Elena Marshel Final Project

Elena Marshel


Professor Christopher Foss

6 May 2021

“Apologies to my OB-GYN:” The Value of Disabled Lives

In her essay “The Case for Conserving Disability,” Rosemarie Garland-Thomson argues that disability is an integral part of human society and a source of connection and social change. Some of the earliest pieces of evidence of hominins with advanced intelligence and social structures (in other words, more human-like hominins) come in the form of remains with healed injuries that would have been debilitating before modern medicine. The fact that these early human relatives were able to heal and continue living shows that their community felt empathy and compassion. They tended to their sick peer, even when it was costly and had no benefits besides a life saved. This has always been one of the strongest defining characteristics of our incredibly unique species: our desire and capability to care for those who cannot care for themselves. This aspect of humanity is explored in Rebecca Foust’s poem “Apologies to my OB-GYN,” which is about her experience having a child who was premature and autistic. In her derisive and ironic apology, she brings attention to the way this age-old practice of caring for other humans has been corrupted by modern medicalization and finances, while also highlighting the beauty of life she sees in her son.

The first two stanzas of Foust’s poem describe the circumstances of her son’s birth through an apology, the sincerity of which is not immediately clear. 

“Sorry that my boy birthed himself

too early, took up so much room

in your prenatal nursery

with his two pounds, two ounces

and did not oblige your nurses 

with easy veins.” (1-6)

The very first word of the poem is “sorry,” setting the apologetic tone that pervades the entire work. It is initially impossible to tell how genuine the apology is, and it seems to convey conflicting senses of true contrition and biting sarcasm. She apologizes that her son “birthed himself / too early,” framing it as a conscious act by giving the infant agency in the sentence. The line break, which causes the first line to end at “birthed himself,” seems to be a brief appreciation of the ways in which disabled people, especially those with autism, may act in ways that defy social norms. This defiance is not rebellion, as Foust sarcastically writes it here, but simply the way disabled and autistic people meet their needs, which differ from an abled, neurotypical person. However, these expectation-defying behaviors are often perceived as something to be apologized for. Foust juxtaposes her apologetic tone with twisted descriptions of the burden her son caused the medical staff, apologizing for taking up too much space despite his tiny size and for her son’s failure to “oblige the nurses / with easy veins.” Her phrasing makes the apology seem unnecessary at the very least, and by the end of the stanza, her apology is more clearly insincere. 

“Sorry we were such pains in your ass

asking you to answer our night calls like that,

and that he did everything so backwards:

lost weight, gained fluid

blew up like a human balloon

then shriveled.” (7-12)

By the beginning of the second stanza, Foust’s frustration becomes more apparent as she moves to more aggressive language, calling her and her family “pains in [their] ass” for requesting simple medical services. She continues to emphasize the unrealistic nature of her guilt through the way she phrases her supposed offenses. Foust then apologizes again for her son’s deviation from standard practice, saying that “he did everything so backwards” and then describing serious medical conditions. She uses nearly comical language like “human balloon” in a faux attempt to validate her apology, but it serves a similar purpose. The comedic language seems nearly grotesque next to the medical descriptions of the premature child. 

“Sorry about how he defied your prognoses,

skyrocketed premiums, weighted the costs,

in your cost-benefit analyses,

skewed bell-curve predictions,

into one long, straight line;

sorry he took so much of your time” (13-18)

In this stanza, Foust moves from the guilt she felt during her time at the hospital to a more general trend in which disabled and autistic people, as well as their caretakers, are held socially responsible for the perceived cost of caring for them. Foust uses specific financial and analytical language in her apology, listing terms such as “premiums,” “cost-benefit analyses,” and “bell-curve predictions” that sound clinical and impersonal in the context of a child’s life. Again, she uses her imitation apology to point out the questionable priorities of the people who place guilt on her and her child. She ends the stanza with a cut-off line, “sorry he took so much of your time,” which, separated from the rest of the sentence, seems to hold less sarcastic intent than the rest of the poem thus far. However, the line is continued into the final stanza: 

“being so determined to live. He spent 

today saving hopeless-case nymph moths

trapped in the porchlight, one matrix-dot

at a time, and now he’s asleep; blue wingbeat

pulse fluttering his left temple—there,

there again. Just like it did then.” (19-24)

When the line is brought together, it becomes “sorry he took so much of your time being determined to live.” This line is a striking summary of much of the sentiment in the poem, but it is fragmented and interrupted by arbitrary divisions. Just like line breaks in a free verse poem, social constructs can be helpful but are not always necessary nor appropriate, and can in fact be harmful when they are applied to circumstances that require unconventional attention. For the rest of the stanza, as she describes the beauty of watching her child grow and learn to care for others, the lines are divided no longer divided by clause. Instead, they flow as feels natural, as she wishes for her son to do. This is the only stanza that doesn’t contain the word “sorry,” leaving a clear message: by breaking free from the need to adhere to detrimental social constrictions, one can alleviate the guilt autistic people often feel for simply existing.

The final stanza is centered around the very thing Foust found lacking in the hospital, the place where it should be most plentiful: access to guilt-free care. When freed from expectations that do not apply to him, her son attempts to save  “hopeless-case nymph moths trapped in the porchlight,” engaging in the selfless acts of care for others described in the introduction of this essay. The juxtaposition of this stanza with the first three, which are guilt-ridden and full of clinical terms, makes the disconnect clear. Although medical care should ideally be based on compassion and humanity, the emphasis on finances and cost in the medical industry has created an environment in which the non-monetary value of things, such as the life of a little boy, is overshadowed. This is caused by and leads to the stigmatization of disabled and autistic people as a drain on resources, rather than a valuable and necessary aspect of humanity.

Word Count: 1170

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

Katie Blair’s Final Paper

Color in Autism Literature

Without color, the world would be dull, however, color is often taken for granted. Colors can symbolize, contrast, draw attention, and alter perceptions, especially in literature. While reading Jim Sinclair’s “Don’t Mourn for Us,” I was reminded of how much color influences a piece of literature. This gave me reason to explore how color has impacted the literary works during the autism unit. Jim Sinclair’s “Don’t Mourn for Us,” Amanda Baggs’s “Up in the Clouds and Down in the Valley: My Richness and Yours,” and Rebecca Foust’s “Apologies to my OBGYN” all are examples of how literature is enhanced by color.

Perhaps the most obvious example of color in “Don’t Mourn for Us” is the entire background of the article. The screen is completely made up of rainbow colors, spanning from the left to the right of the screen. At first, I wasn’t sure if the background would relate to the article, but with more analysis, it becomes a strong amplification of Sinclair’s messages. The contrast, joyful symbolization, and constant reminder of color in the background initiate deeper thoughts on its meaning. In the beginning, Sinclair’s article discusses the grief that a parent bears when learning that their child has autism; this grief is described as “the loss of the normal child the parents had hoped and expected to have” (Sinclair). With the content being upsetting and dull, it creates a large contrast between the darker tones in the article and the bright colors in the background; this gives an unconscious sense of hope to parents reading this, who intend to grow past their grieving. A sense that although the parents lost a child that they had expected, the child with autism will still bring light and joy into their lives, even if it’s different than what they had prepared for. Later in his article, Sinclair explains that when parents say they wish their child didn’t have autism, it is the same as saying “I wish the autistic child I have did not exist, and I had a different (non-autistic) child instead” (Sinclair). These few sentences in his article stand out tremendously and contain one of the most strong and meaningful messages in the piece. This idea carries on throughout the rest of the article, reiterating the idea that “autism is a way of being” rather than being an outer shell to be broken through or something that can be taken away. This point that autism is a way of being is shown by the blending of the colors in the background, symbolizing the blending of autism in a person, and how someone with autism cannot be separated from what makes them who they are. At the end of Sinclair’s article, the bright background is then brought full circle with a more upbeat, hopeful ending. After discussing the darkness of grief and loss of the expected, Sinclair wraps up by saying to the parents of autistic children, “come join us, in strength and determination, in hope and joy…the adventure of a lifetime is ahead of you” (Sinclair). This joyful ending creates a parallel with the bright background that has been contrasting the article up until that point and finally gives hope and light at the end. Therefore, the color in this article creates a sense of hope at the end of a tunnel in the way that a parent has to learn to overcome the loss of what was expected and learn to find joy for the child they have. 

Amanda Baggs’ “Up in the Clouds and Down in the Valley: My Richness and Yours” incorporates color to enhance the message that just because autistics don’t speak the same language as most, they shouldn’t be seen as different or not ‘normal.’ One of Baggs’ main critiques is on non-autistics describing autistics as absent and having a “lack of soul” (Baggs). She builds up this critique with the element of color, by relating it to a mountain analogy where autistics are in seen in a valley while non-autistics are up on the mountain, saying, “they call that valley ‘not mountain’ and proclaim it dry, barren, and colorless because that’s how it looks from a distance” (Baggs). I especially like this analogy because it sets forth the idea that non-autistics rarely try to find different ways to connect with autistics because it is too different or unnatural for them. The way that Baggs incorporates color in this analogy gives it more of a lasting impact because it causes the reader to create a colorless image in their heads, causing a deeper understanding of the dullness in the way non-autistics often see autism. The addition of the word colorless creates that deeper meaning because a colorless world is something that many people don’t like, similar to how most people would choose a colored movie over a black and white one. The word also connects to the other ways that autism has been described as an absence and as a lack of a soul. This provides a plain picture for readers of the unfortunate ways that the world looks at autism. Later in the analogy, Baggs’ further explains how the valley has “all kinds of trees, many of which can’t grow in the mountain” and how “each experience is like a new rainbow for every sense,” she contradicts the colorless life that is assumed by most (Baggs). The contrast between the way people perceive autism compared to how autistic people live is explained in a more meaningful and impactful way by creating the large contrast between colorless life and rainbows. 

In Rebecca Foust’s “Apologies to my OB-GYN,” the color that transforms the poem’s influence on readers is blue. From the sad and hopeless tone in the poem to the blue background surrounding the stanzas, the color blue sets the mood for the entire poem. In general, society usually groups words with colors: happiness is more often than not associated with bright yellows, love is represented by pinks and reds, and sadness is matched with blues. With three out of the four stanzas beginning with the word ‘sorry,’ a sad, despairing tone is immediately given off, creating that blue tone. Furthermore, the addition of a dark and dullish-blue background is important in giving off the message that this poem is meant to be hopeless and sad, as it is about parents whose child is having complications in the prenatal nursery. When a parent’s baby is having a difficult time after birth, it is simply sad and blue, just like Foust’s poem. Sometimes the tone of a poem can be hard to read, but the straightforwardness of the blues and sad imagery in “Apologies to my OB-GYN” makes even more of an impact because of its simplicity.

Color in literature is a beautiful and powerful addition to any piece and I am glad that it was added within so many pieces in the autism unit. For someone who didn’t know much about autism before taking this class, I have a much stronger understanding now because of these literary works and the imagery, attention, and contrast that they presented to me with color. 

Word Count: 1186