It was right before Easter when Anni and Ashot Manukyan got a call from the CHA Fertility Clinic in Los Angeles asking them to come in for DNA testing.
Worry began to set in after the call; the Glendale couple was trying to conceive a son and had gone to the clinic for in vitro fertilization the previous year.
Anni Manukyan thought something might have been wrong with their embryos at the clinic and kept asking why a DNA test was necessary. She recalls that at first the clinic’s chief operation officer, Yumie Lee, evaded her question before laughing it off and reassuring the couple that everything was fine and it was a routine quality check.
But, when the couple returned to the clinic the next day, the unthinkable happened. They learned a woman in New York had been mistakenly implanted with one of the couple’s embryos, along with another embryo, and had given birth to two boys.
One of them was the Manukyans’ son, the DNA test confirmed.
“Once she said that, I heard my heart beat outside of my body,” Anni Manukyan said.
Now the couple is suing the clinic and is calling for strict federal oversight for fertility centers across the country.
The Manukyans laid out their ordeal on Wednesday during a press conference with their attorney Adam Wolf, during which they said they have suffered emotionally and physically by the mix-up.
“CHA robbed me of my ability to carry my own child, my baby boy,” Anni Manukyan said. “To be with him … to nurse him … to just be a mom.”
The clinic did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to Anni Manukyan, they had been referred to the clinic several years ago and in 2011 were able to successfully conceive a daughter through in vitro fertilization.
Hoping to have a son, they returned to the clinic in August 2018 for a round of IVF treatments and Anni Manukyan was implanted with two embryos she thought were her and her husband’s. A third embryo belonging to the couple was discarded by the clinic.
The treatment implantation failed to result in a pregnancy.
Unbeknownst to them, one of their embryos, along with one from another couple, was mistakenly implanted into a woman who had traveled to the clinic from New York. It also meant Anni Manukyan had been implanted with the embryo of a stranger.
It’s believed all three couples were at the clinic at the same time for embryo implantation, according to the suit.
Wolf called the mix-up at CHA Fertility “clearly one of the worst fertility center tragedies in U.S. history.”
He said it was clear that at least one of the embryos implanted into Anni Manukyan wasn’t her own and it’s even possible the second might not have been either.
Wolf also said CHA could not account for the mix-up and clinic officials have remained tight-lipped on what happened.
“No amount of money will ever make this right,” he said. “We can’t go back in time, what we’re hoping to get is compensation, accountability, to make sure that it never ever happens again.”
The New York woman, who is Korean American, had been expecting to give birth to twin Asian girls. Instead, she gave birth on March 31 to a pair of boys, neither of which looked like each other or the woman or her husband. They were also born premature.
One of the boys was Armenian — the Manukyans’ son.
Despite the shocking error, the New York couple wanted to retain custody of the boys, something the Manukyans contested.
The Manukyans launched a legal challenge and were granted custody of their son on May 13.
“The moment that the judge granted their petition, Anni physically collapsed,” according to the lawsuit.
Anni Manukyan said she holds no ill will toward the New York couple; the woman had carried her son for eight months and had looked after him throughout the legal battle.
“She’s a very lovely lady and I’m eternally grateful to her for carrying my baby and taking care of him even after birth,” she said. “I pray for her every day.”
Wolf said the two couples have retained sporadic contact with each other. He added that information on the other couple involved in the mix-up will not be released out of respect for their privacy.
The New York couple also filed their own suit against CHA Fertility.
In addition to losing custody of the Manukyans’ son, the New York couple also had to give up the other baby. The experience caused them to suffer “significant and permanent emotional injuries for which they will not recover,” according to the lawsuit they filed independently of the Manukyans.
The first time the Manukyans got the chance to embrace their son it was in a New York City hotel lobby. The infant was about 6 weeks old.
Anni Manukyan said the moment was “indescribable” as she was overcome with a range of emotions seeing her son for the first time and holding him in her arms.
“We just love him to pieces, he’s ours,” she said. “He’s been from day one.”