“Sometimes, when a person has suffered extreme physical or psychological trauma (including massive stress), they will assume the fetal position or a similar position in which the back is curved forward, the legs are brought up as tightly against the abdomen as possible, the head is bowed as close to the abdomen as possible, and the arms are wrapped around the head to prevent further trauma.” (Wikipedia)

Fetal Position has been my favourite episode of House MD for a very long time now. I have an incredible bias towards the episode because it is one of the few episodes where Cuddy’s character truly shines through and being the devote fangirl that I am, it’s hard not to appreciate that kind of episode. So it’s natural that for a long time now I have been trying to figure out the underlying theme of the episode, the thing that links all of the varying storylines together and I think I’ve finally got it.

Fetal Position is a play on words, it both means the position a fetus takes during a pregnancy (aka Emma’s baby) as well as a protective position people take to shield themselves from further harm. In that we have the theme: Protecting oneself from further harm.


Emma is a famous photographer who photographs famous celebrities such as Tyson Ritter, the lead singer of the All American Rejects, and Scarlett Johansson. She seems to be a relatively happy, strong and independent woman. That is until we learn that this pregnancy is her last attempt at being a mother.

EMMA: I miscarried twice when I was married. After the divorce, I tried in vitro like four times before this. I’m 42. Maybe its, uh, just not meant to be.

Fetal Position, Season 3, Episode 17

At first Emma seems to accept the reality that she may never have a baby, but as the episode progresses we see her deciding to risk her life and help incubate a baby for longer than her liver can hold for. When she learns that there’s hope for her baby, that’s the only thing that truly matters to her. Perhaps if she loses this baby she realizes that she has nothing left. As Cuddy puts it,

Cuddy: The only family she’s got is that baby.

Fetal Position, Season 3, Episode 17

She has an empty life. By trying to control her situation and give her baby the best chance he/she could possibly have of living, she is trying to give herself a better life and lives in the delusion (as House would put it) that she and her baby can live happily ever after. She prefers to stay in the Fetal Position then to accept the reality that she might loose her baby, she prefers to hope for the best.


As my friend Mimi used to always remind me, this episode was also a great episode for Chameron. They both also fall underneath the theme, in that they are both trying to protect themselves from potential harm.

Cameron spends the episode obsessing over House’s reaction to finding Chase with his hand up her shirt in the janitors closet. She doesn’t
understand why he’s acting so normal about it. She keeps expecting him to pop around the corner and over-analyze the entire situation. She’s so sure that he’s only waiting to strike. As was recently and finally confirmed by Cameron herself in “Teamwork”, she’s loved House since season 1 and his blatant non-interest in Chase and her shacking up together really bothers her.

Cameron: There’s no way House just lets this slide. He’s gotta be planning something.

Chase: Maybe he just doesn’t give a crap. Sagittal slice is clean.

Cameron: You think he just stumbled into that closet? He knew we were there. And he wanted us to know that he knew.

Chase: Or, you wanted him to know. Now he does and you’re annoyed because he doesn’t care.

Fetal Position, Season 3, Episode 17

Instead of considering the possibility that Chase throws out, that he honestly doesn’t care, Cameron prefers to revert into the fetal position and continue to delude herself into thinking that House is going to suddenly act jealous and give a crap because the other option is too painful.

Chase too falls under the theme. In this episode, Chase is still trying to fool himself into thinking that his feelings for Cameron aren’t that strong and that he doesn’t want anything more with her than sex. He acts relatively calm and not jealous during Cameron’s rants about House,
realizing that he doesn’t have the “right” to be jealous that she’s obviously obsessing about another man. He also has this chat with Emma:

Chase: [Sees picture of Cameron on top of a pile] When did you take this?

Emma: Oh. She did the second bladder tap. You should keep it.

Chase: Oh, I see her all day at work. I don’t need it.

Emma: Maybe you want to see her after work. I’m right, right? I saw the way you look at her.

Fetal Position, Season 3, Episode 17

At the end of the episode, the photo that Emma has chosen to represent Cameron and Chase is him staring at her longingly. Chase doesn’t approach Cameron until the next episode about starting a relationship, for now he is trying to decide if leaving the fetal position is a good idea.


House, as a show, is fantastic at having little mundane things in House’s life actually link up to the theme of the episode. In this one, House is trying to plan a vacation but as the case goes on longer than expected and he keeps changing his mind, it seems he eventually gives up on going. That is until the end where Cuddy is seeming to apologize by giving him tickets to (I’m assuming to
and from) Vancouver for a vacation. What do we see House do with these? We see him go home, tear up the tickets and put the TV onto some documentary about the Galapagos Islands, where it looks like where he’ll spend his vacation, alone on the couch watching documentaries about wild and exotic places. House wanted to branch out, change up his lifestyle but in the end he doesn’t have the guts to remove himself from the fetal position and climb out of his pit of misery. Instead of doing what he actually wants to do, he resigns himself to sitting home alone, refusing the opportunity Cuddy has given him.


How Cuddy fits into all of this is actually the easy part of this analysis. In previous episodes, specifically “Humpty Dumpty” of season 2, we’ve seen Cuddy get emotionally attached to her patients and become subjective when it comes to the medicine. But Emma is when she looses all rational thought because this woman hits a nerve in Cuddy somewhere which drives her the entire episode.

House: Since when does the Dean of Medicine run bladder taps?

Cuddy: She’s an important patient.

House: Because she takes pictures? Or because she’s you? Woman in her forties. Single. Using a turkey baster as a last gasp of motherhood. And you want to make sure she succeeds, so you’ll still have hope. Can’t be a good doctor if you’re not objective.

Fetal Position, Season 3, Episode 17

Like House said above, Cuddy sees herself in this woman and has put all of her hope into her, for some reason believing that if Emma fails then she to will fail in her attempts at motherhood. Cuddy prefers to risk the health of Emma (even if she does turn out to be right in the end) on the small chance that the fetus can be fixed, so that she can continue to live her dream. She takes the fetal position and is so stuck in it that she nearly kills Emma on the operating table, desperately trying to save her and her baby rather than let House cut the umbilical cord.

This episode is a powerful episode for me because it seems to bring out a lot in the characters that it chose to focus on. These characters, as well as most of the others, hide from the world, choosing the pick the path that hurts them the least, whether it be imagining jealously, trying to forget about feelings, deciding to remain in your rut or attaining false hope from another person……each one of them prefers to remain protected in their small little world, preferring the shadows cast on the walls of a cave to broad daylight. On a side fangirl note…..I LOVE THIS EPISODE THE MOST BECAUSE OF LOTS OF CUDDY :)

Things I couldn’t include in the article:
-    Wilson being “Cuddy’s Cuddy”. It’s a mention about protecting
-    Foreman talks to Chase about not hurting Cameron and says he’s “Protecting myself” from a love sick Cameron.

I kind of wish it could be longer, but I hope I got my point across :)