Fertility clinic mixes up two couples’ embryos. Now they have to trade babies after 3 months
Soon after both families discovered they had been rearing the wrong children, they arranged to meet to exchange the babies, first temporarily and then permanently
When Daphna Cardinale became pregnant with her second daughter in January 2019, she was overjoyed. The in vitro fertilization process was a success, and she savored the next nine months, knowing the pregnancy would probably be her last.
But when the girl was born that September, Daphna and her husband, Alexander, were shocked. Alexander took several steps away from the birthing table, backing up against the wall, when he first saw the baby’s jet-black hair and complexion that was darker than his, his wife’s and their first daughter’s.
Even after they brought the girl home, Alexander could not shake the dissonance. The couple’s family and friends noticed, too, saying they were surprised the girl looked so different and even asking if the embryo had been donated. Alexander sometimes felt he had to joke that the baby girl was not his daughter.
In fact, the couple soon learned, she wasn’t.
According to a lawsuit the Cardinales filed on Monday, the fertility clinic that facilitated the in vitro pregnancy, the California Center for Reproductive Health, implanted another couple’s embryo inside Daphna. Their own embryo, the Cardinales learned, was implanted into the mother of the child to whom Daphna gave birth. In other words, the Cardinales allege, the fertility clinic mixed up the embryos – a mistake that forced the couples to trade their babies after months of raising them.
“We had no idea at the time that this greatest potential for joy would bring us such enduring pain and trauma,” Daphna said at a news conference on Monday.
The couple is suing the clinic and its owner, obstetrician Eliran Mor, for monetary damages. They allege that Mor and his company breached contract, engaged in medical malpractice and inflicted emotional distress on the couple, among other claims.
Mor did not immediately respond to a message from The Washington Post late Monday.
The Cardinales’ case is not the first in which there was an embryo mix-up. In 2019, another California couple was forced to wage a legal fight to reclaim their child after their embryo was implanted in another woman.
In vitro fertilization is a lengthy process in which an egg is extracted from a woman, fertilized and then implanted in the woman’s uterus to initiate a pregnancy. But it is expensive, requires a mother to undergo hormone treatment to produce multiple eggs, and may or may not result in a pregnancy.
Still, Daphna and Alexander wanted a second child, but after years of trying, they were unable to conceive naturally, according to the lawsuit. So, on the recommendation of a friend, they sought the services of Mor and the California Center for Reproductive Health.
Their first attempt, in October 2018, was unsuccessful. But the couple tried again in January 2019, and said they were ecstatic when Daphna became pregnant. Yet their joy turned to confusion on seeing that their newborn daughter’s appearance was different from theirs, and tension began to simmer between the couple, according to the lawsuit.
The discrepancies ate at Alexander, prompting him to speak of the girl’s appearance frequently, according to the lawsuit. He’d even stay up at night to stare at the baby girl and wonder if she were his. Daphna, meanwhile, tried to convince herself that the baby was hers; after all, she had jet-black hair as a baby. But often, Daphna would experience “dissociation,” according to the lawsuit, and the mother would spend time looking in the mirror, searching for the baby’s features in her own.