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A woman gave birth to twins. Then she realised neither of them were hers.

Anni and Ashot Manukyan had been trying to conceive via IVF for months. But when their long-awaited baby came into the world, he did so into the arms of complete strangers, thousands of kilometres away.

This was not a surrogacy arrangement; the couple didn’t even know he existed. Instead, it was the result of a stunning clinical mistake.

According to a lawsuit filed by the couple, physicians at CHA, the Californian fertility clinic at which they were undoing treatment, had mistakenly implanted their embryo into another patient who visited the facility on the same day in August 2018.

The error didn’t become clear until March 31 this year when that patient, an unidentified New York woman, gave birth to twins of a different race — she and her partner are Asian-American, but the baby boys appeared to be Caucasian.

DNA testing revealed that not only are the twins not genetically related to the birth parents, they are not even related to each other. One matched with the Manukyans and the other with another unidentified couple.

Anni, too, had been implanted with an embryo back in August, but it remains unclear to whom it belonged. The procedure didn’t result in a pregnancy.

“I didn’t get to bond with my baby.”

In a video released by the Manukyans lawyers, Peiffer Wolf Carr & Kane, Anni describes the moment she was told someone else had given birth to her son.

“All of a sudden my brain went to, ‘I didn’t get to bond with my baby. I wasn’t able to carry him. I wasn’t able to hold him. I wasn’t able to feel him inside of me,’” she said, crying. “I wasn’t there when he was born. Those first moments of life are the most precious.”

The Manukyans are suing CHA for “extreme and outrageous” conduct, and are hoping to be awarded emotional and punitive damages, as well as costs associated with their treatment and the ensuing legal battle to bring their son home.

After several weeks caring for the twins, the New York couple, who also had experienced ongoing fertility issues, was ordered by a judge to relinquish custody of the boys to their biological parents.

The advent of IVF has created grey areas in custody law, meaning the Manukyans’ case wasn’t a sure thing. Anni collapsed when the decision was handed down: “There was pretty much just an explosion of sobbing,” her lawyer, Eric Wrubel, said according to The Atlantic.

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The first time she met her boy was when the then-six-week-old was handed to her in the lobby of a New York hotel.

Alec Manukyan. Image: ABC (US).

The New York couple has also filed a suit against CHA, in which they claim to have suffered “permanent emotional injuries from which they will not recover” as a result of the error. Despite having spent $100,000 on the IVF process at CHA, they claim that they have never been told what happened to their embryos.

It may be a stunning case, but it's certainly not the first of its kind in the US.

In 2004, a California woman gave birth to a baby that was created using another couple's embryo. She settled for US$1 million, and a judge ordered her to split custody of the child with the biological father (the embryo had been created using an egg donor, so the father's wife was not genetically related to the child).

In 2009, a woman named Carolyn Savage agreed to carry another couple's baby after learning she'd been mistakenly implanted with their embryo due to a clerical error. After giving birth, the Ohio woman relinquished custody to the biological parents.

According to the Manukyans' lawyers, there is no regulation that requires an IVF facility to report such a mistake.

"Our lives will never be the same," Ashot Manukyan said. "We fought to get our boy back, and now we will fight to make sure this never happens again.”

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