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Why doesn t the commanders Wives have babies?

In the dystopian society of The Handmaid’s Tale, the Commanders and their Wives do not have children of their own. This is by design in Gilead’s oppressive social system.

The Problem of Falling Birthrates

The genesis of Gilead lies in falling birthrates. Fertility rates had plummeted in the years before Gilead due to environmental toxins and sexually transmitted diseases. With fewer babies being born, the leaders of Gilead imposed a strict religious and social order to try to increase births. This involved stripping away women’s rights and assigning them roles based solely on their fertility and ability to reproduce.

Handmaids and Wives

In Gilead, only some women are allowed to have babies – the handmaids. Handmaids are fertile women assigned to bear children for the ruling Commanders and their Wives. The Wives are married to the Commanders but have no rights or status outside of their husband’s household.

Women Role
Wives Married to Commanders but barred from having babies
Handmaids Fertile women assigned to Commanders to bear children

Why Wives Don’t Have Babies

The Wives do not have babies for several key reasons:

  • Wives are chosen for social status, not fertility. They connect Commanders to powerful families.
  • Gilead seeks to maximize births by assigning the most fertile women (handmaids) to births.
  • Wives are older and less fertile. Handmaids are typically younger and in their childbearing primes.
  • It reinforces the power dynamics. Wives must rely on handmaids for children.

Jealousy and Social Tensions

The inability to have their own babies causes tensions and jealousies among the Commander’s Wives toward their handmaids. Though they occupy the highest status among women in Gilead, they lack the ability to bear children and must watch their husbands mate with handmaids.

Biological vs. Social Motherhood

While handmaids are biologically the mothers of their Commander’s children, social motherhood belongs to the Wives. Wives raise and nurture the children born by the handmaids.

This creates contradictory emotions in Wives. They feel jealousy toward the handmaids who can conceive but also develop maternal attachment to the children they raise.

Abusive Treatment of Handmaids

The tensions lead some wives to abuse their handmaids, perceiving them as a threat. Some wives in Gilead go so far as to physically and verbally attack “their” handmaids, reminding them of their lowly status in the household.

Implications for Children

The inability of Wives to conceive also creates questions around the parentage of children in Gilead.

Paternity Uncertainty

With Commanders fathering children via their handmaids, it creates uncertainty around paternity. This means Commanders may be fathering children with multiple women besides their wives.

This uncertain parentage weakens father-child bonds and makes the Commander more of an abstract symbol of authority than a hands-on father.

Motherhood Also Uncertain

Likewise, the separation of biological vs. social motherhood between handmaids and Wives creates confusion around who the “real” mother is. Children in Gilead often develop deep maternal bonds with the Wife who raises them, even knowing she did not give birth to them.


By forbidding Commanders’ Wives from bearing children in The Handmaid’s Tale, Gilead’s leaders reinforced the unequal power dynamics between men and women. Wives were denied motherhood rights while handmaids were reduced to reproductive vessels. This bred resentment, abuse, and weakened family bonds.

However, the Wives’ inability to have their own babies reveals deeper problems in Gilead’s social order. It shows how artificial constraints around reproduction leads to unnatural family structures that ultimately harm parents, children, and all of society.