A sex assault survivor is suing a New York IVF clinic after it allegedly broke an agreement to insert a female embryo inside her, and she gave birth to a boy.
Assistant Dean for New Student Transitions at CUNY Geneseo Heather Wilhelhm-Routenberg and her wife, Robbie, who also works at the university as a chief diversity officer, are suing CNY Fertility Albany in Latham on 11 counts including breach of contract, medical malpractice and battery. They are seeking unspecified damages. CNY Fertility has refused to comment on the case.
The couple told the New York Post that they decided Heather would carry their child through in vitro fertilization (IVF) after Robbie had suffered a miscarriage during their first attempt to have a daughter.
They had opted to implant each other’s embryos, meaning Robbie was given one of Heather’s, and Heather received one of Robbie’s after the first miscarriage. The couple say they were assured that all embryos implanted would be female.
At first, the couple were excited to go through the motions of expecting a child all over again, the New York Post reported.
However, once the couple approached the 15-week benchmark of the fertilization process, their Obstetrician-Gynecologist (OB-GYN) proceeded to check on the QNatal test (a simple blood test that can screen for certain genetic conditions, including a lack of chromosomes) of Heather’s pregnancy.
Heather Wilhelhm-Routenberg, left, is suing after alleging that a New York IVF clinic broke an agreement to only implant female embryos inside her. Her wife Robbie is pictured right
The doctor, whose name was not shared, asked the couple: ‘Wait, do you know the sex of the baby?’
‘We’re having a girl,’ Heather replied. ‘It’s very important to me to have a girl,’ she added. But the couple were horrified to discover that they were actually having a boy, with Heather since saying learning she had a male fetus inside her was ‘just like rape.’
They initially feared that another person’s embryo had been implanted by mistake, rather than Robbie’s. But subsequent testing revealed that the embryo did indeed belong to Robbie.
Recalling the moment they’d discovered what had happened, Heather said: ‘Our jaws dropped to the floor. I was convinced it had to be someone else’s result.
‘I looked at Robbie and said, “What’s if it’s not yours — who is in my body?!” That’s when I flipped out, that’s when I felt my body was taken hostage. I assumed it was someone else’s embryo, not the wrong embryo of ours.
‘It scared the s**t out of me. I don’t know how to explain this — it felt like there was an alien living inside of me.
‘I said to Robbie, “If this is someone else’s kid, we will have to give it back.”
‘Our OB offered us the option to abort. I respect others’ decisions, but that was never a choice I could make in these circumstances. I was hoping beyond hope someone would have our baby and we would switch after birth and it would be this happy story.’
Heather, pictured with Robbie, survived two sex assaults, and said the trauma of those made her want to have a baby girl. She says discovering she was pregnant with a boy re-traumatized her
Prior to her pregnancy, Heather had suffered trauma from being a victim of sexual assault after she left college, carried out by two men on two separate occasions. She told the Post that she never considered having a baby boy due to the assaults and because of the stigma in today’s society of what it means to be a ‘real man’.
The night before her ultrasound, which took a place a day after her QNatal test, Heather remembered lying in bed and overwhelmingly thinking: ‘This can’t be happening!” Not only was the baby in my body not ours, but the baby in my body was male and he was put there against my will, just like rape.’
She started having negative, dark thoughts, and compared them to the ones she had after being sexually assaulted. Robbie tried to offer comfort, but Heather was distraught.
The couple met in 2002 while completing their bachelor degrees at SUNY Geneseo, where they both now work. The couple were in an on-again-off-again relationship before deciding to give things another go in 2008. They successfully did before getting married in 2012.
Then, the pair wanted to have two daughters and knew that at ages 35 that they were warned they were relatively old when signing up for an IVF.
‘We wanted to minimize the risk of anything going wrong, so the clinic recommended genetic testing of the embryos,’ Heather said. ‘We selected CNY because they agreed we would be able to select female embryos. We never intended to use the males.’
Heather says learning she was expecting a boy caused further mental anguish. She gave birth in December 2020, and is now learning to bond with her young son
Heather and Robbie proceeded with the pregnancy, and took it to term.
Heather was rushed to the ER with bleeding at 27 weeks and discovered she had suffered a placental abruption.
She says she’s convinced the stress of the gender ordeal caused the medical emergency.
Heather recalled: ‘I was put on modified bed rest. I just wanted the baby out of me. That’s sounds horrible but it’s true. We were so worried about me going off the deep end, we didn’t talk about the baby unless we had to.’
The couple’s son, who they have not named, arrived in December 2020, and was rushed to NICU.
Heather and Robbie are now bonding with their son, and Heather says she feels a great deal of guilt over how he came into the world.
She explained: ‘I had wanted skin-to-skin connection but I ended up wearing things so he wouldn’t touch my chest. When he did, it sent electric shockwaves through me.
CNY Fertility, pictured, has yet to comment on the alleged mistake
‘I started experiencing extreme anxiety. I would look at the baby and it would contort into the faces of all these grown men that I know. It was so creepy. Whenever that happened, I had to give the baby to Robbie.’
Heather told of how she suffered postpartum depression and suicidal thoughts at her lowest ebb, but says she is gradually coming to terms with what has happened.
She said: ‘I never want to come off ungrateful. If I was, he wouldn’t be here.
‘The baby is a year and a half now, and I think about the mistake all the time. He’s a lovely kid. He smiles just like Robbie, he has Robbie’s dimples, and that makes it easier. Our son is made of magic. He does things to be funny — he’ll use certain tones of voice and laughs to make us crack up. He’s hilarious, and he’s been an easy baby.’
Heather says she has bonded with Robbie, and added: ‘I feel immense guilt and shame because I wasn’t able to be emotionally present for him. I don’t want to play the victim.
‘He’s an innocent being, he didn’t deserve any of this. The clinic messed with something so integral: our baby’s first formative years. That’s the reason I am doing this — because I love my kid so much. We think our son deserved that bond from the start.’