A white streak of scar tissue rips a path across Catalana Pislaru's face, the undeniable mark of a violent past. "Yes," she says, "many women sell their eggs here to make ends meet. We're all vulnerable."
The incongruity between the $10 cappuccinos we are sipping in the lobby of the Hilton in Cyprus's capital of Nicosia and her story of being trafficked across borders to work in cabarets and for notorious underworld figures draws occasional furtive glances from the staff. At 15 she began dancing in cabarets in Greece and eventually was forced to move on to the sex clubs of Cyprus where her then-boyfriend beat her mercilessly and slashed deep wounds into her face. And yet with three children to take care of, she felt trapped in the relationship.
By 2007 she was pregnant with her fourth child and she knew that she had no option but to give it up. She arranged for a wealthy Cypriot family to adopt her child through a hospital in Nicosia and within minutes of his birth he was whisked away. She had barely any time to register that he had deep blue eyes. When the doctor returned without a child in hand, she says, that he started to take pity on her.
"He knew I was in a desperate position. No money, and no easy way to support my family." So he offered her $2000 if she would agree to sell some of her ova once she had recovered from the pregnancy. She reasoned that the doctor knew that she was proven to be fertile, from his perspective she was a perfect candidate for donation.
Outraged by the offer and saddened by the loss of her child, she turned him down and went home to mourn her position. Others, though, she says, have not been so strong.
She takes out a small digital camera from her pocket and scrolls through several images until she settles on a picture of a dark-haired Russian woman holding an infant swaddled in a white cloth. It's her friend Doylina, who she says is too afraid to speak with me.
The baby is less than a year old. And when he was born the hospital staff offered her 20,000 euros (about $30,000) to give up her child to a local family. Catalana convinced her not to take the offer, but instead she ended up on a regular regime of egg selling to support her family. Paid 1,500 euros every several months, she provides gametes to a variety of wealthy clients. The money, she says, is all that matters now.