Two couples spent months raising baby girls who weren’t theirs after a mix-up at a Los Angeles fertility clinic — which implanted the mothers with each other’s embryos during in-vitro fertilization, according to a lawsuit.
Daphna Cardinale said she and her husband, Alexander, quickly suspected that the girl she gave birth to in late 2019 wasn’t theirs because she had a darker complexion than they do.
“I had a weird, sort of a gut reaction when she was born. It wasn’t anything logical. It was just like an instinct,” Alexander said during a news conference Monday with his wife announcing the lawsuit filed in LA, CBS News reported.
In the delivery room, he had expected “a fair child,” like their firstborn, but he was surprised to see the baby girl “came out with much darker skin,” the lawsuit says. “It was so jarring that Alexander actually took several steps away from the birthing table, backing up against the wall.”
But the parents ignored their doubts because they fell in love with the infant and trusted their doctors, Daphna told reporters.
“I was overwhelmed by feelings of fear, betrayal, anger and heartbreak,” the distraught woman said, adding that she suffered trauma when she found out months later that she had carried another woman’s baby and that the other woman had her child.
“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,” Daphna added. “Instead of breastfeeding my own child, I breastfed and bonded with a child I was later forced to give away.”
The Cardinales are seeking a jury trial for unspecified damages in their lawsuit, which accuses the California Center for Reproductive Health and its owner, Dr. Eliran Mor, of medical malpractice, breach of contract, negligence and fraud. The couple also is suing a third-party embryology lab for alleged misconduct.
The suit alleges that CCRH mistakenly implanted the other woman’s embryo into Daphna and transferred her embryo — made from her egg and Alexander’s sperm — into the other woman.
In the Nov. 8 complaint, the Cardinales allege Mor outsourced the handling of their embryo to VitroTech Labs Inc., which had a “sordid history of allegedly mixing up, mislabeling, and/or outright losing clients’ genetic material.” Both the lab and its parent company, Beverly Sunset Surgical Associates LLC, are also owned by Mor, according to the lawsuit.
After the girls were born a week apart in September 2019, both couples unwittingly raised the wrong child for almost three months before DNA tests confirmed that the embryos were swapped, according to the lawsuit.
“When I found out she wasn’t mine I poured more love into her. Maybe I was just clinging to her. I was just so scared I was going to lose her, which I ultimately did,” Daphna said.
The babies were swapped back in January 2020, but the Cardinales claim they suffer daily symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, depression and feelings of guilt.
“The daughter they bonded with was taken from them after months of love and affection, and though they still see her periodically, their Birth Daughter never warms up to Daphna during their visits,” according to the lawsuit. “In fact, since the switch, Daphna and Alexander have watched their Birth Daughter morph from an incredibly happy newborn to an anxious baby — and they worry and feel constant guilt that the ‘switch’ is to blame … This is one of the biggest things that haunts Daphna on a regular basis.”
Breaking the news to their older daughter, now 7, that the new baby wasn’t actually her sister “was the hardest thing in my life,” Daphna said. “My heart breaks for her, perhaps the most,” she added.
“The Cardinales, including their young daughter, fell in love with this child, and were terrified she would be taken away from them,” the lawsuit 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,” it says.
The Post has reached out to Mor, along with the California Center for Reproductive Health, but has not received a response.
The other couple involved in the alleged mix-up wish to remain anonymous and plan a similar lawsuit, according to attorney Adam Wolf, who represents all four parents.
Both couples had to sign a gestational carrier contract to formalize the exchange of the babies, according to the suit. They have since made an effort to stay in each other’s lives and “forge a larger family,” Daphna said.
“They were just as much in love with our biological daughter as we were with theirs,” Alexander said.
An estimated 1.9 percent of American children are conceived through assisted reproductive technology each year, according to CBS News.
Such mix-ups like this are extremely rare, but not unprecedented.
In 2019, a couple from Glendale, California, sued another 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.
Wolf called for greater oversight for IVF clinics, saying, “This case highlights an industry in desperate need of federal regulation.”
Alexander said: “We can’t sleep at night knowing that this is happening and no one’s … talking about it.”
With Post wires
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