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IVF Embryo Mix-Up: What Would You Do?

It used to be said that a mom is always sure it’s her child but a man’s paternity can always be questioned. Not anymore.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of embryos are implanted into women’s wombs during in vitro fertilization (IVF). What are the chances that an embryo is implanted in a womb where it isn’t supposed to be? No, this is not something out of Private Practice. It happened before and it has happened again.

According to this CNN report, when the couple Carolyn and Sean Savage got a phone call informing them of the mistake after implantation, shock is a poor word to describe their feelings. It is not only about the “strange” embryo that is growing in Caroline’s uterus that concerns them. In fact, there are many things one has to consider when one is involved in embryo mix up situation.

Health and Future Pregnancy

If you were the one who is carrying the embryo, how would this pregnancy affect your health? Does it put you at risk for pregnancy complications? Does it jeopardize your chances of getting pregnant again? And as the DNA mom, are you willing to wait out this pregnancy until you try for the next one? Is your age a determining factor?

After going through miscarriages, several failed IVF cycles, health problems and difficult pregnancies, this could be Carolyn’s last chance to have another child. In fact, the doctor has advised Carolyn from getting pregnant again.

Religious Beliefs and Convictions

In cases of mix ups, a termination of the pregnancy is a very likely outcome. How would you feel about an abortion if you were the DNA-mother? If you were the accidental surrogate mother?

Carolyn and Sean, due to their religious beliefs, strongly believe in human life in the embryos. Carolyn is not willing to terminate this pregnancy. To complicate things, the couple still had 5 frozen embryos left over from IVF which they are not willing to destroy or leave frozen forever. They are now looking at surrogacy options for these embryos.

Unintended Surrogacy

What is your attitude towards surrogacy? How would you feel if you became a surrogate mother unintentionally? Would you treat this pregnancy the same way as any other normal pregnancy? A clinic in Wales accidentally implanted the last of a couple’s embryo in another woman. The unwilling surrogate mom decided to terminate the pregnancy and the couple was left with nothing.

Isn’t it ironic that Carolyn and Sean are looking for a surrogate mother for their embryos when Carolyn herself has become an unintentional surrogate mother to somebody else’s embryo?


Whose child is it? In 1993, a white couple in Australia gave birth to black twin babies after going through IVF. At that time, according to the Australian Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, a woman delivered the child, even if it is not through genetically hers, is the “legal mother”. Paternity, however, is “open to legal interpretation.” In another mix up case in 2004, an American woman who got implanted with the wrong embryo was sued by the DNA parents for custody after delivery. Laws change but still vary from country to country or even from state to state in the US.

Carolyn is the biological or womb mother but she is not the DNA mother of the child. It is not clear how the law will decide when it comes to a custody battle. Fortunately for the DNA, Carolyn, again due to her strong religious principles, will never put a claim to a child that is not hers despite the ordeal she has to go through. Both sets of parents are talking to each other to find a solution. After all, this was none of their fault. Nor it was that of the unborn child.


Mother-child bonding starts at the womb. Will you be able to give up a baby after carrying it for 9 months in your womb? Surrogate moms can do this but Carolyn is not just any surrogate mom. She really wanted, fought for, and risked a lot for this pregnancy.

In the current case, will the DNA mom bond with her baby? She, too, wanted to be pregnant and now she has been denied of the privilege (at least this time around) of carrying her baby in her womb.

Nowadays, mix ups are discovered before delivery. In case of the Australian couple, and another reported case in the Netherlands, they only found out about the mistake at birth. The blow in these cases is much harder since mom and baby have already strongly bonded for 9 months without any doubts about their relationship.

This is not the first case of embryo mix ups. According to American Fertility Association experts, the odds of this happening are 1 in a million, mainly due to human error.

So what would you do if you were involved in an embryo mix-up?

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