December 3, 2003
The bond between a mother and her child is one that cannot be severed.
From the moment that the child is conceived, and the mother begins to
carry the baby, there is a special bond. During the course of nine months
which the mother carries the child in her womb, the child is completely
dependent on her. There is nothing that anyone can say or do that can take
this away. In Anne Sexton’s, “Unknown Girl in the Maternity Ward”, Sexton
writes of a woman who has given birth, and is now having to give her child
up for adoption. The mother speaks to her newborn child about her being
separated from the baby, and the emotions that follow. Sexton’s work
explains the emotional roller coaster that a mother can experience when
being separated from her child.
The Mother speaks to the newborn as she is becoming familiar with
him/her. She realizes that in a short amount of time the baby will no
longer be hers. Sexton has written this work in the first person point of
view. This is made apparent when the poem begins when the mother is
speaking to her child by using the word “child” in the first stanza. This
poem follows no set rhyme scheme and is written in open form. In the first
stanza, Sexton is describing the child by using similes. “Lie, fisted like
a snail”, (Sexton 3) she is describing her child as she shares the bond of
breastfeeding her child. “Your lips are animals”, (Sexton 4) describes the
child’s hunger, and how the baby latches to the mother’s breast. She
speaks of having to give up her child and the bond that will soon be
There is no worse feeling than having a child, and on the birth
certificate having to put nothing where the father’s name belongs. People
tend to form their own conclusions, and in some cases, a mother can do
nothing about this. As the mother continues to ponder the loss that she is
enduring; “The doctor’s are enamel,” (Sexton 17). This describes the
stiff, cold attitude that the doctors have towards the mother. They have
no answers about the child’s father, and are left to assume the worst;
“going the way men go, and leave you full of child,” (Sexton 19-20).
Doctor’s require pertinent information concerning the child’s father when a
child is born. This information is for medical purposes, records, etc.
The mother continues to keep this answer to herself, and the doctors are
forced to leave the information blank. Sexton refers to a father who is
very unstable, and is not sure what he requires out of life; she describes
him as; “Some pendulum soul,” (Sexton 20).
Mother speaks to her child as she is lying in waiting for her child to
be taken from her arms; “Yours is the only face that I recognize.”, (Sexton
29). The mother feels very alone, and her child is all that she knows.
Imagery is used when the mother says; “you drink my answers in,” (Sexton
30). The reader can visualize the child staring at his/her mother with
“blue stones”, as the baby listens intently to everything that is being
said. Although the baby does not know, much less understand what is being
said, the mother has no one else, and turns to her child for comfort.
One of the more powerful similes; “My arms fit you like a sleeve”,
(Sexton 42-43) describes how she feels that she and the child belong
together. She knows that she does not want to let the child go, although
she also knows that she must do what is best for the child. The mother
begins to regret not telling the doctors the name of the father; “It is you
my silence harms”, (Sexton 48) yet she still tells the doctors; “Name of
father – none”, (Sexton 52). Sexton describes the feelings that a mother
experiences when she is forced to give up her child. Whether it is a
decision that she has made for herself or for the child’s sake, it is one
of the hardest that she will ever have to make. She knows that she will
hurt only her child from the decision that she has made to keep the
father’s name a secret; yet she is torn between what is right, and what she
feels that she must do. She chooses to remain silent.
In the closing stanza, the feelings that the mother has right before
her child is taken, are described. She has now prepared herself to give
her child up. She has said and done all that she can, and knows that she
is loosing everything and giving up her life; “There is nothing more that I
can say or lose,” (Sexton 54-55). As her child is being torn from her, she
avoids the child’s stare; “I tighten to refuse your owling eyes”, (Sexton
58-59). She knows that in a matter of seconds, the child that she once
carried will no longer be hers. She also knows that there is nothing that
can break the bond that she has made with this child. “Go child, who is my
sin and nothing more”, (Sexton 65) and the child is taken form her.
This work uses several metaphors and similes to convey the message
that Sexton is trying to get across. Sexton wants her readers to feel the
loss that the mother has gone through. The general subject of this poem is
adoption, and Sexton does a very good job portraying this. Sexton uses a
very heartbreaking tone in this work, with the use of metaphors and similes
to strengthen the emotions of love that are also portrayed in this poem.
“A small knuckle on my white bed”, (Sexton 3) “the animal of your lips”,
(Sexton 32) “they are blue stones, they begin to outgrow their moss”,
(Sexton 34-36) “the wild bee farms of your nerves”, (Sexton 44-45) and
“your owling eyes”, (Sexton 58). Sexton uses these metaphors to describe
the newborn child and the mother’s feelings toward the baby. Sexton has
written this poem with the understanding of the bond that a mother and
child share. The relationship between a mother and child is very
unpredictable, yet, there is nothing that can come between the ties that
bond them together.