The Handmaid’s Tale: Birth Day (Season 1, Ep 2)

It’s another Ceremony Night and the secret to how Offred/June can endure the whole affair comes to light. She actually disengages mentally during the whole thing, letting her thoughts drift to the days of before, her family, their old beaten up car etc. Anything that keeps her from thinking about the robotic and bizarre copulation she’s forced to participate in.

The next (?) day, Offred and Ofglen, conduct their typical business of going to the store, walking by the river etc. They indulge themselves in a personal conversation about old jobs etc. June was an assistant book editor and “Ofglen” a former professor who avoided the colonies by having two working ovaries. They pass a church being torn down, a widespread practice. They also spy a man being arrested by a pair of Eyes. Ofglen suggests that Offred join the resistance, her position in a high up household being of possible great value.

Nick wanders in as Offred is taking off her wet cape and socks and warns her to be careful of getting too close to Ofglen because she’s dangerous. He tells Offred that the Commander wants to see her. Alone, at night. In his private study. It’s a highly forbidden idea which makes Offred afraid that the Commander knows about Ofglen and about her ‘us’. Before Offred can work herself into too much of a worry, a red van pulls up in front of the house. It’s the Birth Mobile, one of the Handmaids is in labor. The other Handmaids are expected to be there as attendants.

The blessed Handmaiden is Ofwarren, aka one eyed crazy Janine. As they are driven to the house, June remembers her own experience of preparing to give birth.

When the Handmaids enter the house, the scene is bizarre. The Marthas have set up a table full of cakes, etc for the Wives. They are assembled with the wife of the house, chanting Lamaze style with a woman who isn’t pregnant. It’s all part of the rituals to make the wives feel they are a part of the whole situation, like having them on the bed during Ceremonies. Upstairs the Handmaids conduct their own rituals, with the very real Ofwarren. Even Aunt Lydia is there, actually being warm and almost loving.

June rests in her hospital bed, holding newborn Hannah. The nurse arrives and tells June that Hannah’s tests are all clean. She’s the picture of health. Unlike the other babies born during the night. Two are in the NICU and the rest died. Standing in a nursery full of empty beds makes for a disconcerting experience.

Offred tells Ofglen about the Commander wanting to speak to her alone. Serena almost walks in on them. She takes Offred into the dining room where several wives quiz her about what’s going on upstairs. One of the wives offers Offred a cookie which invokes the kind of “sugar is bad for them” that is generally reserved for small children. Serena asks Offred if she would like a cookie and Offred replies with the expected, polite yes.

It’s an utterly humiliating moment. Which is likely exactly how Serena and the other Wives wish it to be. Especially with their ‘isn’t she well behaved’ comments like she’s a dog that has learned not to piss on the rug. Offred slips into the bathroom and spits out the half chewed bite of cookie with a look like she just ate something utterly foul, like rotten fish. She returns to the birthing room where Ofwarren is finally ready. The Wife is fetched and the two mount a birthing chair, Ofwarren sitting in between the Wife’s legs not unlike their positions during the Ceremonies.

The baby is finally born and time seems to stop for a moment while they want to see if she will cry. Which she does. The Wife is immediately whisked to the bed, the baby put in her arms etc. The other Wives coo over her, ignoring Ofwarren who is cared for by the Aunts and the Handmaidens. Ofwarren will play the part of wet nurse until the baby can be safely weaned and then will be sent off to another house to wash, rinse and hopefully repeat for another Wife and Commander. Such is the life of a Handmaid.

June wakes up in her bed to find that Hannah is missing from her basinet. She wanders out into the hall and they discover that someone entered the room and took the baby. There’s a tense moment when it seems like Hannah’s kidnapper, a woman who apparently recently gave birth to a baby that died and suffered a breakdown from her grief, wasn’t going to give Hannah back. But they recover her and the woman is dragged away.

Night falls and Offred slips out of her room and downstairs to the Commander’s study. It’s a room that is prohibited, even to the Wives.

The Commander is very gentlemanly, offering Offred a chair and allowing her to look at him (something that is strictly forbidden). There’s none of the rote call and response dialogue typically used in their world, they actually speak like people. The Commander reveals that he asked her to come because he wants to play a game. Scrabble of all things. They sit on comfy leather arm chairs and play Scrabble like it’s the most normal thing in the world.  

The next morning, Offred is almost joyful as she leaves the house. She has nothing to fear from the Commander or it would seem from Nick. But her joy is quickly squashed when she meets with Ofglen on the street. Only this isn’t her Ofglen, this is a new Ofglen.

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