When the Pretoria News broke the news of Tembisa mother Gosiame Thamara Sithole setting a world record for giving birth to 10 babies in one go this week, a chorus of joy echoed across the land. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)
When the Pretoria News broke the news of Tembisa mother Gosiame Thamara Sithole setting a world record for giving birth to 10 babies in one go this week, a chorus of joy echoed across the land. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

Tembisa 10 now belong to an elite club - the world’s most famous multiple births

By Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi Time of article published Jun 12, 2021

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It takes a village to raise a child, but an entire country to raise decuplets.

When the Pretoria News broke the news of Tembisa mother Gosiame Thamara Sithole setting a world record for giving birth to 10 babies in one go this week, a chorus of joy echoed across the land and South Africans came together to both celebrate and help with the Herculean task of helping her raise her brood.

As the world clamours at their door, eager for pictures and news of SA’s youngest stars, Sithole and her partner Tebogo Tsotetsi have remained very protective, choosing to keep details of the birth secret, for both health, religious and cultural reasons.

The Tembisa 10, as they are now being called, born at 29 weeks, are understandably very tiny and need to remain in neo-natal ICU for some time.

Lauded as a miracle, the birth of the decuplets to a mother who says she was not on fertility treatment, is a mystery that has left both doctors and the public vexed.

Gosiame Thamara Sithole and her husband Tebogo Tsotetsi. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

However, multiple births have become more common, with nearly half of the world’s twins being born in Africa and the twin birth rate increasing by over 75% since 1980 in the US. Triplet, quadruplet, and high-order multiple births have also shown a marked spike in recent years.

The use of fertility drugs have driven up the numbers of multiple births in recent years. Professor Dini Mawela, the deputy head of the school of medicine at the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, said Sithole’s case was rare and usually caused by such treatments.

“It’s quite a unique situation. I don’t know how often it happens. It’s a highly complex and high-risk situation. The danger is that, because there is not enough space in the womb for the children, the tendency is that they will be small,” said Mawela.

“What would happen is that they would take them out pre-term because there is a risk if they keep them longer in there. The babies will come out small, chances of survival compromised. But all this depends on how long she carried them for.”

The world’s most famous mom of multiples, a title now usurped by Sithole, was Nadya Suleman, from the US.

Suleman’s octuplets, six boys and two girls, were conceived with the aid of in-vitro fertilisation treatment and were nine weeks premature when they were delivered by Caesarean section at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in California 12 years ago.

It took 46 doctors and nurses to perform the C-section when Suleman went into labour at 31 weeks. It was a medical history.

Closer to home, and more recently, Malian mother Halima Cisse, 25, gave birth to nine babies - two more than doctors had detected during the scans - last month.

The babies are reportedly doing well at a clinic in Morocco, where Cisse was flown by the Malawian government for specialist care.

Two other sets of nonuplets were previously recorded - one born to a woman in Australia in 1971 and another to a woman in Malaysia in 1999 - but none of the babies survived more than a few days.

In 2018, South Africa recorded the fifth quintuplets since 1960. Known affectionately as the ‘big five’, Siyanda, Sibahle, Simesihle, Silindile and Sindisiwe Buthelezi are reaching all their milestones and just turned two years old.

Their mother, Noluthando Ndlangisa, recently spoke of the difficulties of raising five children.

Noluthando told all4woman that she sometimes ran out of formula when the babies were younger. She said the clinic was sometimes able to help but most times didn’t have enough of the age-appropriate formula for each child so she had to give them whatever she had, whether it was suitable or not.

She also lamented the fact that getting them all to sleep was no easy task and childcare costs were relentless.

The Rosenkowitz Sextuplets born 11 January 1974 in South Africa were the first known set of sextuplets to survive infancy.

The babies were born to 25‐year‐old Susan Rosenkowitz after a full term pregnancy at Mowbray Maternity Hospital, Cape Town.

They weighed between two‐and‐a‐half pounds (1,13 kilos) and four and‐a‐half pounds (2.04 kilos).

Multiple births can be overwhelming for mothers and require intensive prenatal care as they experience a “double dose” of everything associated with pregnancy.

The South African Multiple Births Association (SAMBA) an organisation which offers support to those who have had multiple births, told another publication that those carrying more than one baby require more pre-birth check-ups.

They experience a higher level of hormones resulting in a higher than normal “morning sickness”.

Multiples also place greater stress on the body: with twins, a weight gain of 20kg isn't unusual, along with heartburn, indigestion, shortness of breath and extreme fatigue, among other symptoms.

SAMBA advised mothers of mutiples to Multiple births can be overwhelming for mothers and require intensive prenatal care as they experience a “double dose” of everything associated with pregnancy.

The South African Multiple Births Association (SAMBA) an organisation which offers support to those who have had multiple births, told another publication that those carrying more than one baby require more pre-birth check-ups.

They experience a higher level of hormones resulting in a higher than normal “morning sickness”.

Multiples also place greater stress on the body: with twins, a weight gain of 20kg isn't unusual, along with heartburn, indigestion, shortness of breath and extreme fatigue, among other symptoms.

SAMBA advises mothers of mutiples to ask for help, lots of it. Sithole, once home with her babies, will need a small army of helpers in the early days.

Independent Media, the news organisation to break the story of the births, was also first to step up with a helping hand.

Independent Media chairperson, Dr Iqbal Survé announced that his family foundation, Survé Philanthropies had committed at least R1 million to the family, to be paid over a period of four years.

Survé encouraged South Africans who want to be part of the support system for the family to contribute and said that they will assist the family in setting up a trust.

“We want to make sure that the babies are going to be well looked after. This is not going to be easy for the family to do at one go.”

The father of the decuplets said: “I feel blessed and I am happy. I am happy for the support that I am getting.”

Speaking about the scepticism on social media, Tsotetsi assured South Africans that the babies do exist but said the matter was sensitive because the babies were born premature.

“It is a very unique situation. They are premature, they are still incubated. Very small as you can think – 10 children in one womb that normally carries one baby.

“They are very small, so the sensitivity that goes into that, even the doctors, they don’t want to risk that.”

Tsotetsi said that as a family they also want to give doctors the space and privacy to provide the babies with the care they need.

“People will see the babies at the right time”.

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