Afterwards, Doctor Mandelet walks Edna home. He regrets that she had to be present for the birth, and asks if she plans to go abroad with her husband when he returns. She stammers yes and then no—she thinks no one has the right to force her to do anything—except, perhaps, her children? She can’t come to a clear conclusion. Delicately, the Doctor suggests that love is a trap set by nature to ensure procreation, and marriage is a system we erect around that trap to make it respectable and rational. Edna seems to agree. She gives him a rambling, ambiguous, pained answer—she wants freedom, but she doesn’t want to hurt anyone, especially her children. The doctor leaves her at her door, urging her to come see him.
Edna had felt the bonds of family only by charting onto them the rules of femininity and respectability. When those rules lose meaning, her family feeling disintegrates, and the chores and obligations that emerge from that feeling become meaningless burdens. Edna wants freedom from those burdens, but she feels guilt at the thought of abandoning her children, for whom she does feel genuine affection. Edna is not heartless by any means, but she never formed a worldview of her own, apart from convention, that included love for family. The doctor seems to agree, to understand her, and his gentle compassion seems to offer a way for Edna to eventually work with him to reconcile her newfound freedom with the rules of society.
Robert is not waiting for her at home. She does find a note from him: it says that he left because he loves her. Edna sits up all night, numb and sleepless.
But that possibility is shattered when Edna’s brief absence gives Robert time to return to his senses. He remembers that he is not prepared to enter into a romantic relationship with a married woman, and abandons her. Edna now believes that she cannot be free and happy in society.