South Africa's world-famous Rosenkowitz sextuplets celebrate their 30th birthdays today
'Where have all the years gone?" Susan Wilson wondered yesterday, three decades after she became the world's most famous mother.
On January 11 1974 she gave birth to a record six living babies at the Mowbray Maternity Hospital in Cape Town.
"None of us can believe it. We are all very proud," said Wilson of the latest milestone, with all her eight children (including two older children) still alive, well and scattered on three continents.
According to an international register of multiple births, by November last year 129 sextuplet births had been recorded throughout the world, most of them stillborn. The Rosenkowitzes were the first live sextuplets born in the world, according to Dr Ernst Gutowitz, Wilson's gynaecologist at the time.
"Mazeltov [congratulations]," a delighted Gutowitz said yesterday when reminded of the latest Rosenkowitz milestone.
Qualified as a gynaecologist since 1965, he still regards the sextuplets' birth as "absolutely" the high point of his career.
He said the Rosenkowitzes were delivered by Caesarean section after a 34-week pregnancy, or six weeks premature.
Besides a series of twins, the only other multiple birth Gutowitz delivered in almost 40 years was a set of triplets "a month or two" after the Rosenkowitz sextuplets were born.
According to the UK-based Twins and Multiple Births' Association, the closest to the Rosenkowitz record are the six Walton daughters, born in England in November 1983, who continue to fascinate the British media as they approach adulthood.
"I keep in touch with all of my children, and have always been a mother to them," said Wilson, who divorced Colin Rosenkowitz in 1989.
Despite losing custody of the children to her husband, she said she remained close to all her eight children - nowadays thanks largely to SMS and e-mail.
She said that the sextuplets were last together four years ago, when the family gathered in Cape Town for the wedding of Anthony, second eldest of the eight children. So far, only Anthony, 32, and the eldest sister, Samantha, 36, have married.
That's expected to change within a year or so when David, "the eldest of the six by several seconds", according to their father, marries his fiancée.
David now lives in Dublin and visited Cape Town in November to announce his engagement to his Irish girlfriend of five years.
Only one of the sextuplets, Grant, lives in South Africa.
David works in IT and Jason has an IT career in London. Nicky, a make-up artist, lives in New York, while Liz and Emma both live in London. Liz works in the fashion industry and Emma is a hairstylist and make-up artist.
Grant, a fitness trainer who specialises in working with elderly people, pregnant women, diabetics and heart patients, is based in Cape Town.
At first hesitant to speak to the media, he refused to disclose how he would celebrate his birthday, but added that he didn't resent growing up in the public eye.
"Obviously I can't speak for any of the others, but I really enjoyed the publicity. Sometimes it got a bit much to be constantly seen as one of the six, but I wouldn't change anything that happened. Everyone likes attention. In the past six or seven years we've been going our own ways and developing our own identities," he said.
Asked whether he missed his siblings, he said: "Of course I miss them, especially as I get older and come to realise what your family means to you. We all have British passports and I might decide to join them in a year or two and practise there. But I really like the Cape Town lifestyle."
The 30th birthdays have also moved Colin Rosenkowitz, who has taken a holiday in Pemba, in northern Mozambique, to reflect on it all. "It's a very emotional milestone," he said. "I'm so proud to have brought them up to be the kind of children they are today.
"It was very tough. I don't know how I did it. I used to pray 10 times a day; it was a nightmare."
Thirty years later, he is still asked "every day and up to five times a day" about " 'the twins', as most people can't say the word 'sextuplets' ".
Colin recalls the day doctors told the stunned couple they were going to have six more children - all at once. Susan had been on fertility treatment for a few years to regulate her periods, he said, and nobody had ever mentioned multiple births.
"When we heard the news, my wife fainted and I got a runny stomach," he said. "When we told our maid, she ran away."
Colin remembers a trying time when his car and home had to accommodate eight children, when there were never enough toys to go round. "I'm a bird out of a cage now," he said. "I'm enjoying life to the full and doing all the things I couldn't do when I was a full-time father."
Eldest sister Samantha, who lives in Cape Town with her husband and four children, said she had "remained a sister to them all", especially in the aftermath of their parents' divorce.
None of the sextuplets had yet married, she said, because they felt, " 'What's the hurry?' I think it's something to do with their generation, which is still out there, having a good time."