When Daphne Cardinale gave birth to her second daughter in September 2019, she and her husband Alexander were immediately taken aback by her appearance.
The little girl, although healthy, did not resemble either of her parents and looked like she was of a different race. About seven weeks later, a home DNA test confirmed a harrowing concern they hoped could not be true: The baby was not related to either of them.
From that moment on, a disturbing, months-long ordeal began in which the Cardinals eventually learned that their embryo had been replaced by another pair’s embryo during in vitro fertilization. Both couples gave birth – and unconsciously raised – babies to each other.
“You can’t underestimate the grief and confusion,” weeping Daphne Cardinal said during a press conference on Monday, shortly after the couple filed a lawsuit against their Los Angeles Reproductive Health Clinic, the California Center for Reproductive Health, and its medical director, Dr. J. Eliran Mor.
The lawsuit also lists In VitroTech Labs, a third-party embryology center, and its parent company, Beverly Sunset Surgical Associates, both owned by the Sea. The couple claims breach of contract, medical malpractice, negligence, emotional distress and knowingly misuse of their embryo, among other violations, and are seeking fines and damages.
Mor did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday. His office said he was with patients. A spokesman for Beverly Sunset declined to comment.
“It was a torture that shook me to the core and changed who I am forever,” said Daphne Cardinale. “I have been deprived of the opportunity to carry my own child.”
The confusion, described in court documents as a “never-ending nightmare”, began after the couple went to the clinic to help them get pregnant with their second child in 2018. They conceived their first daughter naturally, but for years tried to have another. the child was unsuccessful.
According to them, they searched for Mohr and the California Reproductive Health Center based on positive reviews and recommendations from a friend.
The clinic donated the embryo, which the couple believed to be their own, to Daphne Cardinale during an IVF procedure on January 2, 2019, and she became pregnant.
Another pair, identified in the suit as “pair two,” received the biological embryo of the Cardinals around the same time. This child – also a girl – was born exactly one week after the Cardinals. Additional genetic testing confirmed that each couple gave birth to a child from the other.
The lawsuit alleges that Mohr outsourced the Cardinals embryo processing to In VitroTech without their knowledge and despite a promise that all work would be done “at home” and under his direct supervision. According to court documents, it was In VitroTech who mixed up the embryos.
As a result of the confusion, the Cardinals stated that they did not even know about their biological daughter’s existence until she was three months old.
“We missed a whole year in our daughter’s life,” said Daphne Cardinale. “I didn’t have a chance to be pregnant with her or give birth to her; we missed the entire period of her newborn; we have never seen the appearance of our baby in the world and did not hug her in the first seconds of life. These are the moments that parents should cherish for the rest of their lives. “
Their grief was exacerbated by the fact that the Cardinals and their eldest daughter, then 5 years old, had already contacted the child she had carried out before term.
“They lovingly raised the child as their own, even though doubts haunted them,” their lawyer Adam Wolff said Monday. “The cardinals, including their eldest daughter, fell in love with the child and feared she would be taken away from them.”
It wasn’t until December 2019 that the two couples finally met. This was the first time they saw their biological babies.
For the next few weeks, they met almost every day. In January 2020, the babies slept with their new families for the first time, before both couples decided they would stay in their new homes forever – with their biological parents.
According to the Cardinals, the decision and circumstances caused an ongoing emotional and psychological crisis, including feelings of guilt and loss over the child they “gave up.” This confusion also contributed to career failure and loss of income, they said.
Both couples had to go to the judiciary to obtain legal custody of their children, Wolff said, and ended up signing pregnancy contracts to formalize the exchange.
“Couple two” will also be filing a lawsuit, he added, although they want to keep their identity private.
IVF is an expensive and often difficult process, and Wolf said that “fertility disasters” are becoming more common as more families seek treatment. His firm has represented “hundreds of people who have been victims of reproductive health center misconduct,” he said, including cases of embryo falls, abnormal embryos and embryos donated to the wrong person.
In 2019, Wolf represented a Glendale couple whose embryo had been implanted into the wrong woman.
On Monday, he said the cases have “vital implications for all involved.”
During a press conference, the emotional Alexander Cardinale described how he was shocked after their second daughter was born and did not recognize her.
“Falling in love with our newborn and seeing our family of four become the center of attention, while constantly grappling with intrusive questions and getting rid of dark thoughts of doubt, was truly my hell,” he said.
He hoped that being frank would help prevent similar confusion in other families in the future, he added.