Sunday, October 9, 2011

Circumcision: I Changed My Mind

By Kelly McLane © 2011

When I was preparing for the birth of my first child, there was only one thing I knew I did not want - an episiotomy. I wanted to try to give birth without drugs but I was open to an epidural if needed. I wanted to try laboring in water. I wanted to try breastfeeding but wasn't sure if it would work for me. So when it came time to push and I heard my midwife say, "Let's try a couple more pushes and then we might have to CUT..." I gathered up every bit of strength I had and pushed my baby out even though I couldn't feel anything because I had an epidural. I knew I did NOT want her to cut me down there. It seems ironic now that shortly after birth, I handed my baby boy over to be circumcised.

Before I get started, I want to emphasize that I am not writing this with the intent of making any parent feel bad or guilty about their decision to circumcise a son - what's done is done. I have friends and family that chose circumcision and I do not judge their decision, we all do the best we can with the information we have at the time. I am a very proud mama of three amazing boys - my first son was circumcised but the next two boys were not. I am sharing my story with compassion and hope for all the baby boys not yet born, that maybe by sharing my story, I can save *just one* baby from the unnecessary pain and harm of this procedure. I recognize that this is a very controversial, extremely sensitive, and culturally taboo subject but I have learned that, for most people, the more a person knows about circumcision, the more they are against it and I will always wish that I had been better informed before I had my first baby boy.

I was raised Catholic in North Dakota with two sisters and no brothers. I do not remember ever seeing my father naked so I honestly do not know whether he was circumcised or not. I would guess yes because he was born in the 50s when many baby boys were circumcised, often without consent from their parents. The topic of circumcision never came up in my family. To tell you the truth, I naively assumed a circumcised penis was the way boys were born. With that assumption I can't say for certain if any of my sexual partners were circumcised or not because up until I found out I was pregnant with a baby boy I really had no clue about normal male anatomy.

In 2004 I was pregnant, and we found out our baby was a BOY! The decision to circumcise or not came up right away. I did all the research and came to the conclusion that I did not want to circumcise our son. I believe at that time I likely found out more than the average U.S. parent discovers. I learned that circumcision is painful, harmful, and medically unnecessary. I learned that no medical organization in the world recommends routine infant circumcision, not even the American Academy of Pediatrics. I learned what the procedure entails and I watched a video and had to mute the sound, no way did I want my baby to go through that. I shared what I had learned with my husband hoping he would agree with me.

Unfortunately, he did not. It wasn't even a decision for him, it was going to be done no matter what I said. We argued. I shared the information with him, I showed him the video, but his mind was already made up. It was closed actually. For him, it was a simple procedure that newborn boys went through, much like cutting the umbilical cord. Until then, he had not given much thought to being circumcised as a baby, but felt that he was just fine the way he was, so his son would be too. In the end, I foolishly gave in. I didn't protect my baby even though my maternal instinct screamed to do so. I let my husband choose circumcision for our son because he has a circumcised penis and I don't.

However, I had to justify this decision in some way - I couldn't just let it happen knowing what I knew. I didn't care about percentages, I've never really been one to do what everybody else was doing. And at that time the circumcision rate in the U.S. was about 50% - so half were keeping their sons intact, and half weren't. Even though some people claim a circumcised penis "looks better" that didn't make sense to me. How could I possibly think my baby's body was ugly or defective?! I am not a religious person and even though my husband is Jewish we do not practice Judaism so there was no religious reason. So I grabbed onto the one study that claimed circumcised babies have a slightly lower chance of urinary tract infections. My husband has a kidney disease that has a 50% chance of being passed down. Bingo. We circumcised our baby because IF he has this kidney disease, then we should do whatever we can to reduce the chance of a urinary tract infection which could potentially harm the kidneys. That was my reason, my excuse. I insisted that if we were going to circumcise our baby, my husband had to go with him. I did not want him to go through it alone. I was really hoping that this would change his mind, but nope, still just a simple procedure in his eyes. Going with our son actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise later on...

Our perfect and healthy little baby boy was born into this world on April 21st. For some reason, the pediatrician we had chosen wasn't called while I was in labor, so she didn't show up at the hospital until the next day as we were checking out. "What about the circumcision?" my husband asked. "Oh, we'll do it in the office next week," she said, "Call and make an appointment."  I said I was worried about the procedure and she blew me off saying it's no big deal - that I shouldn't worry about it. She also said she was "pro-circ and thinks it should be done." We scheduled the appointment for April 30th. Even though I wish so many times that during that week I had changed my mind, put my foot down, and protected his tiny perfect body, I didn't. The decision had already been made.

Our first son, before circumcision surgery began.

So we took him in. My husband went back with him. It seemed to take forever and a nurse came out at one point. She was laughing the whole thing off and mentioned that I looked "terrified." "Yes, I AM terrified!" I thought, "You people are back there forcefully separating, cutting, and removing a part of my baby's body and it is taking for-freakin-ever!"

They finally brought him out and the doctor informed me that my baby needed a couple stitches, no big deal. I wanted to throw up. My tiny little baby, his perfectly NORMAL body, had stitches in his penis - the most sacred organ. How could I have let this happen and for what reason?! I really, honestly, don't think I will ever forgive myself for letting this happen to him. I knew better. But it did happen and I couldn't change that and so for weeks afterward at every diaper change I fought back tears and apologized to my baby as I gently pulled back and detached the remaining skin that was obviously trying to heal itself and re-cover the glans that, by nature, is designed to be covered.

In 2005 I became pregnant again and we didn't find out the sex this time. The babies would be 16 months apart. At first, my husband was very adamant that if baby #2 was a boy, he would also be circumcised. "They have to match, they have to be the same," he said. I prayed to the universe for a girl, even though I had a good feeling it was another boy. This time though, I was NOT going to give in. Two wrongs do not make a right. Maya Angelou said "When you know better, you do better," and even though I knew in my heart the first time, I wasn't going to make the same mistake twice. I wasn't going to let another baby of mine get stitches in his penis for no reason. I also learned more about the foreskin and what is lost when it is removed and how important and valuable this part of the male genitals is during infancy, childhood, and throughout a man's life. So I told my husband that if he really wanted it done, he would need to call the doctor, make the appointment, and take him in to have it done. Knowing his inability to do these sorts of things (ha!), I felt relieved inside.

Our second son, born at home, and kept whole.

Thankfully, throughout the pregnancy, and as my husband slowly processed his own experience with our first son's circumcision, he was able to see circumcision from a different perspective. I made him tell me what had happened during our son's surgery, even though I didn't want to know. I had to know. We both ended up in tears.

I continued to share facts and information, but this time, we didn't argue about it, it was kind of a non-issue because we didn't know if we were having a boy or girl. Believe it or not, what really sealed the deal for him was watching Penn and Teller's (Season 3) Bullshit! episode on circumcision. What really stood out for him was the historical reason Americans started practicing non-religious genital cutting in the first place. If you don't know, you should definitely find out before making this decision, because it really is bullshit. [Hint: Google Kellogg and Graham and their quest to end masturbation.]

Our second baby, another boy, was born peacefully and naturally at home in the tub. No appointment was made and he was left whole just as nature intended. I remember asking my husband, "What about circumcision?" He said after having an amazing homebirth, he saw no reason to take our healthy and perfectly normal baby to the doctor to have a part of his body cut off. I will admit, I was a little nervous about taking care of an intact baby because I had zero experience with normal male genitals. But as it turns out, it is MUCH easier than taking care of a circumcised baby. I currently have 10+ years of mothering two intact sons (baby #3 was born in 2007 - another boy!) and ZERO urinary tract infections. One time, son #2 was playing outside naked and got poked in the penis by a really nasty weed in the yard. His foreskin swelled up and it was a little scary but his foreskin did its job and protected the very sensitive glans (head) of the penis. If his foreskin had not been there, the glans most likely would have swelled up and prevented him from peeing normally. Hooray for nature and normal body evolution!

So, this is my story. I've experienced both sides of this parenting coin. The heartache and guilt I've felt following my son's circumcision led me to be a voice for baby boys who cannot say NO for themselves. I firmly believe ALL human beings, girls and boys, have a right to their normal, intact genitals. Should an adult man or woman choose circumcision for themselves, as an informed, consenting person - fine by me. But routine infant circumcision is not a compassionate thing to do to a little newborn baby - it hurts, it harms, and there is no good excuse to do it. The foreskin is a very important part of penis! It's his body, it's his penis, and it should be his choice whether or not he wants his full penis - foreskin and all.

One thing I have done and I encourage any parents that regret circumcision to do is to Google the doctor that performed their son's circumcision surgery and leave a review for them. There are several websites out there to do this. We need to let these pro-cutting doctors know that we trusted them to provide us with accurate and unbiased information regarding circumcision and that we are not okay with what they've done to our sons.

A shocking number of doctors in this country have very little knowledge of normal male anatomy. They do not understand the value and functions of the foreskin, they are only taught to amputate it. Our doctor did not give us accurate information, she was completely biased, and we did not give informed consent as we should have been able to do. Let's make sure our physicians receive feedback, and are encouraged to look into this subject more themselves - for the sake of their future patients.

I do not blame the doctor in our case, she only did what she knew. Nor do I blame my husband as he is a victim of circumcision himself. I can only blame myself for not listening to my mama instinct. And I blame our culture for desensitizing us to male genital cutting and allowing it to continue for so long when other English speaking nations abandoned the practice long ago, or never even started cutting babies to begin with.

The good news is we are well on our way to becoming a non-cutting country, like the majority of civilized nations around the world. The infant circumcision rate in the U.S. has dropped to under 35% in recent years, and will only go down from here as more parents learn the truth.

In the future, I will be honest with my circumcised son about what happened to him and make sure that no future grandsons of mine are cut. My husband and I are proud that we protected our 2nd and 3rd sons' autonomy and genital integrity, and once and for all ended the cycle of genital cutting in our family.

Our third son, born at home and kept whole.


If you would like a circumcision, prepuce and intact care information pack, you can request one here. The pack contains a great deal of excellent information to read, as well as 3 DVDs with a variety of informative videos to watch. If you cannot afford the cost of materials or shipping, there is a waiting list for someone else to donate a pack to you, or you can send me a message (InHonorofForest@gmail.com) and I will help get an info pack to you.


To hear from more parents who are raising both circumcised and intact sons, visit Keeping Future Sons Intact on Facebook, and read many of their stories here.

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12 comments:

  1. Thank you very much for sharing your story. It is very moving, and I really relate. I also have three sons, the first one circumcised. And even though he is fine with that, I can still hear him screaming from all the way down the hall. I don't think I'm ever going to forget that. You are right though--we do the best we can with the information we have at that time. Kudos to your lovely husband too. You have a beautiful family.

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  2. I really appreciate this article. I recently (7 weeks ago) had a baby boy, my second child but first boy (I prayed for a girl again, because I didn't want to have to make this decision... and I feel guilty saying that. I wouldn't trade either of my children for the world-and how sad that THIS made me terrified to have a boy.). My husband is very pro-circ, and also feels that it's "just something that's done" (he had it, doesn't remember it, etc.) Fortunately, (probably in a moment of hormonal imbalance:), I adamantly said that over my dead body would he be circumcised. I give my husband credit for respecting that, even though I know he still feels strongly about it. (Not to say I don't respect your husband... I'm just saying in our circumstances.) I feel like I did the research, and if he is so pro-circ, then he could take our son back and be bed-side while they do it. (Although I'd never let him take my kid if he actually tried to go through with it. :) Anyway, I'm encouraged to see the anti-cutting stories. I never want to do anything to my sweet child that would make him "weird" or have him made fun of, but I don't think he'll be alone, and I hope this is what he would have chosen for himself. I also feel that if he doesn't feel that way, it's a decision he can make later... I think I'd even pay for it if he wanted it (is that wrong?); if it was a decision he made as an adult... but as for now, don't come near my kid. I am getting fired up thinking about it :)

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  3. Thank you for sharing your story! I can relate to some of it. I have three sons as well. I became pregnant with my first in 2002 and I didn't do any research at all into circumcision. I never knew it was even optional. I'm sure I signed a form giving consent, probably with a whole stack of forms but it wasn't an yes or no type of thing -- certainly not an 'opt-in' type of thing. I didn't know that anyone didn't circumcise. I thought that you had to get it cut off. Oh how ignorant and naive I was!!!!

    But when I became pregnant with my second in 2004, I had started to learn more. I did some 'research' although it was really just surface research. Read from the AAP and some other medical sites. Even read a few online debates. I came to the conclusion that circumcision was not necessary but that it would really be fine either way. But when I came to to dh with this information, he adamantly opposed the idea of not circumcising. I fought him on it for a while, printed out some info for him and he only became more and more insistent. I finally decided that since we already had one circumcised and dh felt so strongly...and afterall, it would be "fine" either way -- I would let it be done.

    After it was done, I immediately regretted allowing it. Since I knew more this time, I couldn't live in that completely ignorant state. I began feeling some bitterness towards dh. I decided to dig a little deeper. Honestly, I was hoping to find some more evidence that circumcision was beneficial. But no matter how hard I tried, I didn't find that. Instead, I found that not only was it not beneficial, it was HARMFUL! What? Why didn't anyone tell me? Ok, I can't blame anyone else but myself. But I do hate that some many so-called trusted sources present this as some kid of "balanced" issue with a list of "pros". There are no pros! I had no idea what I had truly done. I think a part of me didn't want to know b/c I had to face the reality of what I had done to my first and now my second defenseless son.

    When I became pregnant with my third, I told my dh right away that I would NOT allow our baby to be circumcised. It was another boy! Dh was not happy but he had no choice but to concede b/c I my foot was down and it was not moving. Our third sweet baby boy was born and finally able to keep his whole body. After my husband saw the difference, he thanked me for not letting it be done. And now he too regrets allowing it with our older boys.

    I have forgiven my dh for insisting it be done and I have no more resentment. I know that he is a victim of genital cutting himself and was only acting in the way he knew how at the time. He had his own harsh reality to face about what was done to him. I'm glad that we stopped the cycle in our family. I wish we had figured it out sooner!

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  4. I have four sons, all happily whole! The youngest actually has hypospadias, a birth defect in which part of his foreskin is missing. When pregnant with my oldest, I never considered for one second allowing my perfect baby to have part of his body amputated! It strikes me as ludicrous. My circ'ed husband was a little concerned that our oldest would feel different from him and his oldest son, my stepson, but he didn't put up a fight about it. I would have held firm even if he had. Anyway, along the way, we learned all about the wondrous functions and purpose of foreskin, and now my husband is very upset he was circ'ed. He has talked about trying to restore. I asked him why he had his oldest circ'ed, and he said they never even questioned it, but just thought that's what you did. I thank God my brain seems to work differently, and I always think for myself. I think it's awesome you mamas who are choosing to keep younger sons intact, and not thinking they need to "match." A friend of mine just had her fourth son, but he is the first they kept whole.

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  5. Thanks for sharing your story, a brave thing to do, and inspiring. I have a daughter and a six month old son, and I must say it didn't ever cross my mind to change a cell of his perfect little body, much less allow anyone to cut off part of his genitalia! I'm fortunate in that my partner agrees, it must be very difficult to disagree on something so fundamental. Good on you for protecting your younger sons! People need to think, really think about why on earth you would mutilate tiny perfect babies, and let go of the idea of doing this because everyone else does! Stories like this help parents to process the information knowing that they are not alone.

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  6. Lara English5/12/2013 2:03 PM

    Thanks for sharing your story. My son was circumsized right after being born and has had several issues with reattachment. After reading your story, I'm not sure that I would circumcise another son. It was so painful and scary for him and I often ask myself what the purpose was. If it isn't healthier for them, then why do it?

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  7. All 3 of my boys are cut, but I wish they weren't. I had my first two in the early 90's, when that was the norm and there was no internet or easy way to do research. My third son was born in 2007, and I had him circumcised because my two oldest were. It was horrible...I had to go outside and cry. After that, I realized there was something wrong with the whole thing and began to do some research. I have apologized to my older boys and have shown them the facts, and they have vowed to leave their own sons intact. I will do the same with my youngest when he is older. In this way I hope to stop the cycle in my own family!!

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  8. dontticklethedragon5/12/2013 2:04 PM

    I envy the women with understanding husbands. My husband still doesn't understand why I'm suddenly against circumcision. My son has had problems with adhesions. He bleeds frequently and is more cranky than he was before we started trying to pull away the adhesions manually. Thank you SO much for sharing your story and helping those of us who circumcised our first feel less guilty for our choice. Now that I'm better informed, I will NOT be putting my future sons at risk.

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  9. I sure do wish I could have read this about 4.5 years ago, while pregnant with my son. I will forever remember that awful day in the hospital, how my poor son's penis looked after they were done... and how I cried & held him, and apologized. I was completely ignorant on the topic, and allowed it to be done. Now I wish I'd read more about it. I too hope more mothers read this while pregnant, or even before they become pregnant with their sons!

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  10. I wish we had read this before our son was born. I was against doing it but my hubby was for it. I gave in as our pediatrician recomended doing it. The sad part is that after my hubby saw what happened he would not have made that choice again. Maybe they should make future parents watch a video on circ's in the birthing class...

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  11. I, too, circumcised my son. Unfortunately I didn't do my research. I just fell into the trap that it was normal in both my husband's family and my own family so what was the big deal? I also felt the same way about epidurals, sleep training, etc. And then after I had my baby I really started to think about things, started to question the "norm." After taking care of my son's circumcision I greatly regretted it. My husband and I both agreed that we wish we hadn't done it but again, presumed that since we circumcised one, we would have to circumcise all sons. And then we stopped and thought, "why in the world would we continue doing something we said we wouldn't do again if we had the chance?!?" We have since decided that we would not circumcise future sons. If and when it becomes a conversation in our sons's lives then I believe the truth is in order. If nothing else I believe it illustrates that one does not need to continue to do things they do not believe in or consider wrong just because of tradition or past decisions. We can change and that is one of the things that gives me hope in humanity.

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  12. No matter who accompanies a baby when he's being cut, even if there are 50 people in the room, he still endures this trauma completely and utterly alone.

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