In Episode 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale, Hulu’s new dystopian television series based on the book by Margaret Atwood, Offred’s life as a forced surrogate for an elite family changed very unexpectedly for the better when it was believed she might be pregnant. All of a sudden, she got more food and better treatment from the Commander’s wife — that is, until her period arrived and she was severely punished for it. But that’s led a lot of viewers to wonder: does Offred ever get pregnant in The Handmaid's Tale?
The reason Offred was even abducted into the role of handmaid in the first place is because she’s successfully given birth to a child before, her daughter Hannah. Even before the Republic of Gilead seized power, giving birth was considered a big deal as fertility rates fell. As she tells her friend Moira in a flashback, only one in five pregnancies results in a healthy child, and that’s just for the women who can successfully conceive. That Offred’s been pregnant before is no guarantee that she will get pregnant again, of course, but it certainly gives her a better shot than most — and there’s plenty of incentive to do so if she really intends to survive, like she said in at the end of the pilot.
Of course, having a baby wouldn’t solve all of Offred’s problems. In speaking with The Hollywood Reporter, Elisabeth Moss discussed what a lose-lose situation pregnancy is for a handmaid: “You have a pretty good shot of surviving for the rest of your life,” she said, but “the baby that they have carried, birthed, and then nursed will be taken from them unceremoniously, and they will never see their child again. So, is it easier or harder? Neither. It's both.” We’re seeing that happen with Janine, who’s having a hard time giving up the daughter she still has to nurse.
MAJOR BOOK SPOILERS BELOW
But will Offred ever have to go through a similar experience? In the book, at least, she never has the commander’s child, although it’s later revealed in the epilogue that she thought she might be pregnant by a different man altogether. Of course, in the book she also never gets a late period at all. The TV adaptation added that storyline in to show viewers just how much a handmaid’s worth in Giladean society is directly tied to her status as an incubator for human life — life that she herself will never get to experience.
There’s also irony in the fact that it’s Elizabeth Moss who’s playing Offred; after all, her last celebrated feminist role as Peggy Olsen in Mad Men also featured an unwanted pregnancy brought to term. In the show’s first season, Peggy was unknowingly carrying Pete Campbell’s child (who, second irony, recently fathered a child with her co-star Alexis Bledel), and gave it up to continue pursuing a career in advertising. Of course, she did so willingly — the handmaids do not.
At this point, whether or not Offred herself will ever face such similar traumas is anyone’s guess. Maybe not this season, certainly, but since the show was recently renewed for Season 2 and could move beyond what’s described in Margaret Atwood’s book, then you never know. All that’s left now is to keep watching and see what happens in the next episode.