Did any working mother watch this episode and not cry? I certainly did. First when I thought Virginia got an abortion, then again when she had her meltdown right before delivery, where all the doubt she pushed away came roaring back up. I’m both astounded and confounded that they crammed an entire pregnancy into an hour of television. The issues Virginia, Bill, Libby, and George confront in this episode, regarding this pregnancy, their relationships, and new definitions of family could be examined throughout an entire season. I’m rather surprised that they were able to get through the jealousy, the guilt, and the pragmatic resolution that accompany the fact that single unwed Virginia is pregnant with her ex-husband’s child. And do we all believe it’s George’s kid? Seems so unlikely, yet none of the characters are even questioning that aspect of the story. Makes me wonder what Michelle Ashford and company have cooked up for the entirety of the season if they can cram so much into one episode without it feeling rushed.
Let’s break this episode down by our main characters. We of course have to begin with Virginia. For she is both an idealist and a pragmatist. Idealizing that the wisdom that comes from age will make her a better mother the second time around. While her daughter’s hurtful accusations (“You’re the worst mother ever. I’m not the only one who thinks so.”) swirl around her head while she grows another baby inside of her, she holds onto the belief through the majority of the episode that yes, she will in fact be more present, more engaged, and less involved in her own self. But her decision to continue the pregnancy is one that gives much consternation to Bill, Libby, and even George. Both Bill and Libby believe the baby is George’s, but they know the rest of the world won’t think so, and they are all worried about perception surrounding the release of their book. “A pregnant unwed woman cannot be the core of sexual enlightenment,” says Bill astutely.
And so she and Bill bully George into marrying Virginia, an act she never once second-guesses. And one she would never consider taking on honestly. Rather her moment of doubt comes as she begins to labor—attempting to be present for the delivery in a manner she never was for her other children. “It was like a present picked out for me when I wasn’t around,” she says about being handed a baby after she was sedated during her previous deliveries.
But then she falls apart, the guilt flooding through her when she finally admits to having interests other than her children. For that she feels guilty, for she has bought into the societal construct that only mothers who give all of themselves for their children are good mothers.
“I failed twice before as a mother: I don’t have the patience, focus, or selflessness,” she says through tears. “I’m a failure because I care about other things more. What if that’s the simple truth? I’m a woman incapable of putting her kids’ needs before her own.”
And for once Bill is miraculously there, finally sensitive to her needs. Recognizing that there isn’t one way to raise a child, justifying that having other interests doesn’t make her a bad mom.
“There are infinite variations on a single act,” he says. “More than one way to be a mother.” It’s simple. It’s kind and at that moment it’s exactly what she needs to hear. These two are propelling the sexual revolution, giving women more agency over their own bodies, their own lives. How could they not believe that women should be more than just mothers? The job of mothering is hard, it’s rewarding and it’s highly personal. And Virginia’s struggle back in 1963 feels just as relevant to her time as it is to ours now.
NEXT: And what’s up with the other three of this strange foursome?