Pregnancy No Proof of Motherhood; Woman Was Her Own Twin-and the Twin Was the Mother of Her Children

Pregnancy not proof that Lydia Fairchild was the mother of her children
Thanks to a rare medical condition, a Washington state woman found out that pregnancy was not enough to prove motherhood; DNA testing indicated that she was, in fact, not the mother of her own children – so who was? During the course of a desperate battle to retain custody of her three children, it was discovered that her twin was the real biological parent. The twist? She, 26-year-old Lydia Fairchild, was her own twin.

By the time Fairchild was 23 years old, she had given birth to two children and was pregnant with a third. Her relationship with the father had been rocky. They separated – not for the first time – and she found herself, at 26, a struggling, single mother; out of work and unable to support her kids. When she applied for government assistance, however, her world was shattered by an incredible revelation – one that led to criminal accusations and the impending prospect of losing her children to the state.

In order to qualify for financial assistance in supporting her young family, Fairchild was required to undergo DNA testing to prove that she was the mother of children for whom she was claiming. Jamie Townsend, the father of all three children, was also required to submit to testing. Having twice been through pregnancy and childbirth and now in the middle of a third pregnancy, this test, Fairchild assumed, was merely a formality. It turned out not to be, however; In December, 2002, Fairchild was contacted by the Washington state prosecutor’s office and told to come in to discuss the test results. To her horror, the young mother was informed that she would be the subject of an investigation into possible welfare fraud as the DNA tests had revealed no genetic link between her and the children she claimed were hers.

Lydia Fairchild

Lydia Fairchild

Townsend’s biological link to the children had been confirmed, but the test came up with no evidence that Fairchild shared any DNA with the three children. She found herself being interrogated by Social Services; who was she? Who was the real mother of the children? Jamie Townsend was also questioned and accused of fathering the children with another woman. “I knew that I carried them, and I knew that I delivered them. There was no doubt in my mind,” Fairchild later recounted. Fairchild’s obstetrician, Dr Leonard Dreisbach, was equally stunned by the accusation against the mother. “I’ve been doing this long enough to recognize when someone is giving birth right in front of you.” he said.

The desperate mother soon found herself facing a summons and impeding legal battle to prove that she was the mother of the children to whom she had given birth and even to the one she now carried.

In another part of the country, another woman was facing a similarly bizarre situation; 52-year-old Karen Keegan, from Boston, Massachusetts, had discovered that DNA testing – carried out to find a genetic match in the search for a potential kidney donor – indicated no genetic link between her and two of her own three sons. After confirming a match between Keegan and her youngest son, her doctors sought further advice and were informed that Keegan might have a very rare genetic condition know as chimerism. Derived from the name of a strange hybrid creature, the Chimera of Greek legend, this condition had been documented just 30 times throughout the world. Those rare individuals, dubbed “Chimeras”, had started out as twins; in the early stage of pregnancy, one of the twins had merged with – been absorbed by, one could almost say – the other twin.

The cells of the consumed twin, however, did not disappear and remained alive in one concentrated area of their sibling’s body. In essence, a human chimera is one person made up of two separate sets f genetic material; they are, in fact, their own twins.

Baffled doctors conducted a number of tests on Karen Keegan but drew a blank; unable to find any genetic material in her body that matched that of her sons. Eventually, Keegan mentioned to her doctors that she once had a thyroid nodule removed. Determined to solve this medical mystery, the doctors tracked down material from the removed nodule to a medical lab in Boston. DNA extracted from the nodule matched that of her children.

Lydia Fairchild and Jamie Townsend's children

Lydia Fairchild and Jamie Townsend’s three children

Chimerism, however, was completely unknown to anyone dealing with Lydia Fairchild. Now in an advanced state of pregnancy, Fairchild found herself in court and about to lose custody of her children. The presiding judge ordered that blood samples be taken from her third child the moment Fairchild gave birth. Despite a court-appointed witness to the birth, tests on the blood samples, once again, showed no genetic link between the baby and its mother.

Fate, however, was on Lydia’s side when one of the prosecutors in her case stumbled upon an article in the New England Journal of Medicine. That article had been written by Karen Keegan’s doctors and chronicled the incredible discovery they had made. Further exploration of the mystery of Fairchild’s DNA was ordered and a genetic link between her mother and her own children was confirmed. When Fairchild later had a cervical smear, DNA from it was tested and found to match that of her children. Fairchild’s lost twin, it appeared, had lived on as cells only found in her ovaries; she was her own twin – and the twin was the biological mother of her children.

Some sixteen months later, after enduring the harrowing prospect of even pregnancy being no proof of motherhood, Lydia Fairchild found the case against her dismissed. Her attorney, Alan Tindell, reflected on the dire consequences of oversight in the testing of DNA. “People go to death row because of DNA tests,” he said, “people are released from death row because of DNA tests.” As for Karen Keegan and Lydia Fairchild – two women separated by thousands of miles but linked by a rare genetic condition – their separate, but bizarre tales, may well have inspired the medical community – and the justice system – to think again about the potential shortcomings of DNA testing.


By Graham J Noble


ABC News
Yahoo Voices

110 Responses to Pregnancy No Proof of Motherhood; Woman Was Her Own Twin-and the Twin Was the Mother of Her Children

  1. Sue February 15, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    Why is this a news story now in 2014? I saw these exact same people on a show about chimeras several years ago. This is interesting, but old, news.

  2. jillian major February 14, 2014 at 5:56 pm

    I believe that I have this and no one will take me seriously. I am a female with two completely different feet. One have the look of my father’s and the other of my mothers. I also have two completely different thumbs and they are actually of the opposite look of my feet. I have slight scoliosis and was born with an hemangioma on my neck. I suffered from PCOS with hormone issues as well as the rare vulvar vestibulitis of my vagina that was cured with surgery when I was 20. Other than that I am completely normal. Very high IQ, 5 foot 8″ and 135lbs. And I also was blessed with a son when they said it would be unlikely I could conceive. Does anyone have any insight on this???

    • zoe March 5, 2014 at 2:55 pm

      It’s unlikely you have chimerism, but have you asked about Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia? Hyperplasia does give vulvar vestibulitis, hormone issues, low fertility, PCOS, sufferers are generally tall and the excessive growth can lead to scoliosis,

  3. Francis Peak February 7, 2014 at 8:25 am

    It was Washington state! That should explain everything.

  4. overseasvet February 5, 2014 at 11:44 am

    Chimerism has been known for decades. I guessed the condition before it was mentioned. This is evidence the courts are not there to judge scientific fact or have any ability to understand science. They only render legal judgement. Many times the media or anti-science advocates use court rulings as if it proves some scientific argument. This explains why reliance on court finding is not science. Her doctor should have known right away. She needs a new one.

  5. susan February 4, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    Can you imagine the frustration she must have felt not being believed, especially after giving birth in front of the court investigator?

  6. Cdog February 4, 2014 at 10:07 am

    @Immy, unlike the case of identical twins, where 1 embryo splits into two. I believe this case starts off with two embryos. In which case, the DNA is not that similar

  7. rob February 4, 2014 at 7:31 am

    The TV show CSI did an episode about this in 2004 – perhaps someone saw here story in the news…

  8. immy February 4, 2014 at 1:00 am

    I think I still don’t get this. If it is a twin, why don’t they have any DNA in common?

    • terriannek February 4, 2014 at 2:36 pm

      Immy, there are two types of twins: fraternal and identical. Identical twins happen when one fertilised egg splits into two fetuses, so they have identical DNA. Fraternal twins happen when two separate eggs are fertilised: this is how brother/sister twins or non-identical twins happen.

      • Deborah M. February 5, 2014 at 8:41 pm

        That’s true, but even fraternal twins share about half their DNA. This seems to be an error in the article — the babies should have appeared to be the nieces of their mother, which would not be “no genetic link,” but simply a weaker link that that between parent and child.

        • ichneumon February 7, 2014 at 7:45 am

          but i presume that this analysis for maternity just looks at mtDNA, which is fairly conserved in general, and any small changes from a mother to child are unexpected. by looking at nuclear and mitochondrial, you can see both maternity and paternity. an odd case, for sure, but doubt DNA testing because of this one in a million or less chances? we don’t stop chemotherapy and it has a much much much higher failure rate than that.

        • Ejs February 14, 2014 at 9:51 am

          It mentioned in the article that the DNA proved she looked related. DNA is actually a lot less acurate than many people think.

  9. pamela hines February 3, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Huh?? I think I will have to read this story five times before I even understand it.

  10. Nancy Smith February 2, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    when a sequence of characters is more important than helping a child, there’s bigger problems in the room.


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