Behind the IVF Mix-Up That Led Two Women to Give Birth to Each Other’s Babies

couple sues fertility clinic

Illustration by Katie Couric Media

Here’s how they realized something was wrong.

Thanks to a mix-up at a fertility clinic, two couples unknowingly gave birth to children that weren’t biologically their own. That mistake has left the families reeling — and resulted in a lawsuit. Here’s what we know:

How did this happen?

Last year, a Los Angeles-based fertility clinic implanted the wrong embryos in two women undergoing in vitro fertilization. Daphna Cardinale and the other mother, who hasn’t been named, carried their pregnancies to term and gave birth to each other’s biological children in September 2019.

But the moment Alexander Cardinale first saw the baby girl, he knew in his gut that something was wrong, he said. The child’s darker skin and hair differed from the family’s pale complexions. The Cardinales finally ordered a DNA test, learning when the baby was two months old that the child wasn’t biologically their own. 

The Cardinales found the other couple, who sent them a photo of the baby they’d given birth to — a blond-haired child. Initially, the couples met up routinely and would exchange the babies for short visits. But the constant switching became too difficult, and the families eventually brought their biological children home with them permanently.

“I was losing a baby at the same time that I was getting a baby,” Daphna said. “It’s (a) truly impossible nightmare.”

What about the lawsuit?

The Cardinales have sued the Center for Reproductive Health and its owner, Dr. Eliran Mor, for medical malpractice, breach of contract, negligence, and fraud. The other parents, who wish to remain anonymous, plan to file their own lawsuit soon, according to attorney Adam Wolf, who specializes in fertility cases and has called for more oversight in the industry.

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

Has something like this happened before?

A swap like this is very rare, but similar mistakes have happened. In 2019, another California couple sued after claiming their embryo was implanted in the wrong woman, who eventually gave birth to their biological son.