Kylee* is an American egg donor who flew to Canada four times to donate her eggs. On her fourth trip, she was unexpectedly held up in customs, accused of illegal egg selling.
The fertility industry pulls in over four billion dollars each year in the United States — and the use of donor eggs is steadily rising. From 2000 to 2010, donor eggs for in vitro fertilization increased by about 70 percent, NBC recently reported. Just last month, Canada’s first conviction under the Assisted Human Reproduction Act — which bans the selling of eggs — ended in prosecution. Leia Picard, an Ontario-based egg donor and surrogacy coordinator, plead guilty to purchasing eggs. She and her company were fined $60,000, Alison Motluk reported.
Shipping frozen human eggs and encouraging donors to travel to other countries (where egg donation may be banned or heavily regulated) is a business model for some American egg donor agencies.
Our new series, Crossing Borders, takes a behind-the-scenes look at what egg donors experience when they travel to other countries. I’m incredibly grateful to Kylee for sharing her story as it raises awareness of the complex implications of transnational egg donation practices, particularly when policies vary so widely.
Our group is founded and run by egg donors — we offer a safe space where donors everywhere can discuss all aspects of egg donation, advocate for each other, and participate in the larger conversation about the role of egg donors in the global fertility industry.
WE ARE EGG DONORS: Tell me about yourself.
KYLEE: Iowa, born and raised. I am a 27-year-old dermatology nurse and single mom to an 8-year-old little boy. Three years ago, I signed up with a donor agency out of Minnesota after reading a magazine article about the benefits of being an egg donor. I felt like it would be a great way to supplement my single mom income while doing something positive for others at the same time.
I donated four times and traveled to Canada each time.
My egg donations have been smooth, actually. All except the last one. It was one heck of an experience…
WAED: What happened?!
KYLEE: I entered the Toronto airport around 11:30pm and went through customs without a problem. Then I was suddenly stopped by an immigration officer and told I needed to step into the immigration office. I was super confused because I had never had to do anything like this before.
I asked the officer why he was stopping me. He said he wanted to know why I was in Canada.
I explained that I was there for fertility treatments. He continued to ask me questions about what doctor I was seeing and why would I come to Canada to get fertility treatments.
At that point, I just handed the security agent all of my paperwork that my donor agency gave me in case of a situation like this.
WAED: So your egg donor agency coached American egg donors on how to handle being questioned at the Canadian border?
KYLEE: They said that there had been situations like this in the past. My agency prepared me with a folder of information and paperwork in case this kind of issue arose.
The agency explained that it is illegal to sell your eggs in Canada and stressed that I was not getting paid directly by anyone in Canada, so what I was doing was not illegal, but they said that there has been past situations where Canadian immigration officers get confused with the laws.
WAED: Confusing indeed. Health Canada has been under scrutiny as it has not clarified the full extent of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act. While paying a woman for eggs is illegal in Canada, they have not specified their stance on flying paid egg donors in from other countries… or shipping frozen eggs purchased from another country. I digress. What did the paperwork say?
KYLEE: It basically explained Canadian laws on egg donation and reimbursement for egg donation in Canada. It explained that you can only donate in Canada without compensation and could receive reimbursement for receipted expenses but the law didn’t clearly state what could be reimbursed. My doctor in Markham also included a letter stating that I will be traveling under his care and would be administering medications myself. It listed my dates of travel and his personal contact info.
WAED: What kinds of questions did the border patrol officer ask you?
KYLEE: He asked me if I was there to not only receive fertility treatment but to donate any eggs.
I told him yes, I am an egg donor. He told me it was illegal. I told him I was not receiving compensation from anyone in Canada and that I was not breaking any laws.
The officer told me that US citizens come to Canada and get $20,000 from Canadians to donate their eggs. Honestly, I laughed at this because my compensation would exceed no more than $6,000 and that payment was framed was a “reimbursement” for my time, efforts, gas mileage, time off work, etc.
The immigration officer told me, “I am going to investigate and we will decide later on whether you can enter Canada or not.”
I started bawling my eyes out. I walked about 20 feet away to call my egg donor coordinator. When she picked up, through my tears, I explained that I was being stopped by an immigration officer. I was crying so hard that I fell to the floor, just sobbing. The immigration officer stood up and started yelling at me. He told me that I was not allowed to be on my phone.
He yelled, “get the f&@# off of the floor because this isn’t the god damn mall.”
Keep in mind that my hormones and emotions were a bit crazy at this point — I’d been injecting myself with Lupron for 3 weeks, Gonal-F for a week or two.
So I hung up and walked away and sat on a chair and cried some more. I was super tired and supposed to be at the clinic for monitoring at 7am the next morning.
WAED: Did the border officer ask you anything else?
KYLEE: He asked me why I didn’t just donate in the USA and wanted to know why I came to Canada. I told him that I work with a matching agency and don’t choose where I donate. He continued to ask me if I was getting paid for donating. I kept telling him that I don’t get paid anything except for my expenses. He claimed that there’s no way I could possibly be doing this out of the kindness of my heart.
WAED: Did the airport security agent let you go?
KYLEE: No. No. At this point, around 2 hours later, I was worried about my luggage that had been waiting at baggage claim all this time. When I asked for my luggage, not one, not two, but THREE officers escorted me to baggage claim.
There, they searched through absolutely everything in my bags. I mean everything: they even opened up every makeup item I own.
The $500 Canadian currency I brought with me was confiscated and placed in a bag labeled “evidence.” I still don’t quite understand what they were looking for.
WAED: Drugs, presumably.
KYLEE: I was so confused and upset. My donor coordinator called and I answered again, then I was literally screamed at by another officer. He took my phone from my hand, shut it off, and wouldn’t give it back.
WAED: How did you finally get released?
KYLEE: Eventually, I was called up to the immigration desk by a different immigration officer around 2:45am. She was a bit nicer and told me to please calm down and that there was a shift change and now she was in charge of my case and that she had no evidence to continue to hold me there.
She continued to repeat that if they find out I am lying that I would be convicted of a federal offense. She said people don’t just come to Canada and donate eggs out of the kindness of their hearts.
She granted me access for exactly seven days to Canada. Finally, I proceeded to the rental car desk, which by this time was already closed so I had to take a car to Markham which costed me $80 and was a giant inconvenience! The next morning, I found out that my donor agency and fertility doctor actually wanted to cancel my donation because I was only granted one week in Canada — they were worried I wouldn’t respond to Gonal-f quickly enough to donate and be out of the country in seven days.
WAED: So because of the airport craziness, your doctor adjusted your medication to stimulate you faster?
KYLEE: Yes. They decided to just give me increasingly high doses of Gonal-f and hope things progress quick enough. Luckily, I ended up donating 14 eggs on the seventh day.
Right after my surgery, just a few hours after my anesthesia wore off, I flew home. My brain felt “foggy” from the sedation, and I was super tired and bloated.
WAED: Geez. How is your doctor supposed to monitor you when you’re no longer in the country? That bums me out.
KYLEE: It was a miserable two weeks. I actually ended up with mild-moderate Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS) within a few days from being stimulated with high doses of gonadotropins. I looked five months pregnant until my period finally came. I never hyperstimulated in my first three cycles, but the rushed cycle had consequences.
WAED: Would you donate in another country again?
KYLEE: Truthfully, I don’t know if I’ll ever donate again in Canada, as I was traumatized from the experience, but I’ve given the ultimate gift — the gift of life — and that made it worth it for me in the end. When I found out that my past donations resulted in successful births, I cried. The intended parents heard about all the troubles I went through and ended up sending me a card along with a white gold infinity necklace. It was very kind of them. I’ll hold onto it for life.
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If you lived in a country where donor eggs are hard to find, what would you do?
To what extent should a doctor be responsible for an egg donor’s health when she is flying in from another country?
Share your thoughts in the comments!
Photo credits: (1) Courtesy of Kylee
* Kylee is a pseudonym.