Leontina Albina doesn't expect much special attention from her children on Mother's Day. She didn't raise the 53 of them to be like that.
"Children grow up and they go away," she says. "That's a mother's life."According to the Guinness Book of World Records, she is the most prolific woman alive. The book records 55 registered births before 1981, and she says she's had four since then. Six died at birth or shortly afterward.
Mrs. Albina says she raises her children to be independent.
"I tell them, `Don't worry about taking care of me.' I've still got my own good hands to work with," she said in an interview at her home. "I tell them, `Try to end up better than me.' "
"Besides, can you imagine if they were all still here? What a problem that would be!" she added, her tanned and weathered face crinkling in a big smile.
A problem indeed. Mrs. Albina, her husband, Gerardo, and the 18 children who remain at home share a cramped, two-room wooden shack on the edge of a slum in Colina, a rural community 20 miles north of Santiago.
The rickety house has electricity but no running water. The children bathe in a small, battered enamel washbowl in the dusty back yard, next to the outhouse.
Why, in such poverty, would a woman have so many children?
Mrs. Albina says she and two brothers were abandoned as infants in neighboring Argentina to the care of a church-run orphanage. When she was 5 years old, her brothers were adopted. She remained behind, heartsick, and made a vow: "I told myself, when I become a mother I'll always keep my children and never give them away."
She kept the pledge.
At 12 years of age she left the orphanage to marry Gerardo, then a 30-year-old mule driver, she said. The children came quickly, in threes and twos.
"I was a triplet myself. I think that's why I always had triplets or twins," she said.
The first 21 children were boys, earning her an award from the Argentine government but leaving her dissatisfied. "I cried, you know? I really wanted a girl."
She would have them, during the family's emigration from Argentina to Chile in 1953. They crossed the Andes mountains on mule, and she gave birth during the rugged two-week journey in a snowstorm: two girls and a boy.
In all she would give birth to 18 girls, including twins now 15 months old.
Will there be more?
Mrs. Albina shrugs. "If God sends them to me, yes. But I'd like God to also consider me, now that I'm approaching old age."
She says she is 59, although Guinness puts her age at 62.