The speaker in Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem “the mother” is a woman who seems to have had multiple abortions but who also seems to be haunted by the choices she made to abort her “children” (2). These choices have apparently been “deliberate,” at least in the sense that she seems to feel responsible for them, although the precise reasons that she chose to have not only one abortion but apparently several or even many remain unclear.
Much of the poem is ambiguous and ambivalent. The speaker chose to have abortions but seems not to feel comfortable, at least at present, with her past choices. She seems to value motherhood, and yet she confesses that she has chosen, on more than one occasion, to end the process of becoming a mother. She speculates about the various futures her potential children might have had, so that she imagines their now-impossible futures even as she seems to regret her own actual past.
Line 21 comes at the very end of a long and rhetorically powerful sentence:
I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches, and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate. (14-21)
Here the speaker concludes by seeming to suggest that although she did indeed make the deliberate choice to have abortions, she did so with mixed and highly complicated feelings. She was “not deliberate,” then, because she seems to have felt ambivalent about her choices even as she made them. She had to make practical decisions in order to have the abortions, but having abortions (apparently) what was not part of some prior, long-range plan. It is not as if she deliberately became pregnant in order to deliberately have abortions. Rather , in an era before reliable birth control, the more likely possibility is that she became pregnant, decided that she was unable to have children or raise them properly (perhaps because of financial pressures), and then had to decide to abort her pregnancies.
In this sense, then, as well as in the other senses just suggested, she seems to have been, “even in [her] deliberateness . . . not deliberate.”