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