This is a glimpse into the story of how one person changed my child’s life and our family’s future.
I first met Enith Hernandez, from As Nature Intended, at a doula class we were both attending. Our instructor, Adriana Algieri, was gently guiding us through lessons in how to care for new mommies and teaching us ways to remain neutral in these new mothers' decisions of whether or not to keep their newborn babies intact after birth. It was a hot topic for all the doulas in the class. The first thing I did was fall back on my faith (Catholic) as a defense in my own decision to circumcise my sons. Enith took my statements and ran with them. She debunked each and every aspect of my well intentioned, but severely misinformed, reasoning. At that point in our doula training, Enith was not my favorite person.
As a result of all this new information that I was rather hoping to discredit, I was forced to go home and research my own faith. What I discovered quite literally shocked me. When I really looked into it, I came up empty handed in any ability to justify my reasons for circumcising our sons. I was wrong about my religious excuses, and to my surprise, there is an abundance of faith-based support for keeping babies whole as they are created. There simply were no reasons of faith to cut our sons. And Daddy wanting to cause pain and loss just so he can have a son who is as scarred as he is, now seemed utterly sad.
I started to realize that Americans are quite uncultured and clueless when it comes to their underlying reasons to circumcise. All the while, some in the medical profession have capitalized on this nation-wide ignorance by marketing a damaging surgical procedure that is painful for baby, and leaves him lacking and scarred for life. There are so many functions of the foreskin which are lost as a result of our unknowing.
At the time I met Enith, I already had five children - three of whom are boys. The last three of my children were birthed gently at home, but were taken away to be circumcised after birth. They have since had long talks with their father and me about their genital integrity. We have sincerely apologized for our lack of knowledge at the time they were each born. I believe they grasp through our honest examples that sometimes parents have great lessons they must learn from their children.
Over the course of the rest of our doula training, Enith and I nurtured what has now become a very strong friendship. Surprisingly, I was then blessed with fraternal twins - one girl and one boy. They were born at home and are beautiful tiny examples of miracles that do happen! After meeting Enith, and being pushed to understand the importance of my children's wholeness, I knew I would not circumcise another child. Our new son is perfect, just the way he was made.
It has been a beautiful, unexpected blessing to have befriended this wildly passionate woman, Enith Hernandez. My life is forever changed as a result of her willingness to speak up. And my sons and daughters are now blessed with a full understanding of human integrity and the ethical responsibility we have to protect children's whole selves. This is a big number of people (seven!) whose lives and generations to follow have been forever impacted.
God bless you, Enith. Keep enlightening families everywhere you go!
James Loewen as a baby with his mother. From the documentary film, They Cut Babies, Don't They? View a clip from the film below, or purchase full length here.
After posting Michael Schaap's interview with his own mother, in which he discussed with her the details behind her choice to circumcise him against his grandfather's wishes, we received a number of comments and questions from men of all ages looking for the best way to approach their own parents about this emotionally difficult topic.
Many of them are interested to know what the best way would be to first approach their mother (or father) about why they were circumcised. "How do I amicably do this for a first 'make or break' moment when we've never talked about it before?" asks one young man.
Some men have parents who have become slightly informed on the subject since their birth long ago, but rarely speak of it, or seem ambivalent to MGM. Others are openly pro-cutting, even encouraging grandsons to be subjected to the same surgical amputation and loss that their sons faced. "I know this will be a lot harder to hear [answers to] coming from mothers who still would cut their sons again. But what I'm interested to know, both from pro-intact and pro-circumcision moms, is what is the best way for us to broach this subject with you?" asks another man.
A third father, now in his late 30s, kept his own children intact, but is struggling with the fact that his parents have never addressed his circumcision with him. He knows the effect it has had on him (sexually and psychologically) as well as the impact it has on his wife, but he realizes his parents haven't a clue. He writes,
"If there was some way to get through to them, for some reason this would make me feel better. Granted, it wouldn't bring anything back, or undo the damage, but at least I would know they are sorry that it happened to me and sorry that it impacts me still today. I guess I just want them to be sorry."
Another man, in his 60s writes:
"I wish I had known enough to ask my parents about my circumcision when they were still living. Now I'll never know why it was done, or even if they wished it to be done in the first place, or if the surgery took place without their prior knowledge. I do believe, however, from various comments made over the course of their lives, that at least my father felt remorse over it."
The letters continue from other men:
"If I am honest, a sincere apology and getting involved in intactivism would be what I'd ultimately like to see. I had the chance to meet Marilyn Milos and she said that she apologizes every time she sees her sons. She acknowledges she was lied to by a medical system, but readily admits guilt for not having known better at the time. What I would give to have my own mother respond in this way. But how do I even start in on this conversation?"
A young man in his 20s writes:
"I think I am going to be having this discussion soon with my mom and dad. I really need to know exactly what happened and how it happened and why it happened. I've had some other health problems for a while now and I know my mom tends to blame herself for them, even though it's in no way her doing. So I wonder if this is anything she's ever thought about?"
A young man who recently discovered what is missing as a result of several intact friends writes,
"You know, my mom didn't circumcise me - a doctor did. Maybe I should just start by saying I've learned more about circumcision, and know that it was done to me, but not by her, and ask if this is something she wanted a doctor to do? My mom gets super defensive about everything, and I don't want her to shut down. I just have some questions I'd really like to know the answers to without her thinking I am being accusatory in the process."
A teen says,
"I don' even care what they say. I just want to know WHY."
Throughout the course of correspondence, one thing is clear - men simply need an honest, sincere discussion where they learn the truth of what happened to them, and why. And really, they deserve to know. It's summed up through this man's statement, "Just as one of my female friends, circumcised before she can remember it, has the right to know why it happened to her, I have the right to know why I was circumcised."
It is readily apparent that a lot of cut men are hurt (or angry) if/when parents refuse to become informed on what was done to them and taken from them, and subsequently do not offer a sincere apologize. However, an apology teamed with action goes a long way to help heal wounds. One of the men who runs CircInfoSite.com had an excellent idea he shared with us: Rather than just ignoring it, or saying 'sorry' without sincerity, parents have the opportunity to donate to an intact cause, or purchase information to give other expecting parents, in the name of their own son. We can show him that we authentically wish to save other boys and men from what happened to him, and honor his healing in the process. There are many excellent organizations operating solely on a donor basis (Saving Our Sons, The Whole Network, NOCIRC, Intact America, etc.) and changing lives along the way. It is an opportunity to get involved and make your apology take flight. Or, you can just start talking with others around you.
There are many parents who have already taken steps in this direction:
Other examples of wise parents of a circumcised son include Megan and Aaron Robinson, who share their powerful testimony here, and have saved many, many babies since the birth of their first son (and second, intact, son) in his honor.
Dani Arnold-McKenny at Informed Parenting is an advocate who says she made a choice to "completely accept the truth of what I had done and use my newly acquired enlightenment to reach out to others."
Mandi Woolery teaches natural childbirth classes, and after the circumcision of her first son, she started reaching out to other parents so that no one unknowingly puts their boys through the same. In A Public Apology to My Circumcised Son, Woolery offers up sincere remorse for what happened, but also encourages other parents not to remain silent. Talk to your sons, and then talk with others.
Another mother and advocate, Lauren Stone, has spent the last 28 years, since the birth of her first son, reaching out to new mothers before they make the same mistake she did. In A Letter to My Son, Stone writes, "I don’t ever want another mother to say they didn’t know, or ask why no one told them the truth before it was too late. I think one of the hardest realities a parent can ever face is knowing that their own ignorance caused their child harm."
The list of those speaking up - saying sorry - and going on to make a difference is unending.
So, what is the best way for a man (of any age) to approach his mom or dad with this question?
Several men have asked if we'd pose this inquiry to mothers on our Facebook page. One suggests the answers "may help save some relationships" because he, like countless others, has wrestled with how to handle the hurt, anger, and resentment over the loss of a normal, full sexuality and a part of his penis, while having parents who do not want to understand, let alone apologize, for what was done.
By posting here, we hope to provide an opportunity to respond for those who may not otherwise do so on Facebook. If you are the parent of a circumcised son - please share how it would be best for your son to approach you on the subject of his circumcision.
How should he broach the topic for the first time with you?
What would you like him to say/not say?
How are you likely to respond?
What would you like him to know?
Do you have suggestions for other men who would like to talk with their parents for the first time about their circumcision?
Is it better done in person, in a letter, on the phone, or in email?
Does the age of your son make a difference (teenager vs. adult)?
Are you currently an intactivist or pro-cutting?
Would you make the same choice again today?
Thank you, on behalf of men across North America, for your responses.
Two different men, of differing ages and backgrounds, share of the first time they learned they were circumcised, and how they asked their mothers about it.
Before you were born I was already planning all the best things I knew I could do for you. I would try and ensure that you had a gentle birth. I would give you the milk from my breasts although I had no support from my family, because I knew this was best. I would love you with all my heart and protect you from harm.
I read every book I could find on pregnancy and natural child care. I soaked it all in like a sponge. The one thing that I could not find was accurate information on circumcision. My public library hadn’t a single book that mentioned anything negative about it. So I asked men that I knew what they thought was best. I asked both circumcised and intact men. Some said it was good that I was asking questions, some thought I was silly, but answered nonetheless. Surprisingly they all said that it was probably the best way to go. Even my own intact father. My brother had been circumcised. I talked with my doctor who explained that is was a quick, simple, painless procedure and there was nothing to worry about. It was just ‘routine.’ I believed at that point that I was informed. I was not.
When you were taken from me at the hospital and carried down the hallway to a 'sound proof' room something inside me started to panic. A million thoughts were swirling through my head all at once... and then I heard you scream. It was a sound unlike anything I had ever heard in my life.
The hair stood up on the back of my neck and my knees buckled. It felt like my heart was no longer beating and I could feel my face flush and tears start to fall down my cheeks. There was a knot in my gut and I wanted to vomit. I was shaking and I muttered, “Oh God what have I done?” A nurse, almost laughing, said to me, “Oh he’s okay honey, he’ll be just fine and he won’t remember a thing.” I grasped at that delusion for a moment, but I knew that I would never forget it. I would never be the same person again.
When they handed you back to me I could hardly breath. The look on your face was that of shock, pain and betrayal. I held you close to me and whispered through my tears, “Oh my God, I am so sorry. I am so sorry, I am so sorry...”
All the sparkle was gone from your eyes and I knew that I had been lied to. I felt so betrayed and confused. I felt such guilt for having hurt you this way. How could I have not instinctively known that this was wrong? How could everyone in my country, in the world, not instinctively know that this was wrong? Why didn’t even a single person ever say to me that you were perfect as you were and this pain was unnecessary. Or even mention pain at all? I was so full of hatred towards the doctors. They knew what they were doing, and they lied to me. They hurt you and thought nothing of it. I was so full of hatred toward myself for letting those bastards hurt you that way.
I made a choice that wasn't mine to make, one that I wasn't equipped to make, one that I should never have been allowed to make.
Every time I bathed you, changed your diaper, or let you run free, I was reminded of my own guilt, of my own culpability for your suffering. I felt so ashamed. So stupid. So gullible for having believed it was nothing serious.
I close my eyes and I still see the dazed look of confusion in your face. The sound of your screams are seared into my brain. Not a single day has gone by that my heart doesn’t hurt. I am scarred too. But the scars I bear are in my soul.
The more I learned, the angrier and more deeply hurt I became. Especially when I realized the extent of what was taken from you and that it would affect you for the rest of your life. That it would impact your sexuality and your relationships.
I started to tell other moms what it was like, what I had learned, and not to let this happen to their babies. I didn’t want any other babies to be hurt or any other mother to ever feel the way I feel. My pain is what drives me to do something to stop this insanity.
28 years later I am still talking to moms and dads, to grandparents, to anyone who will listen. I don’t ever want another mother to say they didn’t know, or ask why no one told them the truth before it was too late. I think one of the hardest realities a parent can ever face is knowing that their own ignorance caused their child harm.
I saved your brother from the suffering I put you through. He is whole and safe and happy. I protected him because I learned the ugly truth the hard way. At your expense. He is very grateful that I learned to do better.
There is nothing I wouldn’t give to go back and change things. But that isn’t possible, so I work hard to try and save other baby boys from suffering needlessly as you did. I talk and talk and talk so that no other boy will be robbed of his right to a whole body.
So my darling son, I say this to you: I love you now as I have loved you always. I hope you can forgive me for what I didn’t know.
Write to Lauren at email@example.com. Lauren is happy to provide an info pack of materials to expecting parents who wish to look into this subject before the birth of their baby. If you are a birth or pediatrics practitioner or educator, you can also request an info pack here to share with clients.
Jan 2012 Note from the Editor:
Lauren and her children have fallen on really hard times. They are currently without a home and staying at a hotel. Because she has done so very much, for so many people, we would love to be able to help out just a little during this rough patch. If you would like to give something to Lauren and her kids, it will go a long way in the lives of these beautiful people.
A song adaptation to the tune of The Beatles' "Ticket to Ride"
I think I'm gonna be sad.
I think it's today - yeah.
This girl was driving me mad
While talking today...
'Cause she's gonna cut her baby
She's gonna cut her baby, yeah,
She's gonna cut her babe...
and she don't care.
She said that speaking to me
Was bringing her down - yeah.
Her will just couldn't be free
Though my reasons were sound.
So, she's gonna cut her baby -
She's gonna cut her baby, yeah,
She's gonna cut her babe... and she don't care.
Before she takes her poor baby's rights
You'd think she'd research -
You'd think she'd do right by him...
But family, church, her friends and the like
They say, "Just do it! So what's a bit of skin?"
I think I'm gonna be sad.
I think it's today - yeah.
A boy lost a part of himself,
Got taken away... yeah.
'Cause she said that it was her baby
She said that it was her baby -
She said that he was her babe... and I shouldn't care.