News, Culture & Society

Couple embroiled in fertility clinic scandal speaks out

A couple who found out that another woman had given birth to their child after an IVF blunder has spoken out for the first time as they sue the esteemed fertility clinic.

Anni and Ashot Manukyan, an Armenian-American couple of Glendale, Los Angeles, were distraught last year when they had two embryos implanted at CHA Fertility Center, but it didn’t result in a pregnancy. 

But months later, the knife was twisted: they were asked to come into the center for cheek swabs on April 18, which were passed off as a routine annual procedure.

Days later they received a phone call informing them that the swab was in fact a DNA test, which confirmed that another couple in New York, also patients at CHA, had delivered their baby prematurely on March 31 – as well as another baby, belonging to a third couple whose embryos were on ice at CHA. 

It turned out the embryos Anni and Ashot had received months earlier had not belonged to them, and they faced an expensive and lengthy legal battle to bring their month-old son home. 

Their son, Alec, was six weeks old by the time they got to see him, meeting him in the lobby of a hotel.  

What’s more, Anni and Ashot, who also have a seven-year-old daughter, are left with the prospect that another child of theirs may have been born to someone else. 

On Wednesday, the couple filed a lawsuit against CHA in the Superior Court of California and spoke out for the first time.  

‘I don’t hear anybody, you know?’ Anni said, recalling the moment she found out.

‘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. I wasn’t there when he was born.

‘Those first moments of life are the most precious, that’s how the baby bonds with the mom, you know?

‘I don’t understand how CHA could have done this to us, the most important thing in our lives.

‘I’m a strong person but I have been hurt by these experiences in ways that hurt me every day. I hope nobody suffers through what my family has been through.’   

From the moment they learned of the scandal in late April, they spent weeks trying to get hold of their son, eventually winning custody on May 31 from the Korean-American couple, who, Anni said, she is eternally grateful to and sorry for. 

‘Who wants to meet their child in the lobby of a hotel? It was heartbreaking, it was horrible,’ Anni said, weeping.   

‘I’m just praying to God that I don’t have another son or daughter out there,’ Anni said. 

To the mother who carried her son, Anni said: ‘I pray for her every day. She was a victim of this as much as I am. She’s a lovely lady. She raised my baby inside of her and after he was born.’ 

The scandal was exposed when the Korean-American couple, who identified themselves only as YZ and AP in a lawsuit they filed against CHA last week, delivered two non-Asian boys in their home city of New York. 

They had spent $100,000 on their fertility care and travel to CHA Fertility Center, which they had been assured was one of the top clinics in the country. 

As is the case for all couples embarking on eye-wateringly expensive fertility treatment, they were desperate. They had married in 2012, and struggled to conceive for years before turning to CHA in January 2018.

The couple were happy with Dr Berger and Hong after their meeting. They embarked on the months of treatments – hormones, vitamins, test after test – to yield eight embryos, which is shy of the recommended 12, but an acceptable number.  

Their care and travel totaled $100,000.  The average cost of one cycle of IVF is $12,000 plus up to $3,000 for the medication, though research shows couples rarely yield enough embryos on the first try. 

Their first attempt at implantation in July 2018 failed. In August, the couple decided to try again, thawing two of their female embryos. And it was a success: they were pregnant with twins in September.  

According to court papers, the couple were ‘confused’ when sonograms showed twin boys, because they had only fertilized female embryos.

Berger and Hong tried to reassure the couple, saying that sonograms were ‘not a definitive test.’ 

The lawsuit says that the couple were victims of an ‘unimaginable mishap’ – so much so that they ‘could not find the courage and the way to tell others about their devastating loss.’

The ordeal has left AP and YZ with ‘permanent emotional injuries from which they will not recover,’ according to the lawsuit. They ‘may never know what happened to their embryos, as well as whether the currently cryopreserved embryos are genetically matched to them,’ court papers state. They are seeking unspecified damages.  

The clinic is not commenting on the matter, and the third couple has not spoken out. 

CHA refuses to comment on what happened, though they confirmed that all of the couples confirmed were in the clinic on August 20, 2018 for their implantation.  

Anni said she never had issues with bonding with her son, but she said, ‘I will never be the same person again.’ 

‘I have trust issues now, I have barriers up everywhere,’ Anni said. Adding that she’s ‘just not ready’ to consider whether she has another child out there. 

‘We’re just trying to bond with our baby.’ 

Their attorney Adam Wolf, of Peiffer Wolf Carr & Kane, said: ‘This case is one of the most egregious I have ever seen. It’s one of the worst fertility center tragedies in US history.’

‘It’s fair to assume there are far more fertility clinic tragedies that happen than we know,’ Wolff added.