"We got an email that basically said that she was genetically related to neither of us," recalls Alexander. "That's when our world started falling apart."
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on November 9, 2021. It has since been updated.
When Alexander Cardinale was in the labor room while his wife, Daphna was giving birth, he couldn't help but think that the little girl who'd just arrived wasn't theirs. He knew something was wrong. "It was a little jarring, but I shook it off and cut the umbilical cord," he says, according to PEOPLE.
Alexander, 41, and Daphna, 43, had their daughter via IVF, and the husband just couldn't shake off the feeling that the daughter wasn't theirs. "She looked really different than us," says Daphne, who tried to persuade herself and her husband that their infant resembled her when she was a baby. "But she felt so familiar to me because I carried her and I birthed her."
It didn't get any easier for them because friends and family also kept commenting that "she looked like she could actually be a different ethnicity than us because she didn't really look like us," adds Daphna. But, despite it all, the couple, and their five-year-old daughter Olivia, fell in love with the child. "It was this moment of sheer bliss when everybody is getting to know each other and falling in love with each other," says Daphna, a therapist. "She just really folded into our lives and into our hearts."
All was well for a while, until an employee from the IVF clinic gave the Cardinales a call, asking them to share a photo of their daughter. "It seemed odd," recalls Alexander, a musician. "I thought, 'Do they know something we don't know?' "
This caused the doubt that the baby wasn't theirs to creep back in again, and Daphna decided to get a DNA test done. In November 2019 — when their baby was nearly 2 months old — they finally learned the truth. "We got an email that basically said that she was genetically related to neither of us," recalls Alexander. "That's when our world started falling apart."
While the couple worried about their future with the child they'd grown to love and accept as their own, they also didn't know if their biological offspring was out there somewhere, waiting to be found. Days later, the clinical staff got in touch with them, to let them know that a mixup had happened from their end, and their embryo had been exchanged with another family. Later, they learned that the clinic had located their little girl's biological parents, who had also recently given birth to a baby girl, the Cardinales say.
This prompted them to hire an attorney because they wanted to sue the clinic for the mess up they caused. "People make mistakes," says the couple's attorney, Adam Wolf, "and in most industries, those mistakes are fairly harmless. They can be corrected. With fertility clinics, those mistakes can have lifelong consequences. This has fundamentally changed the lives of Daphna and Alexander, as well as their two children."
The other couple was equally "blindsided and devastated," says Daphna. Their older daughter Olivia, who had become smitten with her little sister, was also crushed by the news and begged her parents not to switch babies.
In December 2019, the two couples and their newborn babies underwent DNA testing to confirm what they already knew—they'd given birth to each other's babies. And, for the first time, Alexander received a picture of his daughter and learned that she was named Zoë. "It's weird learning the name of your child when you didn't name her," he said.
Eventually, the two families started meeting often, so they could exchange the babies for brief visits, but they realized they couldn't keep doing this. Finally, all four parents came to the conclusion that it was time for them to live with their biological children. Since then, nearly two years have passed; the families still live close to each other and have managed to forge a rather close bond with each other.
"There's no book for this," says Alexander. "There's no person to give you advice. So we ended up just sort of huddling together, the four of us, and it's a blessing that we all are on the same page. We've spent every holiday together since then. We've spent every birthday together since then — and we've just kind of blended the families."
Cover Image Source: YouTube | IVF Embryo Mixup Leaves Two Couples Raising Each Other's Babies | PEOPLE