Suppose you are part of the 12% of people who can’t get or stay pregnant naturally. Imagine going through numerous invasive IVF procedures, becoming pregnant, bonding with, and carrying that baby to term. Next, imagine looking down at the baby you just birthed. Likely, it’s a moment of gratitude, joy, nervousness, and excitement. But, think about seeing your newborn for the first time and not recognizing yourself in that baby at all.
That’s what happened to new parents, Daphna and Alexander Cardinale in 2019. Alexander was especially troubled about the appearance of the new baby. He was concerned that the baby looked so different from his wife Daphna, himself, and their older daughter, Olivia. As Cardinale told People, “It was sort of a primal reaction.”
The baby’s appearance differed from their older daughter immensely. According to CNN, the family “expected to see a fair child, much like their older daughter. Instead, their birth daughter came out with much darker skin and jet-black hair.”
Still, the family bonded and fell in love with the baby, big sister Olivia included. However, they still couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong, plus, the questions didn’t stop. Friends and family members began questioning the appearance of the baby, and eventually, the family did a DNA test.
As Alexander stated to People, “If we hadn’t done IVF, I would’ve just chalked [the lack of resemblance] up to genetics,” he says. “She just looks how she looks. No big deal. But because we’d done IVF, my brain started going to the dark place.”
The news that followed was devastating. When the results from the test came back, it revealed that the baby was not genetically related to the family.
Fertility Clinic Mix-Up
The family has filed a lawsuit against a Los Angeles-based fertility clinic, The California Center for Reproductive Health. Included in the suit is their fertility specialist, Dr. Eliran Mor. When the DNA test came back with devastating results, the fertility clinic reached out to the family’s lawyer, stating they had contacted the baby’s biological family. That family had also recently given birth to a baby girl. This baby had fair skin, blue eyes, and was named Zoë.
“I found out [at] that moment that she existed, what she looked like, and what her name was,” says Alexander. “It’s weird learning the name of your child when you didn’t name her,” Alexander stated, according to People.
According to CNN, the lawsuit claims that the “fertility clinic either recklessly, negligently, and/or knowingly lost or actively decided to give the Cardinales’ embryos to another couple, while implanting the wrong embryo in Daphna.”
The other family involved didn’t want to be identified publicly but were “equally blindsided and devastated.”
Reuniting The Families
Both families took DNA tests to confirm that they had given birth to each other’s babies. Then, the process to reunite the families began. The babies were born a week apart in September 2019. However, since the families had bonded with their birth babies, the process started slowly. It had been three months since the births of the babies, and another month before they would switch permanently.
At first, the families switched babies for short visits. But, after the babies spent the night with their biological families, the families decided that the constant switching was too hard and the babies were switched permanently in January 2020, when the babies were four months old.
According to the Associated Press, the families have “made an effort to stay in each other’s lives” and “forge a larger family.”
According to the BBC, “Adam B Wolf, a lawyer representing the Cardinales, said the other family in the mix-up also plans to sue but will remain anonymous.” Alexander stated, “They were just as much in love with our biological daughter as we were with theirs.”
The Cardinales are sharing their story in part to raise awareness of fertility clinic mishaps. Daphna stated to GMA, “I want people to know that it is possible to test after you’re pregnant to make sure that you are the biological parent of the child you’re carrying,” she said. “It is possible to have those tests. Just talk to your doctors about it.”
Other IVF Mix-Ups
IVF Mix-Ups aren’t common, but they have happened. In 2019, a California couple gained custody of their biological baby after he was born to a New York couple in an IVF mix-up.
The families sued CHA Fertility Center in California. “CHA robbed me of my ability to carry my own child, my baby boy,” Anni Manukyan, the child’s biological mother stated.