What is the critical analysis of the poem " The Planned Child" by Sharon Olds?The Planned Child I hated the fact that they had planned me, she had takena cardboard out of his shirt from the...

What is the critical analysis of the poem " The Planned Child" by Sharon Olds?

The Planned Child

I hated the fact that they had planned me, she had taken
a cardboard out of his shirt from the laundry
as if sliding the backbone up out of his body,
and made a chart of the month and put
her temperature on it, rising and falling,
to know the day to make me--I would have
liked to have been conceived in heat,
in haste, by mistake, in love, in sex,
not on cardboard, the little x on the
rising line that did not fall again.

But when a friend was pouring wine
and said that I seem to have been a child who had been wanted,
I took the wine against my lips
as if my mouth were moving along
that valved wall in my mother's body, she was
bearing down, and then breathing from the mask, and then
bearing down, pressing me out into
the world that was not enough for her without me in it,
not the moon, the sun, Orion
cartwheeling across the dark, not
the earth, the sea--none of it
was enough, for her, without me.

Expert Answers
favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Initially, the speaker describes her negative feelings about the fact that her birth was planned. The image of her mother taking the "cardboard out of [her father's] shirt from the laundry" so that she can use it to chart her basal temperature feels rather emotionless and commonplace.

Further, the simile in which she compares removing the cardboard to "sliding the backbone up out of [her father's] body" is odd and even sort of medically off-putting. The speaker would rather have been conceived in "heat" rather than in this cold sort of way: using cardboard and numbers and dates.

However, one day, drinking wine with a friend, the friend points out to the speaker that she must have been wanted. Suddenly, the "wine against [her] lips" makes her think of moving down her mother's birth canal; this simile is close and wet and tense, the repetition of the phrase "bearing down" and the image of being "press[ed] . . . out into / the world." Instead of regretting that she was not conceived in "heat" now, the narrator seems to realize that, for her mother, the little cardboard calendar was created because not a single incredible and beautiful part of the world could make it sufficient without her child. Suddenly, the funny little calendar and her mother's careful "little x[es]" seem like such a labor of love (no pun intended).

In the end, then, the speaker seemingly learns to think of her conception differently: it becomes something beautiful, her mother's dogged devotion and longing for her, rather than something clinical and cold. The speaker learns that she is more important to her mother than anything else. We might interpret this poem's purpose as having to do with the idea that children often do not understand their parents' choices. It might compel us to consider our parents as individuals with their own wants and needs rather than how their choices have impacted us.

kimfuji eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the first stanza the narrator of the poem doesn't like the fact that her mother planned to conceive her. She didn't want to be brought into the world by such extreme preparation, as when her mother charted her ovulation cycle on the calender. She would like to have been conceived in passionate lust and heat.

In the second stanza she changes her mind when she is out to dinner with a friend who reminds her that she was "wanted". Then she reframed or reinterpreted her mother's story to include having been so wanted that her mother would endure the physical pain of delivery, to have her. She (the mother)would not have felt satisfied in the world without her. In Sharon Olds' imagery of the sun, the moon and the stars, and cartwheeling, the reader knows how much joy she is feeling.


beatriz1971 | Student

I agree with Kimfuji's analysis. However, I would like to add that, although the planned child finally has a catharsis of appreciating her mother's passion and labor for bringing her into the world, the last few lines point to dysfunctionality.  From my perspective, a woman isn't ready to be a mother until she is at peace with her own existence.  That the earthly and universal marvels aren't enough to appease her alludes to a failure on her part to even recognize what it means to be a human experiencing the richness of life. Then, the motives for her desperate calculating and desiring to bring life into the world seems needy and selfish, not one of rejoicing another being's experience.