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, 

Lily Shirley Final Exam

OPTION 2: Thesis driven paper involving one or two works from the final autism unit. 

Not long ago, Autism would have been considered an institutionalization-worthy disability. The disability itself is not fatal nor does the diagnosis mean that the individual will be nonverbal, violent, and antisocial. They are labeled, rather ambiguously, as being  “different”. People with autism are not burdens- they are just treated that way.

Jim Sinclair, an autistic scholar, author, and proponent of disability studies, outlines the traditional and antiquated notion often surrounding the disability in his piece Don’t Mourn for Us. Sinclair touches on the way his parents reacted to his life and to his disability. He recognizes that when parenting an autistic child, there are inherent difficulties and hurdles. However, Sinclair argues that the beauty and rarity of the autistic child should outweigh the apparent challenges. It is also worth noting that any child will have their inherent difficulties, so we must treat each child with the same protection and esteem. Sinclair’s understanding of autism needs to be grasped by the neurotypical community. Acceptance of Sinclair’s perspective will allow us to move forward from these dated beliefs. 

Apologies to my OBGYN, a poem written by Rebecca Foust, is also about the experience of parenting a child with autism. Instead of identifying the personal and familial model relating to autistic children being labeled as a “burden”, Foust connects it to the medical model. Both the medical and personal perspectives  presented in the respective pieces convey multiple unfair stigmas, the most notable being that people with autism are only a burden, and nothing else. This is simply not the case, as argued in both pieces. Sinclair argues that an autistic human life is not death, whereas Foust asserts that death is an integral part of the human experience. Life is not death, but death means that one has lived. In dying, the only power granted to Foust’s premature child is that it is no longer a burden because it is no longer living, taking up space, resources, or money. 

It is interesting and worth debate to examine Sinclair’s use of the word “alien” to describe people with autism. This term is often used to illustrate the dissimilar processes of a neurodivergent person. It has overtones of explaining them as a whole other life force, from a distant planet. If anything, this furthers the impenetrable wall Sinclair hopes to avoid. 

An autistic life, even while still in the womb, is thought of as a burden. Even in communities of pro-choice minded people, it is often argued that aborting a child for the sole reason of autism is unjust and offensive. With this in mind, it is easy to understand why Sinclair would feel the need to specifically detail that autism is not death. After birth, the child still faces marginalization in a way that a neurotypical person could never comprehend. Parents often list the most traumatic experience of their life as the moment they discovered their child had autism. This forces the child into the role of an agonizing burden- a treacherous bridge the parents, not the actual child, must cross. This notion is clearly offensive and derails the recent movement of the disability positive narrative. 

Not only does Sinclair explain that autism is not death, he also verifies it as “not an impenetrable wall”.  Essentially, this discounts the idea that children with autism have no proper means of communication with neurotypical people, but rather, their means are simply different and more complex. When the able bodied parent, or even community, views a disabled person’s way of thinking as “different” and therefore not useful, this removes once again, the hard work of protesters wishing for inclusivity and to omit the notion of burdens. 

The personal connection to society relates to the parenting of a child with a disability.  Sinclair’s piece best captures the thesis of this paper. People with autism are treated differently in almost every way possible, simply because giving them improper resources is easier, and cheaper, than allowing them to explore more expensive and potentially more helpful routes. Parents, even the ones who consider themselves to support their autistic child, often marginalize them in a way the rest of society is incapable of doing. Being treated as a burden by society is one thing, but being treated as a burden by your parents is another thing altogether.

While some may wish to believe we have come far in integrating neurodivergent people properly in society, we still have far to go. We cannot dream of including people with disabilities the way they should be included when it is already hard enough to convince politicians that accessibility is essential, or to doctors that a “difficult” patient with autism should be treated with the same care and respect as a neurotypical patient. In Fousts’ deeply sarcastic apology, it is difficult to grasp the extent to which neurodivergent patients are mistreated. Fousts explains that her child, born too early and with bountiful and expensive medical issues, was treated as a burden by medical staff. She was even told she was wrong and too demanding in fighting for the baby’s life; the hospital’s resources are better used on a neurotypical baby. 

The medical structure of modern society does little to encourage or uplift people with disabilities. This is extremely prevalent in Foust’s “pain in the ass” description of the care of her son. The first three stanzas start with “sorry”, reinforcing her sarcastic demeanor. If this child were able bodied, there is no doubt the mother would not even feel compelled to apologize, even if it was contemptful. 

Another essential aspect of the medical model is the connection to costs. Because this is a capitalist society, money makes the world go around. In cases like Foust’s child, it is glaringly apparent that the doctors and nurses cared more about the finances than the life itself. This does not account for the beauty of life.

In conclusion, autism is not death. This overlying assumption has caused much unrest in the disability studies field, as well as the literal homes of the autistic community. If parents and medical professionals continue to view their autistic child as a fiscal responsibility rather than a human, not alien, with a heartbeat worthy of care, nothing will change. There are many things that autism is, but then again, there are many things that autism isn’t. Autism is a part of the person- it is not something in need of a cure or to be viewed as simply a hurdle to overcome. Autism is life. 

Word Count: 


Works cited:

Sinclair, Jim. “Don’t Mourn for Us.” Don’t Mourn For Us, 1993,  

Foust, Rebecca. “Apologies to My OB-GYN.” Fishouse, 28 June 2018,


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