The Mother and Abortion
For Gwendolyn Brooks, writing poetry that would be considered out of the ordinary and frowned upon was a common theme for her. Her widespread knowledge on subjects like race, ethnicity, gender, and even abortion placed this African American poet apart from many others. Like many poets, Brooks based many of her works on her own life experiences. Although it’s unclear whether or not Brooks had an abortion herself, she creates hints and provokes strong feelings towards the issue, revealing the psychological and emotional side that a woman, possibly even herself, would experience when receiving an abortion. Brooks proves throughout her unconventional poem, “the mother,” that women undergo many psychological problems and twists of emotions following abortion.
With Brooks’ syntax, capitalization choices, and use of rhyme, she sets “the mother” apart from the typical cookie cutter poem, without a set style, taking the unconventional route. The title is ironic and meaningful in itself. By utilizing the word “mother” in the title, Brooks is sharing to the reader that her poem will be about said mother, something about motherhood or a specific mother. This becomes ironic once one begins to read the poem, since the majority of this work is describing what it’s like to not end up becoming a mother. The title contrasts with the poem, seeming to create the idea that there is a mother, when there actually never was one. Along with the words of the title being ironic to the poem itself, Brooks places the words in lowercase, adding more depth to the two simple words. For centuries, placing the titles of text with capital letters at the beginning of each word has become the norm. When Brooks decides to break that norm, she reveals that her poem is going to be different, unconventional, and unlike the rest. Similarly, her poem describes the effects and feelings of abortion, a topic that itself is unconventional and different. By titling the poem, “the mother” instead of “The Mother,” Brooks reveals that the following words will be formatted simply; “she will be writing in a plain, simple, straightforward, and unpretentious style,” and the subject is one that most wouldn’t normally talk about (Evans 226-227).
Throughout “the mother,” the speaker is sharing their beliefs on the topic of abortion, but Brooks prevails these ideas in a non-preachy way, avoiding making a huge political statement (Evans 227-228). By describing the emotions and thoughts a woman goes through when receiving an abortion, the speaker encourages readers to interpret and respond in whatever way they’d like. She’s not literally encouraging or discouraging the action of abortion, but just describing the feelings of getting one, possibly making readers turn a different way.
Abortions will not let you forget.
This opening line of “the mother” is abrupt and meaningful in a way that immediately reveals the subject of the following words; abortion. By beginning the poem with “abortions,” readers automatically know the subject and theme of the works that follow. In a lot of poetry, poets don’t reveal the theme until the end or not at all, making readers infer and figure out what they think the subject of the matter really is (Brooks). This poem, however, reveals the theme from the very start, boldly letting readers know that the emotions are going to be intense. Brooks also slyly doesn’t complete her thought in the first phrase of the poem. When saying, “abortions will not let you forget,” the reader instantly wonders, “forget what?” To find out what the abortions won’t let one forget, readers must continue on, learning that there’s many emotions and little things that make abortions unforgettable. Rousset’s article, “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Psychological Distress Following Medical and Surgical Abortion,” opens with the idea that abortions take a toll on a woman’s life, leading to psychological disturbances and possibly even posttraumatic stress disorder, “an anxiety disorder that a person can develop after being exposed to a major traumatic event'” (Rousset 507). These psychological stresses make the woman’s abortion unforgettable, as Brooks describes in her poem.
By pluralizing the word, “abortion” to “abortions,” Brooks implies that the speaker is talking about more than one instance of possibly receiving an abortion, being involved in one, encouraging an abortion, or anything in between. She makes this more emphasized when adding the second person, “you” into the phrase (Bloom 15). Who is you? The main “you” would most likely be the woman that receives an abortion, but there’s many others that are involved; the person that encouraged the woman to go through with it, the circumstances itself of why the abortion was received, outsiders that wonder if abortion is the right way to go, or of course the doctor that performs the abortion. Each person affects the steps that follow an abortion, and since many people are involved, the opinions become controversial. With international data that proves there’s a psychological consequence to receiving abortions (Rousset 506), the “you” portrayed in Brooks’ poem becomes more emphasized. Not only are all these people affecting the decision a woman makes before her abortion, but they affect the aftermath of the process as well.
In the first phrase of the poem alone, Brooks notes that there’s going to be multiple meanings in each word following throughout the poem. The first line still has more levels of depth. When a person says that they wish to have forgotten something, it’s really almost impossible to forget about that event that occurred. Brooks touches at this thought in the first line, sharing that one would probably have the desire to forget about the action they took, but it doesn’t work that way because “abortions will not let you forget.”
The singers and workers that never handled the air.
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.
For each of the estimated 42 million abortions that take place around the world in a year (Rousset 506), Brooks continues her poem by imagining all of the experiences that the almost mothers’ will not get to encounter. The millions of women won’t be able to raise a child to become a singer or worker, and won’t be able to discourage them from sucking their thumbs (Bloom 15). Although it’s saddening that the women won’t get to experience these parenting moments, Bloom reveals the thought that this list of experiences could actually be reasons for pursuing the abortion. “She keeps this description realistic describing both the good and the bad things that the mother will never experience with a child” (Bloom 15). By keeping this real and honest and incorporating the more difficult parts of raising a child, Brooks initiates why a woman would consider getting an abortion. The thought of having to leave their child or beat them or buy them a sweet may be the deciding factor of why a woman decides to not go through with a pregnancy.
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
In the second stanza of “the mother,” there is a rhetorical shift that embodies the remorse that the mother is feeling. Evans describes these lines as being more intimate and personal, calling the child “sweets,” apologizing for the abortion. Yet at the same time, Bloom reveals how the use of “if” shows the mother’s unsureness of whether the abortion was a sin. She continues to apologize and imagine experiences that the child will miss out on, but throughout this stanza the woman is unsure if her action literally hurt the child or not. She is unsure of the the whole situation itself. Kotta’s study reveals that after an abortion, many women face regret or thoughts about being unsure if what they’ve done was the right choice. Since their choice to steal the life of a child was pursued, many women end up thinking about the “what if” situations, wondering how their life would be if they had continued the pregnancy. Since that is not what happened, women can get post traumatic stress or psychological consequences like depression, anxiety, and addictive behaviors (Rousset 506-507). Through all the women’s regret and emotional feelings, Brooks ends her “if” lines stating that “even in [the women’s] deliberateness [they were] not deliberate.” She hopes for the unborn children to know that even though the abortion was on purpose, she didn’t purposely take away the experiences and chances the children could have had.
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
You were born, you had body, you died.
Although the women are unsure of the real truth, they face the real facts in the contrasting line, “you were born, you had body, you died.” The women don’t know if their unborn children can hear them, but they know that they existed at one point. They were alive, even if that consciousness wasn’t for long, the children had life. The mothers have to learn to accept the state of their aborted children and move on.
Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you
Brooks ends “the mother” by expressing love to all of the aborted children, appreciating their existence. Once again, the speaker doesn’t know if she was right or wrong when making her decision, but she knows the decision to abort her child was made. As Bloom puts it: “She simply wants to acknowledge that it happened, and she is responsible.”
Over the years, abortion has become a controversial subject that is uncomfortable for many to even talk about. Gwendolyn Brooks helped change that through her poem, “the mother,” convincing people to understand the feelings and emotions a mother goes through when deciding to abort their child. She doesn’t lean the readers one way or another about whether abortion is the right thing to do, her goal is just to make people aware of the psychological mindset of women and emphasize that abortion is a huge deal. It affects over 42 million mothers (Rousset 506) each year, not to mention the additional surrounding members of the mothers’ lives. Following an abortion, women experience psychological problems and changes in emotions, and Gwendolyn Brooks shows this relevance in her poem, “the mother.”
- Alexander, Elizabeth, and Kelly Ellis. “Our Miss Brooks.” Black Issues Book Review, Nov. 2000, p. 54. Academic OneFile, ://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A67151384/GPS?u=j130901&sid=GPS&xid=137af00. Accessed 12 Nov. 2018.
- Brooks, Cleanth. The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1947.
- “Critical Analysis of The Mother.'” Gwendolyn Brooks: Comprehensive Research and Study Guide, by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House Publishers, 2003, pp. 15–24.
- Evans, Robert C. “Abortions Will Not Let You Forget’: A Close Reading Of Gwendolyn Brooks’ The Mother.'” CLA Journal, vol. 54, no. 3, 2011, pp. 223–238. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/44325794.
- Ford, Karen J. “These Old Writing Paper Blues: The Blues Stanza and Literary Poetry.” College Literature, vol. 24, no. 3, Oct. 1997, p. 84. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=108810&site=ehost-live.
- Kotta, Sameera, et al. “A Cross-Sectional Study of the Psychosocial Problems Following ” Indian Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 60, no. 2, Apr. 2018, pp. 217–223. EBSCOhost, doi:10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatrypass:[_]361_16.
- Robinson, Lynn. “The Abortion Business Is About Making Money.” National Right to Life News, 11 May 1999, p. 16. Academic OneFile, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A55355024/GPS?u=j130901&sid=GPS&xid=14804aa2. Accessed 14 Nov. 2018.
- Rousset, C., et al. “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Psychological Distress Following Medical and Surgical Abortion.” Journal of Reproductive & Infant Psychology, vol. 29, no. 5, Nov. 2011, pp. 506–517. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/02646838.2012.654489.