DNA tests are changing lives. Some people are getting in touch with their ancestral roots while others are finding lost twins halfway across the country. For Lydia Fairchild, however, a DNA test changed her life in the worst kind of way.
For Lydia, her family was everything. In hard times, the Washington state mother counted on her loved ones to carry her through. Out of the blue, however, some troubling tests threatened to break apart her happy family forever — and there was nothing she could do about it!
Lydia Fairchild lived with her longtime boyfriend Jamie and their three children. It seemed like paradise on the surface, but deep down, both Lydia and Jamie feared that their bliss wasn’t built to last.
After years, their relationship just wasn’t working out. Truth be told, they had broken up and gotten back together in the past. This time around, however, as they hit yet another conflict, things felt different.
So, despite being pregnant with their fourth child, Lydia split up with Jamie for good. She genuinely thought it was for the best, but there were certain challenges that came along with this family divide.
Having to soon raise four children on separate bank accounts, Jamie and Lydia decided to file for short-term federal assistance. They didn’t expect any complications; it was just a matter of going through the proper channels.
One of the customary requirements for aid was a DNA test. Lydia and Jamie had to prove that they were indeed the parents of their kids, which wasn’t a stretch at all. She provided the lab with her sample and soon forgot about it.
Days later, the Department of Social Services asked Lydia to stop by as soon as she could. For an interview, she assumed. But as soon as she sat down and faced the steely gaze from across the desk, she realized it was more of an interrogation.
The office hurled all kinds of wild accusations Lydia’s way. Not only did they claim that she had committed welfare fraud by making up her entire life story, but they also said they had proof. Um, what?
Lydia couldn’t even breathe when they shoved the paperwork in her face. According to the results of her maternity test, she was not the mother of her children. In fact, they determined that there was a zero percent chance of that!
Because Lydia was a criminal raising someone else’s kids in the eyes of the law, social services also threatened to take her children away. Lydia was about to watch her family fall apart before her very eyes.
What else could Lydia do but dispute the test? “I knew that I carried them, and I knew that I delivered them,” she said. “There was not a doubt in my mind.” Still, her word meant nothing without solid proof.
In the most desperate phone call of her life, she dialed her obstetrician, Dr. Leonard Dreisbach. He confirmed that he personally delivered all three of Lydia’s children. It was a huge relief knowing there was at least one person in the world who believed her.
Jamie vouched for Lydia, too, though his word didn’t mean much. Social services confirmed that he did father the kids, but similarly accused him of setting up Lydia as a surrogate and inventing a story to rip off the government. They were both in hot water.
Their stories all matched, but still could not overturn a DNA test. To make sure that there wasn’t an error the first time around, social services allowed Lydia to prove her maternity again, this time sending her test to a different lab.
Shockingly, the second test said the same thing: that Lydia was not the mother. She realized she had to act quickly if she had any hope of holding on to her kids but had no idea where to turn. Her lawyer, however, turned up an interesting lead.
She was connected to Boston resident Karen Keegan, who encountered a similar enigma years earlier. When doctors compared her DNA to that of two of her sons, they found that they shared no genetic material.
But at the same time, the medical team determined that Karen was, without a doubt, the mother of her third child. Those professionals wondered if the Keegans were hiding a dark family secret, but then another explanation formed in their minds.
The theory revolved around the chimera, a beast from Greek mythology. According to legend, this monstrosity was made up of a lion, goat, and snake all sharing one melded body. Obviously, the chimera doesn’t exist in the real world.
But in extremely rare cases, animals can be genetic chimeras, meaning that they possess two distinct sets of DNA in one body. Doctors wondered if Karen carried outside DNA somewhere in her body.
Further examination showed that she did! Medical experts surmised that shortly after Karen’s conception, she fused with another fertilized egg in the womb. In other words, Karen was her own twin sister!
There were only about 30 known genetic chimeras across the world, but Lydia wondered if she was one of them. It was her last chance at least. Her lawyer asked to postpone the final hearing while she underwent a final round of testing.
Amazingly, Lydia’s suspicions proved correct. Doctors located a second set of DNA in her body, which matched exactly with her children’s genes. She relaxed for the first time in what seemed like forever, knowing that nobody would take her kids away.
More than anything, she felt grateful to learn of Karen’s remarkable condition. The folks at social services were only doing their job, after all. They couldn’t be looking out for every medical anomaly.
In fact, rare medical issues slide past the nose of social services more often than you might think. On April 4, 2018, for instance, a woman named Elizabeth went into labor at a Baltimore County hospital. While in the middle of suffering painful contractions, the doctor delivered bad news.
The doctor walked into the room, looked her straight in the eyes, and told her she tested positive for opiates, the same drug found in heroin — they’d have to take her baby away. But Elizabeth, below, had never done drugs in her life!
Racking her brain for an explanation, the soon-to-be mother remembered something she’d learned in a high school health class that explained the false positive.
See, earlier in the day, before she ended up at the hospital, Elizabeth stopped at her favorite cafe to pick up something for breakfast. She ordered her usual — a bagel.
More specifically, she ordered strawberry cream cheese on an everything bagel — a bagel coated in poppy seeds. Poppy seeds, Elizabeth knew, had been known to wreak havoc on drug tests — but why?
Farmers harvest poppy seeds from the poppy plant which contain the opiates found in opium, heroin, codeine, and morphine. While the seeds are perfectly safe to eat, they can turn up false positives on drug tests. This was what Elizabeth remembered.
To save her baby, Elizabeth tried explaining herself to the doctors and nurses. “I said, ‘Well, can you test me again? I ate a poppy seed bagel this morning for breakfast.'” But the doctor shook his head.
The second he saw the failed drug test, the doctor followed protocol and reported Elizabeth to the state as a potential drug user. Immediately after birth, doctors took baby Beatrice away.
Doctors told Elizabeth, “for the next five days, every 4 hours, we’re going to check her for withdrawal systems.” Elizabeth was in shock. “It was traumatizing,” she said. Was there nothing she could do?
At the end of a grueling five days, the hospital released Beatrice back to her parents: but that wasn’t the end to their awful ordeal.
Even with Beatrice home, state social workers continued investigating Elizabeth, dropping by the home to ensure Beatrice was doing a-okay — and that the mom wasn’t actually a drug addict.
For three weeks, social workers dropped by the house at random, checking in on the family. Meanwhile, Elizabeth presented the poppy seed defense to her assigned social worker. But did that have any real legal standing?
Jessica and Lon Binder / flickr
You might remember the episode of Seinfeld where, after eating a poppy seed muffin, Elaine failed a drug test, but ultimately kept her job thanks to “the poppy seed defense.” But the defense has legal precedent in reality, too.
In 2013, a Pennsylvania woman won nearly $150,000 in a lawsuit after the state took her baby away when she tested positive for opiates. She argued it had been poppy seeds that caused the false positive — and won!
So Elizabeth Eden gave the poppy seed defense to her caseworker, and, after putting up with even more bureaucracy, the official ultimately closed her file. Her family could be whole! Still, she wasn’t satisfied quite yet…
Elizabeth wrote to the hospital and detailed her research on poppy seeds and their effects on drug tests. She wanted to the hospital to either change what constitutes a “positive test” or warn expecting mothers about poppy seeds.
“We don’t typically educate patients” on the poppy seed drug test potential, Dr. Judith Rossiter-Pratt, the chief of the department of OBGYN at the hospital, below, said. Elizabeth’s letter, she said, made “a really good point.”
After writing the letter, Elizabeth posted in an all-moms Facebook page, warning others about the dangers of a poppy seed bagel. Her post received “a flood” of responses.
Facebook moms told her “‘Oh, this happened to a friend of mine,'” she said, “or, ‘Oh, this happened to me.'” The problem, it seemed, was a lot more far-reaching than she ever imagined. So she gave some advice…
“If you’re anywhere close to delivery,” she said, “avoid poppy seeds!” Just one more thing for pregnant mothers to worry about, but a precaution worth taking all the same — your family could depend on it!