The Farm: A Novel by Joanne Ramos

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Ate also understood that for parents such as these, who had everything and more, being unavailable made her more desirable.

When you want a healthy, beautiful baby and you’re successful and far too busy to give birth yourself, the place to go to is Golden Oaks. Here, clients can rest assured that they have total control, a guarantee that the surrogate mother will not do anything to harm the unborn child. Only the healthiest young women are chosen to be inseminated and carry babies for the ‘richest, most important clients in the world’, and Mae (Ms. Yu) oversees it all. The Hosts are paid well once they deliver, where else can they make money this good? Certainly not as nannies, a thankless job! At Golden Oaks they go to classes to learn the ‘best-practices in pregnancy‘, their health is strictly monitored, they exercise and it is an absolute that the host must not be stressed out, ever! Jane Reyes has run out of choices to support her child after losing her job as a nanny. To leave her own baby (Amalia) with her cousin Ate, the very person who encouraged her to apply to be a host, isn’t ideal but it’s the only thing left to do. Amalia couldn’t be in better care, after all Ate is a baby nurse. As a Filipina woman, there is a class divide, when she isn’t watching (mothering) the children of wealthy white women, she is serving as a Host. She meets other Hosts while living at Golden Oaks, each with their own reasons for choosing to be surrogates.

The healthy food, the surroundings all seem wonderful at first, but then being so far away from Amalia begins to eat at her, especially when Ate starts ignoring her calls after a fight and the outside world is as distant as the moon. Strange that she is protecting this fetus like the most precious cargo on earth yet isn’t able to mother her own baby girl! Jane starts to fear things, suspect Ate of keeping her child from her,  the other hosts aren’t helping any with their own thoughts about the place. Reagan is exactly what the most important clients want white, young, beautiful and a cum laude graduate of Duke University, the perfect host until something goes wrong that begs the question, just how much do the surrogate mothers and their health matter? Then there is Lisa, who ‘mocks the process’ and sees Golden Oaks ‘The Farm” for what it is, a place that uses the women as a means to an end. Young women who are nothing more than cows. But surely, you can’t be used if it was your choice, if you are being paid and lavishly cared for! Right?

Ms. Yu runs a tight ship, in many ways she relates to the Hosts but that doesn’t mean she will let anyone ruin the business. Clients call the shots, and often in direct conflict to the needs of their hosts, as happens with Jane. What happens when she is pressed to make a choice that goes against the rules? This novel is about the limitations of class, it is a different type of slavery that happens in this story. The ending made me mad but it’s exactly what would happen. People in power manipulate because they can, those without money, without power and desperate to care for their own family do what they must, because there aren’t any other choices. It is so hard for those who have everything to comprehend what it means to not have good choices, only bad and worse to pick from. It feels like a set up, because in so many ways it is! It’s all about sacrifice. Jane isn’t the only woman who learns about sacrifice, no one has suffered more than Ate herself. Ate has told Jane, always have a backup plan because nothing is guaranteed! Things go wrong, plans dissolve.

You get both sides of the coin at the end, what it feels like to rely so much on a ‘helper’ a ‘surrogate’ and what it means to be at the mercy of your clients charity. Who needs the other more? I feel far more sympathy for Jane. It’s a fast read, motherhood is often fraught with choices made out of fear and necessity, particularly for single mothers, more so for immigrants raising children alone. All mothers can relate though, even those of privilege.

Publication Date: May 7, 2019

Random House

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