this dark ceiling without a star
By Bibiana Mas
My beloved poet Sylvia Plath was born 90 years ago today. I find it almost imperative to remember her with one of her poems, called Child:
‘Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing.
I want to fill it with color and ducks,
The zoo of the new
Whose name you meditate —
April snowdrop, Indian pipe,
Stalk without wrinkle,
Pool in which images
Should be grand and classical
Not this troublous
Wringing of hands, this dark
Ceiling without a star.’
With these few intense and powerful verses, the poet wanted to write about how she felt after having her second child. She reflected on her wish for her child’s future to be better than her own. Plath wrote this poem two weeks before she decided to step down from life. Her youngest child was barely a year old.
It is said that before sealing doors and windows and turning on the gas from the oven, she prepared breakfast for her two still sleeping children, Frieda, almost three, and Nicholas, just one, in case they woke up before anyone came to find them once she was dead. They also say that the last letters written to her mother at no point did they exude despair. There didn't seem to be a cry for help between the lines. Apparently, everything was more or less fine. Her breakdown with her husband Ted Hughes must have played a part in this tragic outcome. But what surely unleashed the horses of depression was the postpartum period she went through alone, in a cold city like London and with two young children... let's remember that Nicholas was barely a year old. Sylvia was in the middle of her puerperium.
This terrible, terrible tragedy connects me with the desperation of one of the characters of the book Mothers Don't by Katixa Agirre. By the way, in this book, the author also quotes the poet Sylvia Plath with this poem: ‘O love, how did you get here? / O embryo / Remembering, even in sleep, / Your crossed position.’ This character from Mothers Don’t, called Alice —or Jade, after a turbulent postpartum period decides to end the lives of her two baby twins. The protagonist of this book becomes obsessed with the double infanticide and decides to put everything aside (including her young son) in order to investigate and write about the case. But she also does it to understand what happens when a woman becomes a mother: above all she allows herself to ask all the necessary and challenging questions, questions that may not have a clear answer, but that might shed some light on this taboo that is the not-so-pretty face of motherhood.
Postnatal depression, which affects between 10 to 20% of mothers, is often very silent. We mothers juggle to hide and minimize any psychological disorder we may experience while we are nursing, and many of us tell ourselves things like: what would happen if I make it visible, if they tell me that I'm 'crazy', if they take the baby away from me, if they medicate me too much, if I can't breastfeed, if...? And a thousand more rampant thoughts than I am not capable of writing.
Hopefully talking about it and opening up about how we feel, without fear of being stigmatised, will help us to change these statistics and get the support we need.
May no one go through that dark, starless ceiling alone ever again.