Our Hearts Break for the Women Who Can't Be Moms on 'Downton Abbey'

Mr and Mrs Bates Downton Abbey

While I've had friends and fellow writers call the latest installment of Downton Abbey (episode two of THE FINAL SEASON, as they insist on calling it) a bit dull, I found it anything but. Because at the heart of the episode were two women facing something that can be the most difficult to bear -- the inability to be the mothers they dream of being.

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First, there's poor Anna Bates, who goodness knows has been through more than her fair share of torment. She and Mr. Bates have only just finally escaped their endless brush with the law. (Honestly, I found myself almost ceasing to care what happened to either of them by the end of the last season -- enough, already!) But, as the insightful Lady Mary points out, although Anna and her true love are finally free from worrying about being, you know, executed for murder, Anna's been more unhappy around the house than ever.

"I expect you to be wreathed in smiles, but instead you seem rather cast down," says Lady Mary, as she fastens on some exquisite jewelry.

Of course, we loyal viewers know the problem -- Anna has had a series of miscarriages, and is heartbroken to believe that she can't carry a baby to term. She's devastated, and any woman who has faced either the fear -- or the reality -- of not being able to have the child she so desperately wants will understand all too well.

On top of her own sorrow, Anna feels like she's letting down her husband, which makes her predicament even more sad. "It's my fault," she tells Bates during their poignant scene together. "I can't give you what you need."

Luckily, Anna is married to one of the Best Guys In The Entire World, and he has nothing but love and support for his beloved. At one point he tells her that's it isn't right that she's crying in a room alone, because "being married means you never have to cry alone again." Swoon!

Also, luckily for Anna, she lives in the magical world of Downton Abbey, where, if the writers don't kill you off, they like to pull magical happy endings out of their hats now and then (and we love them for it!).

Once Anna confides in Lady Mary, we start to see a glimmer of hope, for Mary whisks Anna off to see a specialist in London. (When Anna says she can't possibly accept this generosity, Mary has one of the best lines of the episode, telling her, "You've earned it fair and square, hiding that fearful Dutch thingamajig, carrying the poor Pamuk in the dead of night!" I love their relationship -- a topic for another time.)

It turns out that Anna, like many a woman of today, has something rudely named an incompetent cervix. And according to Mary's fancy doctor, all Anna needs is to get pregnant again, and he'll pop down to Downton to give her a big stitch that is very likely to do the job. Sounds painful, but promising...

However, for poor Mrs. Drewe, things aren't looking so hopeful. As the once and former adoptive mother of Lady Edith's little girl, Marigold, she's not taking well the loss of the child she loved as her own daughter. And who can blame her? As Anna says to Mary, "When a woman loves a child, it must stay with her."

It's gut-wrenching to watch Mrs. Drewe interact with little Marigold -- obviously, this woman is shattered that Marigold was returned to her biological mother. She does have other children, but of course, that doesn't help her feel less heartbroken. Being a mother does not have to be a matter of blood, and it's painfully apparent that Mrs. Drewe mourns her little daughter.

It's a cruel and terrible predicament, and I don't entirely blame Mrs. Drewe for going off the rails at the end of the episode, and bringing Marigold "home" where she believes she belongs.

More from The Stir: Times Are Changing -- but Some Things Never Do -- in 'Downton Abbey' Premiere

Both story lines take a hard and painful look at some of the agonizing and difficult aspects of motherhood -- of the complications and losses that women have always faced, and always will. Luckily, the hope in the world of Downton Abbey isn't just for fairy tales.

 

Image courtesy of Nick Briggs/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE

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