Rebecca Visger- Take Home Final

Rebecca Visger

Dr. Foss  

ENGL 384: Disability and Literature

07 December 2021

Word Count: 1,012

Challenging Characterization of Austic Children in Rebecca Faust’s “Apologies to my OB-GYN”

The bitterness in Rebecca Faust’s poem “Apologies to my OB-GYN” is palpable. The poem begins with Faust relaying her son’s precarious health condition at the being of his life in the first two stanzas, which against expectations he recovers from in the third stanza, and the fourth stanza is set in the present in which the poem was written describing how her son spent the day saving moths that were trapped in their porchlight before falling asleep. It also implies the clear resentment that she was treated with by the hospital staff for being a difficult case to treat. The “apologies” she makes throughout the poem are a sarcastic response to when the medical staff acted like her son was purposefully making their job more difficult. Yet this lack of empathy is something that would be much more readily assumed of her child, just because he’s autistic. “Apologies to my OB-GYN” challenges the characterization of autistic children as cold and unfeeling by comparing the callous regard of the medical staff towards her son to his compassionate actions towards the moths, a “lesser” form of life than himself. 

Faust’s choice of pronouns used to refer to her son in “Apologies to my OB-GYN” traces how the concept of agency is applied to her child, both by the hospital staff and herself. 

Faust only refers to her son once as specifically being her son in the very first line of the poem, calling him “my boy” (line 1). Faust’s choice of my “boy”, instead of my “son” or “child”, grants him far more independence and individuality than he would have if he was referred to by a term that would define him by his relationship to his mother. Throughout the rest of the poem, he is exclusively referred to by he/his/his and in the active voice. At first, this is used sardonically in the first and second stanzas, implying how the medical staff treated her son as if he had chosen to be a difficult case for them to treat. The absurdity of this over-ascription of agency to a baby regarding their own physical condition at birth is emphasized in his first “action” of the poem: “my boy birthed himself/ too early” (lines 1-2).  In the second stanza, Faust refers to herself and her son together as “we” and “our”, identifying she and her son as a team, as equals, and equally blamed for needing to make night calls. This same over-ascription of agency is inverted in the third stanza as Faust continues to use it when narrating her son defying expectations and getting better. His actions become a heroic, conscious struggle to survive if was in fact fully in control over his body. In the final stanza, when he is older and at least a small child, referring to him exclusively as he/his/his and not “my son” or ‘my child” gives him exactly the agency he deserves. It enforces it was his choice to free the moths from the light and distances Faust herself from taking ownership or precedent in son’s narrative. Faust’s use of pronouns shows how the ascription of agency can be used both for and against an individual. 

Faust chooses these incidents from her son’s life to directly contrast the difference between the hospital staff and him when responsible for a life often deemed as having  “lesser value”. The medical staff treats Faust and her son with resentment for being a difficult case when her son’s survival hangs in the balance, and when dealing with birth and early complications is part of their job responsibilities. They are made to feel like they are taking up too much space when her son weighs barely two pounds, in a hospital wing meant specifically for their kind of case, and like “pains in your ass” (line 7) by making night calls, for being rude enough to have medical emergencies at night. Her son’s life is weighed against  “skyrocketed premiums” (line 14)  and “cost-benefit analyses” (line 15). The final damning line of the fourth stanza “sorry he took so much of your time/ being so determined to live” (lines 18-19) directly challenges how the hospital staff valued themselves above the health and safety of her child. By contrast, her son has no responsibility or even obligation to save the nymph moths from the porch light, yet he chooses to do so anyway. The moths like him are described as a “hopeless case” (line 20) and are insects whose lives are very little valued, but he still does the tedious task of saving each one “one matrix-dot/ at a time” (lines 21-22) without complaint. “Being determined to live” (Line 19) falls being the first life of the fourth stanza, symbolically that this is the life that has determined to live— one of compassion. He manages to be more compassionate towards fragile lives than those who saving fragile lives is their job, their purpose. 

This poem is not just about the mistreatment of Faust and her son by one hospital staff, It points out the irony of autistic children being perceived as cold and unfeeling when they themselves are often not treated with empathy by allistic members of society. Her son shows far more compassion for the moths he saved than the doctors who were in charge of his own human life. The Conclusion of the poem “blue wingbeat/ pulse fluttering his left temple—there,/ there again.  Just like it did then.” asserts her son’s life and value. That he was a person worth saving even before he was able to demonstrate kindness, because he was alive, and that should be enough to treat him with respect and dignity. 

“I hereby declare upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.”

Works Cited

Faust, Rebecca. “Apologies to My OB-GYN.” From the Fishouse, Fishouse Poems, 

September 16th Section 02 Class Review- Rebecca Visger

At only last sixty minutes instead of the usual seventy-five and three readings on the docket for small and large group discussion this class was on from start to finish.

We dove right in at two o’clock with a reading quiz. This quiz was heavily foreshadowed on Tuesday so hopefully everyone came to class prepared, or at least aware. The quiz was the usual five questions based on the reading assigned for that class period, with three rather morbid questions dedicated to Toni Morrison’s Sula, one question referring to Chris Bell’s essay “Introducing White Disability Studies: A Modest Proposal”, and the final question referring to Ayisha Knight’s poem “Until”.

After a few of the quiz questions were repeated we broke out into the first small group session of the class period to discuss Jasbir Puar’s “Preface: Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” from The Right to Maim. My group expressed that they had had some difficulty in fully grasping the text, largely because we felt some of the academic terminology used in this piece was not clearly defined. Particularly, we had trouble understanding Puar’s definition of “debility”, which as its relationship to disability and how certain bodies are targeted for debility was the focus of this preface, made the piece as a whole difficult for us to access. Despite this difficulty we did spend some time discussing what we thought disability versus debility meant and how they relate and oppose to each other. My group also discussed how in this preface Puar both urges connection between disability, LGBTQ, Black Lives Matter, and other pride/identity movements, but also addresses how they can sometimes have conflicting needs.

After some time in small group discussion the class reconvened to address “Preface: Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” in large group discussion. The conversation opened with several students responding to how relevant the piece feels to the current activism climate and how it addresses some recent history of the Black Lives Matter movement. One classmate asked when it was published and with a quick search it was determined that the book this preface is for was published in 2017.

Discussion then shifted to address the issue of the differing and sometimes conflicting needs of identity groups, both within the disabled/debilitated/capacitated dichotomy that Puar sets forth in this piece, which we compared to a Venn diagram of overlapping and non-overlapping similarities and differences, and between the LGBTQ, Disability Pride, and Black Power movements brought up in the beginning of the text.

My group asked the class for discussion and clarification what they thought debility meant and what they made of the disabled/debilitated/capacitated dichotomy. Much of the class agreed that they had also had some difficulty understanding what exactly Puar meant by debility, but agreed that debility was caused more by social circumstance than disability. Dr. Foss then offered some clarification: Debility is caused by an intentional strategy to maim and wound a population to assert control. It is a conscious action. He also emphasized that the focus of this preface is the ways in which certain bodies are marked for debilitation, particularly black and brown bodies. A classmate then cited the second paragraph of page XV as being useful to understanding Puar’s usage of the term debility and the debilitated/disabled/capacitated dichotomy.

Large group discussion on “Preface: Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” concluded with another student calling attention to page XXIII, and questioning how phrases such as “Hands up don’t shoot!” and “I can’t breathe!” relate to disability justice. Dr. Foss responded by asking us to theorize how these phrases could be interpreted metaphorically to apply to disability, and to consider how race and disability often intersect in cases of police brutality.

As the conversation around “Preface: Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” had tapered off, Dr. Foss instructed us to break out into small groups again, this time to discuss Chris Bell’s “Introducing White Disability Studies: A Modest Proposal”. My group expressed some difficulty with this piece as well, but this time with fully grasping the Bell’s satirical tone. Though the satirical nature of the piece was implied by the subtitle, “A Modest Proposal”, referring to Jonathan Swift’s 1729 satirical piece of the same name, my group-mates who did not recognize reference did not feel like the tone of the piece was satirical or exaggerated enough for it to be obvious that this piece was satire without that hint. While I did understand the subtitle’s reference, I agreed that it was a confusing piece to read as the author did not employ a consistent satirical tone. Instead, Bell shifts repeatedly between a serious and realistic tone when relating their own experiences, and a more comical and exaggerated one when speaking directly to the reader with little transition. We agreed it made the piece feel unbalanced and gave us a bit of whiplash shifting between the competing tones. We also discussed how this piece related to Puar’s, especially in how it addresses how race and disability interact and need for them to be addressed together.

After spending some time in small group, it was time for large group once again. At first there was an “eerie silence”, but then discussion began when a classmate brought up the issue of the difficulties of inclusion, and the extent of which lack of minority representation at events and conferences is caused by the demographics of the area, versus the ability of minority populations to access these events. This lead into a conversation about obstacles to attending conferences and events that may not be obvious at first, especially to those in privilege.

Large group discussion closed with several students expressed their appreciation of Bell’s point #7: “Pay no attention to Ann DuCille’s recognition that ‘[O]ne of the dangers of standing at an intersection . . . is the likelihood of being run over’”, referring to the difficulties of having multiple minority identities and how one identity can be focused on above the other(s) by other people.  Many students related to the feeling of having to “pick sides” of which identity to primarily present as and lean into.

We were going to break into small groups in a final speed round to discuss Toni Morrison’s Sula, pages 3-131, but class time ran out.