In 1939, a healthy young girl named Lina Medina gave birth to an equally healthy baby boy. The only noteworthy detail about this event was the mother's age: She was five years old.
In the early spring of 1939, a worried family from a remote village in Peru took their five-year-old daughter to a doctor in faraway Lima. The girl’s belly had been growing for several months, and her mother was afraid she might have a tumor.
To their shock and dismay, the doctor diagnosed their daughter, Lina Medina, as being seven months pregnant. Six weeks later, Medina became, at the age of five years and seven months, the youngest girl known to have given birth.
Her case took pediatricians of the time by surprise, and the matter has been the subject of speculation ever since. Medina never revealed who the father was, and to this day she and her family shun publicity from the outside world.
The real story of Lina Medina, the world’s youngest confirmed mother, and of the circumstances surrounding her extraordinary tale give insight into both the society she grew up in and the vagaries of human biology.
A Case of Precocious Puberty
Lina Medina’s condition certainly came as a surprise to everybody who studied the case, but among pediatric endocrinologists, it wasn’t entirely unthinkable.
About one in every 10,000 children develop a condition known as “precocious puberty,” in which the child’s body reaches sexual maturity before age eight. Roughly ten times more girls than boys develop this way, and there is reason to suspect that it might be accelerated by sexual contact at an early age.
Later analysis strongly suggested that Medina may have reached menarche as early as eight months after birth, though other reports claimed she had been having regular menstrual periods from the age of three.
Examination of the five-year-old Medina showed that she already had developed breasts, wider-than-normal hips, and advanced (that is, post-pubescent) bone growth. To all appearances, at the time that Lina Medina got pregnant – right around her fifth birthday – her body was that of a very petite, immature woman.
Lina Medina: Pregnant At Five
Precocious puberty is a good proximate explanation for Lina Medina’s pregnancy, but obviously it doesn’t explain everything.
Getting a period at three is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for getting pregnant at five. Somebody, in other words, had to get her pregnant, and given the 100,000-to-1 odds against it, that person probably wasn’t a precociously pubescent five-year-old boy.
Medina herself never told her doctors or the authorities who the father was, though her own father, a silversmith named Tiburelo, was briefly arrested for suspected child rape. He was eventually released and the charges against him dropped, however, when he strenuously denied having had sex with his own daughter and no evidence or witness statements could be found to hold him.
In an article about the case, published in an October 1955 wire service, author Luis Leon reported that many of the remote Indian villages of Peru hold regular religious festivals throughout the year that still maintain a strong pre-Christian atmosphere and frequently devolve into group sex and sometimes rape.
It is not unheard of for children to be present at, or at least not far from, these revelries. In the absence of a confession or other facts about Lina Medina’s case, including her own observed difficulty with giving clear statements, this provides a plausible, if not exactly proven, potential source for the sexual intercourse that had to happen for her to get pregnant.
A Private Matter
Once Lina Medina’s condition became generally known, it caused a sensation all over the world.
Newspapers in Peru unsuccessfully offered the Medina family thousands of dollars for the rights to interview and to film their daughter. Newspapers in the United States, then as now desperate for readership, had a similar field day reporting on the anomaly and hinting at the salacious details in every paragraph. Again, offers were made to pay the family and to bring them to the United States for what amounted to a freak show, though it certainly wasn’t called that, and again all offers were refused.
Medina would go on avoiding publicity for the rest of her life, regularly refusing to sit for interviews with international wire services, local newspapers, and sensational television programs alike. Her (perhaps wise) aversion to the spotlight continues to this day: Her Wikipedia article, for example, notes that there are conflicting accounts as to whether she’s even still alive and asks for help resolving the question.
It was perhaps inevitable, given the astounding nature of Medina’s condition and her aversion to scrutiny, that some observers would accuse her family of hoaxing the whole affair.
At a distance of 80 years, this seems unlikely to be the case. Neither Medina nor her family are known to have tried to capitalize on the story in any way, and medical records from the time provide ample documentation of her condition.
Only two photographs are known to have been taken of Medina while she was pregnant – and only one of those, a low-resolution profile picture – was ever published outside of the medical literature.
Despite this, her case file contains numerous accounts by doctors who treated her, as well as clearly defined X-rays of her abdomen that show the bones of a developing fetus inside her body. Blood work confirmed her pregnancy in the usual way, and the papers published in the literature all passed peer-review without a hitch, suggesting that contemporary researchers couldn’t find fault with the reported facts of Medina’s case.
Lina Medina’s Later Life
Medina seems to have gotten good medical care, especially for the time and place in which she lived, and gave birth to a healthy six-pound baby boy, who appeared to have made it to a full term, on May 14, 1939.
Delivery was by caesarean section because, despite Medina’s prematurely widened hips, her slim frame was still not adequate in terms of passing a full-sized child through the birth canal.
The child was named Gerardo, after the doctor who first examined Medina, and the infant went home to the family’ village of Ticrapo when he was released from the hospital.
Gerardo grew up thinking that Medina was his older sister, and only found out the truth when he was a teenager.
Interviewed for the 1955 profile on his and his mother’s life, Gerardo claimed that he wanted to be a doctor when he grew up. Despite having no known defects or other health issues, Gerardo died relatively young, at age 40, in 1979, of natural causes.
Aside from her record-breaking status as a mother, Medina went on to live an ordinary life in Peru.
In her young adulthood, she found work as a secretary for the doctor who attended the birth, which paid her way through school. At roughly the same time, Medina managed to put Gerardo through school as well.
She married a man named Raul sometime in the early 1970s, and gave birth to her second child in 1972, aged 39. Medina and Raul were not wealthy people, and as of the last that the outside world heard from either of them, in 2002, the couple was still married and living in a poor neighborhood in Lima known as Chicago Chico.
Given her lifelong attitude toward publicity and the prying eyes of curious outsiders, it may be for the best that nobody now seems to know where exactly Lina Medina lives or what she, her husband, or her youngest child are up to these days.
After this look at Lina Medina, read about the 11-year-old pregnant Florida girl who was recently forced to marry her rapist. Then, discover the story of Gisella Perl, “the Angel of Auschwitz” who saved the lives of hundreds of women imprisoned during the Holocaust by aborting their pregnancies.