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,       

http://www.fishousepoems.org/apologies-to-my-ob-gyn/. 

America, Human Rights, and the Unheard Voice

Tristan Barber – Section 02 – Final Paper

06 Dec. 2021

America, Human Rights, and the Unheard Voice

History is not an ally to the underprivileged and marginalized. To some, it may appear that society is slowly—ever so slowly—moving towards progress. This is simply not true. The year is 2021, and the United States Supreme Court is hearing a case that may overturn Roe v. Wade, a historic victory for women’s rights and bodily autonomy made nearly 50 years ago. As one of the oldest and most important cases in living memory (over 40 years older than Obergefell v. Hodges which granted same-sex marriage), Roe v. Wade was seen as a strong decision with a half-century of precedent protecting it. Now, yet again, arguments are being made that mothers should be considered to have failed their “personal responsibilities”, and this impacts neurodivergent families even more than the normative alternative. The poems “Apologies to my OB-GYN” and “Perspectives”, written by Rebecca Foust and Craig Romkema respectively, highlight the struggles of neurodivergent peoples and their parents. Both medical/financial and social pressures create an undue hardship on these marginalized groups, and through this cultural violence, voices are silenced. Through these lenses, one can come to respect the disasters coming in the current legal and market environment.

We will start our exploration with “Apologies to my OB-GYN”, a poem following a mother and her experiences with a modern medical system. The mother has a particularly troubled birth, with a child requiring more care than would be considered normal. Described as “pains in your ass”, the mother sarcastically apologizes for the trouble the parents and child caused the system (Foust 2). While the child lives, saving similar “hopeless-case nymph moths”, the scars inflicted upon them by the system is there in the “skyrocketed premiums” and the insurance “weigh[ing] the costs in [their] cost-benefit analyses, skew[ing] bell-curve predictions into one long, straight line” (Foust 3-4). While the child saves moths and the parents dote over their child, the “care” they received was all but, serving only to render them down to charts and graphs, treating them as a source of capital rather than as human beings. This diametrically opposed position—of human versus capital—ensures that marginalized groups, especially neuro-atypicals, are dehumanized and perpetually silenced. With the fault being on the parents for having such a so-called troublesome child, the system can enjoy the fruits of their labor unburdened by human responsibility. Indeed, childbirth and raising is an extreme task, and in America, an extremely expensive one. In a for-profit market system where ASD children cost $1.4 million, and $2.4 million if the child has an intellectual disability (Taylor), one can see the results of healthcare-as-a-product—lives rendered down to profits and the bottom line. Where is the voice? How can one speak out for their own rights, for the rights of those under their care, when the cost of existing encroaches, consumes several, severalfold the cost of living?

This cultural violence is not only financial. “Perspectives” follows the perspective of a child with nonverbal autism as they observe the system operating around them. From the very beginning with the mention of “‘refrigerator mothers'”, we can find the lines of blame being drawn (Romkema 1). Refrigerator mothers refer to the idea that parents, particularly mothers, caused autism through their cold and distant behavior towards their children. While this belief has been proven to be false, the effects are still seen. Parents (again, primarily mothers) are seen as perpetrators of a sort of disease, that children on the spectrum are only drains on a capitalist system and that the parents are at fault. This can be further seen in the “measuring” of the narrator’s “head” (Ramkama 2), referring to another pseudoscience: phrenology. While often seen in respect to racism, this measuring of the skull was used to diagnose mental illnesses as well—eugenics in its most physical form. Beyond the medical and social implications of history, the narrator spoke to the direct violence, “So freely did they label me retarded”, meanwhile their parents told them that “they knew [they were] there / Inside” (Ramkama 3). Again, the so-called experts considered the child as a burden, a weakness, as othered and voiceless—as always voiceless, despite the evidence to the contrary. 

None of this is new. These poems offer a glimpse into the lived experiences of those on the spectrum and parents who care for them alike, and while laws may appear to improve the lives of such individuals (or, rather, slows the backslide of quality of life), it wasn’t always this way, and it won’t necessarily continue being this way. Persecution against those with disabilities is as ingrained in American history and law as slavery is. Indeed, it is a living memory—where slavery still remains in the prison system, persecution didn’t end with the American Disabilities Act of 1990, and the atrocities committed with the “Ugly Laws” only ended directly in 1974 (NCLD 16). This cultural violence simply changed form, from direct law to indirect, with financial burden and social stigma and blame. These laws were fought for, and these laws are never safe from being overturned. Roe v. Wade proves this.

The arguments against Roe v. Wade are often moralizing. They claim that life begins at conception, that the rights of the unborn override the rights of the mother. However, regardless of one’s opinion on this debate, it remains apparent that the attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade without first approaching the economic and humanitarian problems for the already born displays, if we are being charitable, a profound lack of perspective. How can one argue these beliefs in good conscience while not solving the inherent cultural violence inflicted upon mothers, fathers, and their children? It appears that the rights of the unborn, those that have no inner consciousness providing them the ability to speak, the voice of this group outweighs the voice of those who can—and must—be heard.

If capitalism as a system must exist, and, perhaps, there may be some strong arguments in the affirmative, it must also exist for the benefit of all peoples. With a hardly-regulated market, a system designed to benefit those with voices and to silence all others, designed to lay blame on mothers and not on itself, neurodivergent minds are pushed to the threshold between the void and unhappiness. That is to say, the choice is often between death after life or poverty with little hope to improve one’s station—that is no choice at all.

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

Word Count: ~1172

Works Cited

“Disability History Timeline – Ncld-Youth.info.” National Center for Learning Disabilities, 2007, http://www.ncld-youth.info/Downloads/disability_history_timeline.pdf. 

Foust, Rebecca. “Apologies to My OB-GYN.” Fishouse, 28 June 2018, http://www.fishousepoems.org/apologies-to-my-ob-gyn/. 

Romkema, Craig. “Perspectives.” 

Taylor, Chris. “Coping with the High Costs of Raising an Autistic Child.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 24 June 2014, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-health-autism/coping-with-the-high-costs-of-raising-an-autistic-child-idUSKBN0EZ1A220140624. 

Katy Rose Price’s Final Exam Essay

Literary Analysis of “Apologies to my OB-GYN” by Rebecca Foust

Word Count: 1044

Most often, birth is seen as a transcendent experience, the creation of new life and that life coming into the world for the very first time. Poems concerning birth often focus on themes surrounding joy, creation, beginnings, nurturing, or innocence. However, Rebecca Foust confronts those themes to depict the harsh realities of navigating the fear, uncertainty, and of having a child that was born premature and with health problems. In her poem, “Apologies to my OB-GYN,” Foust challenges the medical industry and beliefs held about whose life is valued and worth saving to demonstrate the inherent worth in each life.

“Apologies to my OB-GYN” has four stanzas, each consisting of six lines. A stanza with six lines is known as a sexain and doesn’t necessarily rhyme, as is seen in this poem. Foust employs anaphora in this piece to emphasize and illustrate her point with the repetition of the word “sorry” at the beginning of the first three stanzas, as well as at the beginning of the last line of the third stanza. Anaphora is a rhetorical device that consists of repeating a word or sequence of words at the beginnings of nearby clauses, thus creating emphasis on a certain word or idea.

Her use of anaphora calls the reader back to the word “apologies” in the title, leading the reader to believe that this poem would be atoning or asking forgiveness for something. However, it accentuates the irony of the poem, as Foust is not asking for forgiveness or lenience, but is calling out her doctors, physicians, and the medical industry for their treatment of her and her son. For instance, in the first four lines, “Sorry that my boy birthed himself / too early, took up so much room / in your prenatal nursery / with his two pounds, two ounces,” she calls attention to the ridiculousness of placing the responsibility of her son’s premature birth on him when his birth was uncontrollable and not determined by any specific person. Furthermore, she highlights the absurdity of deciding whether or not to save his life based on space concerns when her son weighed as much as a pineapple.

The use of anaphora can further be seen in this poem through the juxtaposition of the first three stanzas and the fourth stanza. The first three stanzas contain the use of the word “sorry” and communicate much of the emotion and rage that the author is feeling towards the people and industry that debated on the value of her son’s life. By switching abruptly from that emotion to the image of her child saving “nymph moths / trapped in the porchlight,” the reader can get a sense of the beauty of the child and his selflessness in trying to save little creatures that most people wouldn’t give a second thought. Additionally, one could assume that his empathetic and giving nature stems from his struggle and determination to live, despite the “prognoses” and “predictions” that counted against him. The beauty and value that he has now, as a child whose fate isn’t being debated, is the same as the beauty and value he had as that two-pound premature infant. This can be exemplified through the last three lines of the poem, “…blue wingbeat / pulse fluttering his left temple—there, / there again. Just like it did then.” In these three lines, one of the main themes of the poem is communicated—his life, like every life, had inherent beauty and importance from the moment he was born.

The ironic tone of “Apologies to my OB-GYN” is evident throughout the piece. In the first and second stanzas, the speaker shows her anger, frustration, and rage with her doctor and the medical industry through the irrational image of her premature infant showing his gratefulness for the doctors deciding to save his life (rather than casting it aside) by cooperating with the nurses. She further develops the irony of the poem in the third stanza, in which she “apologizes” for her child, through him receiving adequate care and living, “skyrocketed premiums, weighted the costs / in your cost-benefit analyses, / skewed bell-curve predictions / into one long, straight line.” In this stanza, Foust is criticizing both her doctor and the medical industry that values money and profits above human life. Rather than being joyful and grateful that their patient lived, the doctors and administrators were only concerned with how his long-term, expensive care impacted their costs and profits. By apologizing for how “he took so much of your time / being so determined to live…” Foust is highlighting the rage she feels toward her doctor and the industry, as well as the way she was treated during such a scary, frightening, and nerve-wracking time in her life.

In Foust’s poem, she employs the primary technique of anaphora to emphasize the ironic nature of her poem. She communicates the rage she feels toward the disregard of her son’s life by doctors and the medical industry through the repetition of the word “sorry” and the idea that her son living was an inconvenience to her doctor. Through this poem, Foust offers other people who may be experiencing something similar a voice and empathy for their emotions and frustrations. By juxtaposing her rage with the beauty of her son, both at his birth and as a healthy child, she communicates the theme of the poem, that people have inherent worth, beauty, and significance. Furthermore, she critiques the medical industry and its role in deciding whose life is worth saving and whose life is worth discarding.

Thus, a connection can be made between her poem and disability, as disabled lives are often seen as less than or undervalued. In the medical industry, disability can be seen as something that needs to be “fixed” or “cured,” rather than as an aspect of a person that should be accepted and appreciated. By calling attention to the importance placed by doctors and the medical industry on costs and profits, Foust demonstrates that disabled people are seen as less worthy of life because they may require more care and medical assistance than a non-disabled person. This belief is dispelled in her poem, as she demonstrates that every person is worthy of respect and has inherent value.

“I hereby pledge upon my word of honor that I have neither given nor received unauthorized help on this work.” -Katy Rose Price