By Joanne Ramos, published 2019
The Farm is a place where surrogates for the super-rich live for nine months, kept safe and healthy — and under constant surveillance — until they deliver babies. They must adhere to an exercise regimen, play music for their bellies, and stick to a strict healthy diet. Jane, a single Filipino woman with a nearly one-year-old baby and not nearly enough money, agrees to become a “host” for a “client:” someone very powerful, wealthy, and either too busy or too old to be pregnant. While this novel deals speculative elements it is not unrealistic.
The Farm itself may be imagined, but the underlying ideas are all present in our world today. Jane needs money to take care of her family, and in trying to accomplish that goal she ends up needing to leave her own baby for nine months. Reagan is a “premium host” because she is white and educated. Mae, the mastermind behind the Farm, has no qualms about how the business is run, because, to her, it is precisely that: a business. She has dreams of expanding to the West Coast, maybe even using a host of her own when it’s time for her to have a baby. She’s just too busy growing her empire…
The world-building and characters are what make this novel interesting, as the drama doesn’t set in until the last quarter of the story, and it doesn’t quite hit home. Most of the characters appear unchanged for all their trouble. Mae continues to believe she is helping Jane by subjugating her, and Jane continues to take only what she can get as a second-class citizen in her adopted country. It’s hardly an uplifting tale, but so true to reality it is chilling.
I was very interested to learn whether the hosts felt connected to the babies they carried, and whether they struggled to give them up. But this is not something Ramos explored, perhaps because the hosts did not contribute eggs and were not biologically connected to the children they bore. The novel did of course raise questions about when or if surrogacy is appropriate, and whether it can ever be non-exploitative. If I had to guess Ramos’ opinion on the latter based on this novel, I’d say: no. Still, it posed an intriguing answer to the question of how career women can ever really have it all when their careers are sidelined by pregnancy and childcare — even today. Ramos’ book explores the fiscally-conservative capitalist’s answer: allow women who are struggling to sacrifice their bodies, health and their own families to do the work for the rich, and offer working mothers nothing to make procreation easier. No child care, no maternity leave, no social care programs. Timely reading for today’s political debates.