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

111 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,

      • Tracy   March 23, 2015 at 12:21 am

        Zoe, although your comment was over a year ago….I just read this article and comments now. Just wanted to clarify something about Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia(the disease you questioned In Jillian based on her comment above). Most of the signs and symptoms you listed in your comments about CAH IS in fact true for most, however, adults are almost always short as adults as the rapid growth occurs in childhood (the child will be taller than their peers during growth),but, since their rapid growth (Bc of the excessive amounts of adrogens in their blood caused a significant advanced bone age resulting in complete fusion of the growth plates it subsequently, results in a shorter than average adult. However, Jillian stated that she was 5’8″ (taller than average) and she’s 135lbs(thin for height as well.Late Onset- CAH individuals also tend to be heavier than average(adult) as well). These 2 factors do NOT rule out the possibility of someone presenting with Late-Onset CAH during adulthood, but it does lessen the suspicion of this as a possiblity/differential. I also don’t recall if she had even mentioned having any fertility difficulties, only that she has in fact conceived (and delivered) a child naturally. If no history with infertility/PSOS the probability of CAH is unlikely.
        Lastly, she mentioned some “abnormalties” of her feet and other parts of her body as well and that most definitely does not coincide with having CAH or any other similar congenital adrenal disease, as these are NOT syndromes that cause any deformities whatsoever; CAH is an inherited genetic disease which causes impairs production of essential hormones and cortisol synthisis/production.
        If Jillian does in fact have limb deformities, as well as other abnormalties, she most likely has some chromosomal abnormalty (possibly even a syndrome of some kind). She should seek guidence from a genetic consoler if she so desires. Especially, if she still has questions or concerns, I think a genetic consult(and possibly even a full genetic work up) would be of benifit to her at that time.

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

    It was Washington state! That should explain everything.


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