A mother who holds the world record for most children has been warned by doctors she could suffer serious health problems if she stopped giving birth.
Mariem Nabatanzi gave birth to 44 children by the age of 40 and was told that no family planning methods would work for her.
The woman from Uganda, East Africa, gave birth to four sets of twins, five sets of triplets and five sets of quadruplets.
Only once did she give birth to a single child.
Six of her children died, and her husband let her down and ran away with all the family money, leaving Mariem with 38 children – 20 boys and 18 girls – to raise him on her own.
Mariem was married when she was just 12 years old after her parents sold her and soon after became pregnant and gave birth to her first child at the age of just 13.
Fertility rates are much higher in Uganda, where the average is 5.6 children per woman, according to the World Bank.
That is more than double the world average of 2.4 children.
But Mariem – who is called ‘Mama Uganda’ in her native country – soon realized that she was different from other women.
When she continued to have twins, triplets and quadruplets, she went to a health clinic.
Doctors told her she had abnormally large ovaries that led to a condition called hyperovulation.
She was told that birth control would not work, and was likely to cause serious health problems.
Treatments do exist for hyperovulation, but it is difficult to obtain them in rural Uganda.
As dr. Charles Kiggundu, a gynecologist at Mulago Hospital in Uganda’s capital Kampala told The Daily Monitor, the most likely cause of Mariem’s extreme fertility was hereditary.
“Her case is a genetic predisposition to hyper-ovulation – the release of multiple eggs in one cycle – which significantly increases the chances of multiple births,” he said.
Today at 43, she says she was told three years ago to stop having children after her last birth.
She said the doctor told her he had “cut my uterus from the inside out”.
Speaking through a translator, Mariem told filmmaker Joe Hattab, “It was God’s grace to give me [so] many children. ”
However, her story is full of sadness.
She said she was forced into marriage against her will at the age of 12 after her parents sold her for the dowry.
Mariem added that doctors told her she was too fertile and that she should continue giving birth to lower fertility levels in her ovaries.
She was told that no family planning method would work for her and that birth was the only way to “lighten up” her body.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a US private health company with offices around the world: “Severe ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome is uncommon but can be life-threatening.”
Other complications may include fluid buildup in the abdomen or chest, blood clots, kidney failure, twisting of the ovary or breathing problems.
All of her children are from her often absent husband who eventually left her in 2016, the same year she gave birth to her youngest child.
One of her sons spoke through a translator and told Joe Hattab his mother is his “hero”.
Today, Mariem and her siblings live in four cramped houses made of cement blocks with corrugated iron roofs in a village surrounded by coffee fields 31 miles north of Kampala.
She told Joe Hattab that a “friendly woman” donated some bunk beds to her children after her husband left her, but it can get quite cramped, with 12 in one room sleeping two to a mattress.
Mariem talks about her ordinary ex-husband and uses an explosive word, before swelling as she adds: “I grew up in tears, my husband went through a lot of suffering for me.
“All my time was spent looking after my children and working to earn money.”
Mariem did everything to take care of her children, switched her hand to hairdressers, collected scrap metal, brewed homemade gin and sold herbal medicine.
All the money she makes is immediately swallowed up by food, clothing, medical care and school fees.
But on a dirty wall in her house hang portraits of some of her children graduating from school.
Her eldest child, Ivan Kibuka, who is in his mid-20s, was forced to leave high school when his mother could no longer afford it.
“Mom is overwhelmed,” he said, “the work is crushing her.
“We help where we can, such as cooking and washing, but she still carries the whole burden for the family. I feel for her. “
The most fertile woman in history is said to be an 18th-century Russian farmer named Valentina Vassilyev.
Between 1725 and 1765 it is recorded that she gave birth to a total of 69 children – of whom 67 survived childhood.
It included 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets.
Her husband, Feodor, allegedly had six sets of twins and two sets of triplets with his second wife – a further 18 children.
That would mean that he fathered a total of 87 children.
It is not surprising, however, that record keeping in 18th-century rural Russia was at its best, and these figures are disputed by historians.
This story originally appeared on The Sun and has been reproduced here with permission.