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‘The Farm’ Looks at a Future Where Pregnancy Is Outsourced to the Poor

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The Golden Oaks clinic is a booming venture-capitalist enterprise tucked away in upstate New York’s scenic Hudson Valley, where migrant women of color are hired as pregnancy surrogates for the world’s billionaire class. These women—called Hosts­­—are confined to the Golden Oaks grounds for the duration of the pregnancy, where they are closely surveilled by a staff of Coordinators and paid handsomely by their ultra-rich Clients upon successful delivery of a healthy baby.

Is this a description of our world, or a prophecy for it?

The short answer: It’s both. Pushing at the boundaries of the real, Golden Oaks is the primary setting of Filipina-American Joanne Ramos’s striking debut novel, The Farm. A Princeton graduate, ex-investment banker, and former staff writer at The Economist, Ramos was inspired by her conversations with the only other Filipinxs in her orbit among New York’s affluent Manhattanite class: migrant Filipina nannies and domestic workers. She sees the novel as a means of working through the haunting suspicion that, as members of the same diaspora, “what separated my life from theirs…had as much to do with luck and happenstance as it did with any kind of merit.”

Golden Oaks has a real-life analog, too: the Akanksha infertility clinic in India, where young Indian women provide surrogacy services for people all over the world—including in the US and UK. But whereas the Akanksha Hospital markets itself as providing a medical necessity—surrogacy as a means to combat infertility—Ramos’s fictional Golden Oaks sees itself as a purveyor of luxury to its über-wealthy Clients: “It’s no longer just three-thousand-dollar strollers and designer baby diapers,” one of Golden Oaks’ investors raves. “The luxury market is moving down the age scale to the newborn and gestational phases, and we’ve got first mover advantage.”

Like an insurance policy, surrogacy is a privileged means of shoring up against risk—in this case, the risk of pregnancy. Some Clients wish to avoid medical complications like preeclampsia or hemorrhoids. Others oversee business empires and cannot afford to be slowed by the physiological tolls of child bearing.

To ensure a return on the Clients’ investments, the Hosts are strapped with WellBands—smartwatch-type devices that serve as a heart-rate monitor, GPS locator, and alert system, all linked to a central control center. They subsist on a strictly regulated diet and are subject to daily medical examinations. For quality assurance, Clients can check in on the baby’s status via ultrasounds conducted over Skype.

The enthusiastic corporate executive of Golden Oaks is Mae Yu, a young businesswoman who spends most of the novel courting investors for a Golden Oaks expansion project. A Harvard Business School graduate, Mae’s mind is a calculator. One of her chief ambitions is to be included in BusinessWorld magazine’s “30 Top Leaders Under 30” list, and as far as she is concerned, an empty bed at Golden Oaks means a smaller profit margin. So in recruiting prospective Hosts for the taxing demands of surrogacy, she says whatever is necessary to fill the vacancy, preying upon the individual spiritual and material needs of each woman.

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