Couple's 'World Started Falling Apart' After Discovering IVF Embryo Mixup: 'This Isn't Our Child'

Two L.A. couples gave birth to each others' babies after a mixup at their IVF clinic, parents Daphna and Alexander Cardinale tell PEOPLE in this week's issue

The Los Angeles couple at the center of an IVF mixup — which allegedly resulted in them giving birth to and raising another couple's child in 2019 — tell PEOPLE in this week's exclusive cover story that they're still working to pick up the pieces from the nightmare.

"This is something that's just changed who we are," says Daphna Cardinale, who claims that the fertility clinic where she and her husband Alexander had gone for in vitro fertilization allegedly transferred another couple's embryo into Daphna and implanted the Cardinales' embryo — made from Daphna's egg and Alexander's sperm — into the other woman. "It's still a daily struggle and will continue to be."

The family's ordeal began shortly after Daphna gave birth to the couple's second child in September 2019.

"It was one of the happiest moments of our lives," recalls Alexander.

But in the weeks and months that followed, their joy evaporated into a nightmare after they began to wonder why their little girl looked absolutely nothing like either of them.

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Alexander and Daphna Cardinale; the couple on the cover of PEOPLE. Yuri Hasegawa

In November 2019 they used an at-home DNA test kit to make a shocking discovery: The child they'd worked so hard to conceive and deliver was genetically unrelated to either of them — and they realized it was only a matter of time before the little girl they'd fallen in love with was taken away from them.

"I carried this child. I birthed her. She felt so familiar to me that it didn't even occur to me that she couldn't be ours," says a still-shaken Daphna, 43.

Adds Alexander, 41, "And that's when our world started falling apart."

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Alexander Cardinale holding his daughter for the first time. Alexander and Daphna Cardinale

For more on the Cardinales' ordeal, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

Frightened and unsure of what to do next, the couple hired an attorney to investigate how this could have happened and, equally important, tell them if they might have a biological child created from their embryo who needed to be found.

In late December 2019, they finally received their answer. Another couple at the clinic, they learned, had delivered a child via IVF who, when tested, bore no biological relationship to the parents.

IVF Embryo Mixup Leaves Two Couples Raising Each Other's Babies: 'It's Still a Daily Struggle' 
The Cardinales' older daughter, Olivia, with the baby Daphna gave birth to. courtesy Alexander and Daphna Cardinale

Within days a text message arrived with a photo of an infant named Zoë, and with one glimpse, Daphna and Alexandra were convinced that the blonde, blue-eyed child was their daughter. Soon, DNA confirmed it.

Meeting Zoë days later at a lawyer's office — where the other couple (who do not wish to be publicly identified) formally, legally agreed to swap children — was overwhelming in unexpected ways.

"The moment my hands went under my daughter's arms and we locked eyes, something powerful and unexpected washed over me. I knew this child," says Alexander. "At the same time, Daphna and I were so devastated and sad…about losing our birth daughter."

On Nov. 8 the Cardinales sued their physician Dr. Eliran Mor, along with his fertility clinic, the California Center for Reproductive Health, and a lab owned by Mor that allegedly prepared their embryo transfer, accusing them of malpractice, negligence and fraud, among other things. (The office administrator at the clinic declined to comment to PEOPLE on the case.)

Nearly two years have passed since the two couples — who live 10 minutes from each other — got their children back. In that time, they've forged a strong bond with one another.

"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."

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