world. However, after seeing the public’s interest in the quintuplets, the Canadian government intervened and took custody of the Dionne quintuplets. The government claimed they wanted to ensure the survival of the quintuplets, but many believe it was all about the money the sisters could bring in to Canada.
A hospital and nursery were set up across from the Dionne farm. The ‘hospital’ was more or less a zoo but instead of animals it was the Dionne sisters. Classrooms, playrooms, and a park were all set up with one-way screens to allow tourists to watch the girls. It was a secure compound with barbed wire fence around the perimeter and a team made up of security officers, nurses, and housekeeping staff all there with one job to do–look after the girls. The area became known as Quintville and became more popular than Niagara Falls!
As of 2017, two of the five Dionne quintuplets are alive and well. They prefer to live life out of the public spotlight. In 1998, they won $2.8 million dollars from the city of Ontario for the government’s exploitation of them as children.
13. The Reality TV Stars
Who can forget John & Kate Plus 8? The TLC reality television show that focused on the crazy Gosselin family. Jon and Kate Gosselin were already parents of twin girls when on May 10th, 2004, Kate gave birth to sextuplets. 3 boys and 3 girls were born at almost 30 weeks old.
Kate had undergone fertility treatments because she was unable to conceive naturally but nothing could have prepared Jon and Kate for the surprise of finding six heartbeats during that initial ultrasound! In 2007, Jon & Kate Plus 8 debuted to high ratings on the Discovery Health Channel. The world was fascinated with the Gosselin family!
Unfortunately, in 2009, the stress of the spotlight and raising 8 kids became too much for Jon and Kate, and they announced their divorce. The courts granted Kate ownership of the house and full custody of the kids. Kate and her kids have been on various reality television shows including Kate Plus 8 and Celebrity Wife Swap. Kate also appeared on Dancing With the Stars.
12. World’s First Surviving Septuplets
November 19th, 1997, the McCaughey septuplets were born to Kenny and Bobbi McCaughey in Des Moines, Iowa. They had one daughter already named Mikayla. The septuplets were born 9 weeks premature and as a result there were a few health complications. 2 of the babies were born with cerebral palsy. With help from private and corporate donations they were able to build better accommodations for their expanded family and were provided a warehouse supply of diapers and infant formula.
When doctors found out Bobbi was pregnant with 7 babies they encouraged the McCaugheys to partake in selective reduction as the chances of the babies survival would greatly improve. The McCaugheys didn’t even consider the idea. Today, the McCaughey family are staunch Pro-life activists and travel around the country for speaking engagements. The McCaughey children are in college and one son joined the U.S. military. For the most part they have kept out of the spotlight.
11. The Deranged Doctor
Dr. Bertold Weisner was a fertility doctor who took it upon himself to use his own sperm to impregnate anywhere from 300 to 600 women. Dr. Weisner and his wife, Martha Barton, started the UK’s first fertility clinic. It was here that he and his wife took his sperm and inseminated women with infertile partners. They promised the women that the sperm was from “intelligent stock”. The women did not know the sperm was coming from Dr. Weisner himself. Arrogance? Egocentric? Psychotic? Probably a little of each.
Upon his death, Martha took all the patient records and burned them. Thanks to Martha covering up her husbands tracks, it’s pretty much a guarantee that no one will ever know how many children Dr. Weisner actually fathered. There are efforts currently underway to track down people that were conceived at the Weisner fertility clinic.
10. The Warrior
According to the Russian Academy of Sciences there are almost 18 million male descendants of Genghis Khan alive today. What does that mean? Well it means that not only was he in command of one of the largest empire’s in history, he was also the father to hundreds if not thousands of children!
Genghis Khan and his army were brutal. They were known to slaughter entire villages with the exception of the most beautiful women. He would have them paraded before him and then rate them. Those women that were rated the lowest were sent to his soldiers. Those that he rated the highest were kept for himself and his generals. He once proclaimed that his greatest pleasure in life was to take an enemies wife and daughter away and make them his own.
9. The Great Stork Derby
Long before Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? was a very unusual game show of sorts. It wasn’t played out on television but it was covered extensively in the newspapers.
Grace Bagnato had 23 kids. Now having 23 kids does not put her in the world record books, however, she had 9 of those kids for the Great Stork Derby! Grace participated in the controversial Great Stork Derby that ran from 1926 to 1936. The competition was a bizarre contest put together by the eccentric millionaire Charles Vance Millar. Upon his death the woman who gave birth to the most children within the 10 years following his death would be declared the winner and given a significant portion of his assets. Unfortunately for Grace after having 9 children and believing she had secured the win, it was found out she was ineligible and was disqualified from the competition! It wasn’t widely understood that both parents needed to be born in the U.S. and her husband was born in Italy! 3 other women shared the prize and received $125,000 each.
8. Royal Offspring
King Heraclius II of Georgia was born in 1720. He became King at the age of 24 and reigned until his death in 1798. King Heraclius II was married three times. His 1st marriage resulted in 2 children. His 2nd marriage also produced 2 children. His 3rd and final marriage produced an astounding 19 children!
Out of 23 children only 13 Princes and Princesses lived until adulthood. After his death his eldest son became King George XII. Unfortunately, he was the last king of Georgia and his reign ended only 2 years after it began. King George XII was a very frail and unhealthy young man so it came as no surprise when he died prematurely. When King George XII died, Russia took over Georgia and sent King George XII’s remaining relatives into exile.
Nadya Suleman, also known as “Octomom” became an international sensation when she gave birth to octuplets in 2009. The babies became the first octuplets in history to survive past infancy.
Too many embryos implanted via in-vitro fertilization caused the record-breaking birth. After the octuplets birth to unemployed 33 year old single mom Nadya, the doctor who implanted the 12 embryos had his medical license taken away. Nadya already had 6 children under the age of 10 when she gave birth to 8 babies. 3 of her babies have special needs and there is no father in the picture.
Nadya carried the octuplets to around 30 weeks gestation, which for carrying 8 babies is downright miraculous! Since their birth Nadya has faced numerous allegations of child neglect and financial issues. She even did adult film work to make ends meet.
6. Thirty-Nine Kids & Counting
In the 1600s, Elizabeth Greenhill gave birth to 39 children. What makes this so astounding other than the sheer number of children? 37 were singleton births. She only had one set of twins. Also, all of her children were born living–something very unusual for this time period.
Elizabeth’s husband, William Greenhill, was a prominent man who served as Secretary to General Monck. Elizabeth gave birth to their 39th child after William had tragically passed away. Her 39th child became a very well-respected surgeon. He served as the private surgeon to the 7th Duke of Norfolk. Due to his unusual distinction as being the 39th child, he was given his father’s coat of arms which was an extremely high honor. His mother later said she probably would have had even more children had her husband not passed away.
5. Fifteen Pregnancies Results in 52 Children
Maddalena Granata Nocera of Italy gave birth to an astounding 52 living and dead children. 49 of the 52 were boys and they were all triplets! Maddalena was born in 1832. She was married at age 28 which for the 1800s was quite old to be getting married. Her ‘old age’ of 28 definitely didn’t contribute to any fertility issues! She became pregnant 15 times! 15 pregnancies resulting in 52 children.
In the 1800s, with the astronomically high maternal mortality rate, it’s an impressive feat in itself that Maddalena didn’t die during childbirth. Maddalena’s personal physician, Dr. de Sanctis, did verify that he delivered 15 sets of triplets. It is unknown how many babies survived infancy.
4. Malaysia’s Nonuplets
Zurina Mat Saad of Malaysia gave birth to nonuplets on March 26th, 1999. Sadly, none of the babies survived more than a couple hours. To date there have been no nonuplets to survive more than a week. There has only been a handful of births over quadruplets to have all the babies survive. Since 1980 with the availability of in vitro fertilization and more women waiting until they are in their late 30s and 40s to have babies, the chances of having a multiple birth have exponentially increased. With the advancements in medicine and technology it’s only a matter of time before we hear of the first set of surviving nonuplets or maybe even decuplets! How amazing would that be?!
3. Twin Mom
Barbara Zulu of Barberton, South Africa, holds the world record for having the most sets of twins in the shortest amount of time. Barbara had 6 sets of twins! 3 sets of twins were girls and the other 3 sets were boy/girl. Not only did Barbara have 6 sets of twins, Barbara incredibly gave birth to all 6 sets of twins within a 7 year period! Between the years 1967 and 1973 she gave birth to twelve children. All of the twins survived infancy and reached adulthood.
Pictured above are Abigail and Shaibu Abu-Adama. The Ghanaian couple has three sets of twins, and a huge family, but that’s just half of Barbara’s total.
2. Australia’s Nonuplets
28 year old Geraldine Brodrick of Sydney, Australia, gave birth to nonuplets on June 13th, 1971. Tragically, none of the babies survived. There were five boys and four girls. Two of the boys were stillborn. The rest of the nonuplets died within days of each other, with the last one passing away 6 days after birth. The contributing cause of death was underdeveloped respiratory systems. They were born 3 months premature and their organs had not fully developed.
Geraldine and her husband Leonard knew the chances of their survival was very slim. The smallest of the nine babies weighed only 12 ounces. The others were slightly bigger but none over 1 pound. Babies that are born weighing less than 2 pounds have a 95% mortality rate.
1. The Russian Peasants
Mr. Feodor Vassilyev, a peasant from Russia, was married twice. Between 1725 and 1765, his first wife, Valentina Vassilyev gave birth to 4 sets of quadruplets, 7 sets of triplets, and 16 sets of twins! So, with 27 births she had a remarkable 69 children! It is widely believed she had a genetic condition which caused hyperovulation; more than one egg released during ovulation. This would explain why she had no singleton births.
Mr. Vassilyev went on to marry again, presumably after the death of his 1st wife. With his 2nd wife he had another 18 children! Six sets of twins and 2 sets of triplets! It seems probable that his 1st wife and 2nd wife were related–and both carried the hyperovulation gene. It wasn’t uncommon for a widow to marry the single sibling of a dead spouse.
In total, Mr. Vassilyev had 87 children from 35 births. Out of those 87 children only 3 had passed away before reaching adolescence. Mr. Vassilyev’s story is noted several times in historical texts and letters including one letter from a merchant who stated that the Vassilyevs were going to be introduced to the Empress of Russia.