While the ultimate purpose of a handmaid in Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale is to get pregnant, it’s not exactly joyous news. Handmaids have no rights to the children they bear, and must give them up to their commanders and never see them again. Spoilers for Season 5 follow, so close out now if you haven't watched the finale yet. In the last episode of the first season, Offred must grapple with that herself when she learns, thanks to her commander’s wife, that she is now with child. But is Offred actually pregnant in the Handmaid’s Tale finale — or could the test she took be wrong?
At the beginning of the episode, Serena Waterford descends on Offred with an at-home pregnancy test, which is designed to detect a hormone in pregnant women’s urine called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). It’s unclear where she got the test (Offred later assumes it was the black market), but it serves its purpose nonetheless, and ends up giving a positive result — which is good news in the moment, as it keeps Serena from physically hurting Offred. Turns out that for Mrs. Waterford, wanting a child supersedes wanting a husband that actually respects you as a person and won't take advantage of the literal sex slave you keep in your house.
Although, in her novel, Margaret Atwood never makes it explicit that commercial pregnancy tests might no longer be available to the women of Gilead, it makes perfect sense; after all, that could give women information about their own bodies without a man being present to facilitate the process. In the book, Offred mentions that once a month she is taken to a doctor for tests: “urine, hormones, cancer smear, blood test; the same as before, except now it’s obligatory.” It’s in one of these sessions that Offred is first propositioned by a doctor on the show. The only other mention of pregnancy tests in The Handmaid’s Tale is found in the book’s epilogue, when Professor Pieixoto points out Romania’s real-life practice of banned contraception and compulsory pregnancy tests for women in the ‘80s.
It’s also worth pointing out that the at-home test simply wasn’t as ubiquitous at the time Margaret Atwood was writing. As The Atlantic reported, commercial pregnancy tests weren’t approved by the FDA until 1976 — just a few years later in 1978, the test was marketed as “a private little revolution that any woman can easily buy at her drugstore.” That certainly doesn’t sound like the sort of rhetoric the leaders of Gilead would approve. Heck, according to Jezebel, the pee-on-a-stick version didn’t become popular until Unilever introduced the concept in 1988, after The Handmaid’s Tale was published.
But, at-home pregnancy tests aren’t always accurate, and it’s possible that Offred might not be pregnant after all. It's unclear where Serena found the pregnancy test, but if it's left over from before Gilead, it might be expired, and using a test after its expiration date can sometimes trigger a false result. Healthline also suggests that an aftermath of a recent miscarriage can cause an at-home test to read positive — so if Offred was pregnant in episode 2 and lost the fetus because of Aunt Lydia’s abuse, there might still blood, protein, or hCG in her urine that’s affecting the results.
Of course, it’s also possible that Offred was sent to the doctor to officially confirm her status, and that part of her day simply didn’t make it into the episode. But the ambiguity of such an encounter leaves plenty of opportunity for The Handmaid’s Tale to change its tune next season.