Mother describes 'brutal heartbreak' after IVF clinic mixed up embryos and she raised another baby


Two Los Angeles couples experienced a ‘truly impossible’ IVF ‘nightmare’ in which each of the mothers each gave birth to the other’s biological baby after a fertility lab mixed up their embryos.

Musician Alexander Cardinale, 41, and his wife Daphna, 43, spent months raising another couple’s child before they discovered that their little girl was not, in fact, biologically theirs — and learned that the couple she did belong to had been raising their biological daughter as well.

The parents made the harrowing decision to swap babies when they were four months old, and have shared video of the emotional moment they met their actual daughter, Zoë, for the first time.

Now that Cardinales are suing their IVF clinic, the California Center for Reproductive Health, and its owner, Dr. Eliran Mor, for medical malpractice, negligence, and fraud.

Daphna opened up about their ordeal in a series of emotional interviews, in which she expressed their ‘devastation’ upon discovering they had been raising someone else’s child. She also detailed the couple’s struggle to mourn the loss of the baby they had bonded with for months, while trying to embrace their actual daughter.

‘Alexander and I are devastated. We missed an entire year of our daughter’s life,’ she told Sky News, including the time she would have been pregnant with her.

‘I didn’t get to experience being pregnant with her or birthing her. We missed her entire newborn period. We never saw our baby’s entrance into the world or cuddled her in her first seconds of life. 

Alexander Cardinale, 41 (left), and Daphna Cardinale, 43 (right) opened up about their 'devestation' upon discovering they had been raising someone else's child due to a 'nightmare' IVF mixup

Alexander Cardinale, 41 (left), and Daphna Cardinale, 43 (right) opened up about their ‘devestation’ upon discovering they had been raising someone else’s child due to a ‘nightmare’ IVF mixup

Swapped: The couple eventually learned that their IVF clinic had swapped their embryo with another one. The two babies are pictured together

Swapped: The couple eventually learned that their IVF clinic had swapped their embryo with another one. The two babies are pictured together 

In filing a lawsuit against their IVF clinic, they've shared video of the first time they met their biological daughter, months after she was born

In filing a lawsuit against their IVF clinic, they’ve shared video of the first time they met their biological daughter, months after she was born

It was an obviously emotional moment as Alexander sobbed and cuddled his daughter

It was an obviously emotional moment as Alexander sobbed and cuddled his daughter

Struggle: Daphna and Alexander told CBS that they felt like they had to 'mourn' the baby they had raised for four months while trying to get to know their actual daughter Zoë (pictured)

Struggle: Daphna and Alexander told CBS that they felt like they had to ‘mourn’ the baby they had raised for four months while trying to get to know their actual daughter Zoë (pictured)

In addition to mourning the child they’d raised for months and given away — and missing the first four months of Zoë’s life — the Cardinales are also coping with how their five-year-old daughter, Olivia, has handled the traumatic situation.

‘It was the hardest thing in the world to have to tell Olivia, our older daughter. Out of all of this, that’s still the biggest trauma for me … to have to explain to a five-year-old that the child, the sister that they’ve imprinted on and love, and it’s their sister, is not their sister,’ Alexander said in a video published by their law firm, Peiffer Wolf Carr Kane & Conway. 

‘She retreated a little bit form us,’ he added. ‘She doesn’t let us hug her or kiss her anymore,’ he said.

‘The daughter we raised and bonded with was gone after months of affection, but the struggle to guide our older daughter through losing the little sister she fell in love with, and for her to understand the reality of what happened has been brutal,’ Daphna added. 

‘My heart breaks for her perhaps the most,’ she said, with the couple noting that the experience has ‘profoundly changed’ their older daughter. 

Daphna said that the experience has even colored their memories of times they were happy. 

‘Our memories of childbirth will always be tainted by the sick reality that our biological child was given to someone else, and the baby that I fought to bring into this world was not mine to keep,’ she said.

‘There’s no way to describe the pain that we’ve been through.’ 

Mixup: Alexander and Daphna welcomed a baby girl in September of 2019 after undergoing IVF (pictured with their older daughter, Olivia center)

Mixup: Alexander and Daphna welcomed a baby girl in September of 2019 after undergoing IVF (pictured with their older daughter, Olivia center)

Speaking to the Today show, Daphna added that she felt an enormous sense of loss when she had to return the child that she had raised and ‘bonded with’ for four months, explaining: ‘Instead of breastfeeding my own child, I breastfed and bonded with a child I was later force to give away.’ 

Alexander described the situation as a ‘truly impossible nightmare,’ voicing his outrage that a ‘trusted’ clinic could have made such a grave error. 

‘We thought we were working within a very professional industry. We trusted these people, and we never even knew that something like this could happen,’ she said. ‘When the truth came to light, it made exchanging the children all the more heartbreaking.’  

The couple had desperately wanted another child and had been trying naturally for years when they turned to IVF. 

Though their first rounded failed, their second was a success, and Daphna thought: ‘I’m settled, I’m done. My life is perfect.’

Daphna gave birth in September 2019, and Alexander says he immediately had a ‘gut feeling’ that the child wasn’t theirs. 

He told People magazine that he had a ‘primal reaction’ to seeing the baby, for the first time, noticing right away that she didn’t look like either of them.

Alexander described the situation as a 'truly impossible nightmare,' voicing his outrage that a 'trusted' clinic could have made such a grave error

Alexander described the situation as a ‘truly impossible nightmare,’ voicing his outrage that a ‘trusted’ clinic could have made such a grave error

'I didn’t get to experience being pregnant with her or birthing her. We missed her entire newborn period. We never saw our baby’s entrance into the world or cuddled her in her first seconds of life,' said Daphna

‘I didn’t get to experience being pregnant with her or birthing her. We missed her entire newborn period. We never saw our baby’s entrance into the world or cuddled her in her first seconds of life,’ said Daphna 

Though he shook it off in the hospital room, he couldn’t get past the feeling that something wasn’t right. 

At first, Daphna tried to convince Alexander — and herself — that there was nothing wrong. 

‘She looked really different than us. But she felt so familiar to me because I carried her and I birthed her,’ she said. 

But Alexander admitted his ‘brain started going to the dark place’ because they’d used IVF, and he became ‘incredibly concerned.’

Their suspicions only grew as other people began commenting on how little the baby girl looked like them, with some even remarking that she appeared to be of a different ethnicity.

But nagging doubts aside, the couple fell in love with the little girl, describing their time with her as ‘sheer bliss.’

Then something strange happened that only bolstered their feelings that something was amiss: Their IVF clinic called asking for a photo of their baby.  

Soon, Daphna had purchased a DNA test, and by the time the baby was almost two months old, they’d learned that she wasn’t genetically related to them. 

Heartache: The mother broke down in tears as she opened up about the grief she experienced at losing the daughter she bonded with for months

Heartache: The mother broke down in tears as she opened up about the grief she experienced at losing the daughter she bonded with for months 

Struggle: Daphna said that her 'heart breaks most' for her older daughter, who felt as though she had 'lost a sister'

Struggle: Daphna said that her ‘heart breaks most’ for her older daughter, who felt as though she had ‘lost a sister’

The Cardinales are now suing their IVF clinic - the California Center for Reproductive Health - and its owner, Dr. Eliran Mor, for medical malpractice, negligence, and fraud

The Cardinales are now suing their IVF clinic – the California Center for Reproductive Health – and its owner, Dr. Eliran Mor, for medical malpractice, negligence, and fraud

 ‘That’s when our world started falling apart,’ said Alexander.

‘The room shrank,’ Alexander said. ‘And I got really dizzy and everything just went numb. I kind of stayed in that place for a long time.

‘I think we were hoping if at least one of us was genetically related to her then we could keep her,’ Daphna added , breaking down in tears. ‘But I think the biggest fear in all of this is, like, am I gonna lose my baby?’

They are also suing the clinic's owner, Dr. Eliran Mor (pictured)

They are also suing the clinic’s owner, Dr. Eliran Mor (pictured)

The couple hired a lawyer, who eventually heard from the IVF clinic confirming that the lab they used had mixed up the embryos. They had ended up with another couple’s embryo, and that couple had ended up with theirs — something they confirmed with DNA testing. 

Though their doctor, Dr. Mor, had told them he did everything ‘in house,’ they also learned that he actually outsources to Vetrotech Labs Inc., which is where the mixup occured.

‘Apparently there’s a history of it being kind of a mess over there. There are other previous problems and previous lawsuits with that lab,’ said Daphna. 

They described the time that followed as ‘some kind of hell.’

‘I was just completely falling apart,’ said Daphna. ‘You want a baby for so long. You go through so much to make her, and so much to carry her because the pregnancy was tough. And birth her, and you have her and then she’s there, and she’s perfect. 

‘That kind of morphed over the next period of time to this panic all the time that somebody was gonna literally knock on our door and take her away, and say, “Oh, no, that’s my baby.”‘

The Cardinales are suing the Los Angeles IVF clinic, the California Center for Reproductive Health (pictured), for medical malpractice, negligence, and fraud

The Cardinales are suing the Los Angeles IVF clinic, the California Center for Reproductive Health (pictured), for medical malpractice, negligence, and fraud

'It was the hardest thing in the world to have to tell Olivia, our older daughter. Out of all of this, that's still the biggest trauma for me ... to have to explain to a five-year-old that the child, the sister that they've imprinted on and love, and it's their sister, is not their sister,' Alexander said

‘It was the hardest thing in the world to have to tell Olivia, our older daughter. Out of all of this, that’s still the biggest trauma for me … to have to explain to a five-year-old that the child, the sister that they’ve imprinted on and love, and it’s their sister, is not their sister,’ Alexander said 

Once they knew the truth, the Cardinales got to see a photo of their daughter for the first time. 

‘And it was this beautiful little blond baby. And it said they called her Zoe,’ Alexander said, choking up. ‘That got me. It just made it real that I had a little baby girl out there named Zoe that I didn’t even know, that I didn’t even know existed until that moment.’

‘I looked at her and I was just so aware that I don’t know her. I don’t know her at all. So I remember thinking, who are you? I don’t know you. Which is a heartbreaking thing to think of your own daughter,’ Daphna added. 

Finally, they met Zoë — whose name they’ve kept — for the first time.

‘The moment I met Zoe for the first time, she was so big. Like four months old,’ Alexander said. 

They began having regular visits with the other couple, even switching babies for short periods of time — but that soon became too hard. 

In January of 2020, when their daughters were four months old, the couples swapped them for good. 

After the couples swapped babies, Alexander said their older daughter Olivia 'retreated a little bit form us ... She doesn't let us hug her or kiss her anymore'

After the couples swapped babies, Alexander said their older daughter Olivia ‘retreated a little bit form us … She doesn’t let us hug her or kiss her anymore’

'We missed everything. We missed the whole newborn phase. We missed the whole pregnancy. I was losing a baby at the same time that I was getting a baby. So there's grief. And then your heart starts breaking for their family at the same time,' Daphna said

‘We missed everything. We missed the whole newborn phase. We missed the whole pregnancy. I was losing a baby at the same time that I was getting a baby. So there’s grief. And then your heart starts breaking for their family at the same time,’ Daphna said 

While the ordeal was difficult on everyone, the two families have 'blended' together, and now spend holidays and birthdays together

While the ordeal was difficult on everyone, the two families have ‘blended’ together, and now spend holidays and birthdays together 

But while Daphna and Alexander welcomed their biological daughter Zoë with open arms, they admit that giving up the baby they had spent so many weeks bonding with was a devastating loss.  

‘We missed everything. We missed the whole newborn phase. We missed the whole pregnancy. I was losing a baby at the same time that I was getting a baby. So there’s grief. And then your heart starts breaking for their family at the same time,’ Daphna said. 

‘When we brought Zoë home, we didn’t know her,’ Alexander said. ‘So we had to learn her and then track all of that stuff.

‘I watched [Daphna] having to switch slowly from caring and tracking for one baby to another. Almost mourning a child, even though she wasn’t [dead].’

The couple said they are trying to ‘maintain a really close relationship’ with the other family, although Alexander admitted to Sky News: ‘It’s really hard, because they are total strangers. How do you just become family?’  

While the ordeal was difficult on everyone, the two families have ‘blended’ together, and now spend holidays and birthdays together. 

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