Couple 'heartbroken' after giving birth to wrong baby in fertility clinic mix-up

The moment Alexander Cardinale met his biological daughter was captured on camera, as ITV News' Rebecca Barry reports

Two couples in California gave birth to each others’ babies after a mix-up at a fertility clinic and spent months raising children that weren’t theirs, according to a lawsuit filed on Monday.

Daphna Cardinale said she and her husband, Alexander, had immediate suspicions that the girl she gave birth to in late 2019 wasn’t theirs because the child had a darker complexion than they do.

They suppressed their doubts because they fell in love with the baby and trusted the in vitro fertilisation process and their doctors, Ms Cardinale said.

Learning three months later she had been pregnant with another couple’s baby, and that another woman had been carrying her child, caused enduring trauma, she said.

“I was overwhelmed by feelings of fear, betrayal, anger and heartbreak,” Ms Cardinale said during a news conference with her husband announcing the lawsuit.

“I was robbed of the ability to carry my own child. I never had the opportunity to grow and bond with her during pregnancy, to feel her kick.”

Alexander Cardinale with his biological child, who he said he spent months apart from. Credit: Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane and Conway

The Cardinales’ complaint accuses the Los Angeles-based California Centre for Reproductive Health (CCRH) and its owner, Dr Eliran Mor, of medical malpractice, breach of contract, negligence and fraud. It demands a jury trial and seeks unspecified damages.

Yvonne Telles, the office administrator for the centre declined to comment on Monday, while Mr Mor could not be reached for comment.

The other parents involved in the alleged mix-up wish to remain anonymous and plan a similar lawsuit in the coming days, according to attorney Adam Wolf, who represents all four parents.

"We will always be tainted by the sick reality that our baby was given to someone else"

The lawsuit claims CCRH mistakenly implanted the other couple’s embryo into Ms Cardinale and transferred the Cardinales’ embryo - made from Ms Cardinale's egg and Mr Cardinale’s sperm - into the other woman.

The babies, both girls, were born a week apart in September 2019. Both couples unwittingly raised the wrong child for nearly three months before DNA tests confirmed that the embryos were swapped, according to the filing.

Breaking the news to their older daughter, now seven, that doctors made a mistake and that the new baby wasn’t actually her sister “was the hardest thing in my life,” Ms Cardinale said.

“My heart breaks for her, perhaps the most,” she said.

The Cardinale's said their seven-year-old biological daughter (right) had also bonded with the other couples baby (left). Credit: Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane and Conway

“The Cardinales, including their young daughter, fell in love with this child, and were terrified she would be taken away from them,” the complaint says.

“All the while, Alexander and Daphna did not know the whereabouts of their own embryo, and thus were terrified that another woman had been pregnant with their child - and their child was out in the world somewhere without them.”

The babies were swapped back in January 2020.

The couple said they're experiencing "fear, betrayal, anger and heartbreak". Credit: Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane and Conway

Mix-ups like this are exceedingly rare, but not unprecedented. In 2019, a couple from Glendale, California, sued a separate fertility clinic, claiming their embryo was mistakenly implanted in a New York woman, who gave birth to their son as well, as a second boy belonging to another couple.

Mr Wolf, whose firm specialises in fertility cases, called for greater oversight for IVF clinics.

“This case highlights an industry in desperate need of federal regulation,” he said.

Since the mix-up came to light, both babies have been returned to their biological families. All four parents have since made an effort to stay in each other’s lives and “forge a larger family,” Ms Cardinale said.

“They were just as much in love with our biological daughter as we were with theirs,” Mr Cardinale added.