From Indifference to Activism: An Advocate's Journey

By Danielle Avery © 2012

Sculpture representing the Infinite Love between a parent and child.
Available from Ten Thousand Villages.

I never knew much about circumcision or gave it any thought whatsoever until my second pregnancy. My first pregnancy I somehow just 'knew' I was having a daughter, so the topic never crossed my mind. At some point during my second pregnancy, before finding out the sex of our baby, I briefly researched routine infant circumcision. I only did this because I had realized that it was a topic of debate among parents, and didn’t understand why it was such a heated subject - I didn’t really understand what circumcision was. I got the impression that it was not a necessary procedure, so I wanted to do some investigating and find out for myself.

I did not delve much into the details - at this point, I just wanted to know for certain whether or not circumcision was even required. After doing a bit of research, I had learned enough to know that, as I suspected, it was completely unnecessary. I decided right then and there that if the child I was carrying were a baby boy, that alone would be reason enough for me not to do it. Why would anyone put their newborn child through a surgery that offered them no medical benefit? It made no sense.

Weeks later it was revealed via ultrasound that my second child is also a girl. So any thoughts I had on circumcision completely escaped my mind as I began to plan and prepare for the upcoming arrival of my second daughter.

In 2011, during my third pregnancy, I began to look into the subject for a second time - especially after finding out that we were expecting a boy this time! I revisited the topic because the idea of circumcision was still somewhat new to me - I didn’t want to do wrong and I had to be confident in my decision, whatever that would be.

I knew that routine infant circumcision would inevitably become a topic of discussion between my husband and I at some point during the pregnancy, and having learned that it is one subject that frequently turns into a debate, I was not looking forward to it at all. Prior to talking with my husband, I wanted to learn more about reasons not to circumcise, in addition to the one fact I already knew: it is not medically necessary.

When the discussion finally did take place, it didn’t go smoothly. He learned that I was very strongly against having this surgery done on our son and I learned that he (at that time, but not anymore!) was in favor of circumcising our son. At that time, he simply did not realize just how harmful circumcision is, both immediately to an infant, and long-term for an adult.

In an effort for us to both be on the same page, as a team, and as parents making an informed decision, I spent even more time educating myself on the risks of RIC, why it is harmful, how unnecessary it is, and what the long term and short term effects of it are. My goal was to find as much information as I could to share with him. It hurt that we were not in agreement.

The more I learned about this horrific procedure, the more solidified I became in my decision that I would NEVER consent to having our infant son put through such a nightmare. I remember my pregnant self sitting at the computer bawling when I learned exactly what violence newborn baby boys in our country are subjected to every day. It was then that I learned about the procedure itself, and the inadequate (or complete absence of) pain management. Just the thought of this is heartbreaking to me. This disagreement was a very emotional struggle for me because I strongly felt the need to protect our soon to be born infant son from unnecessary surgery and at the same time, to help my husband understand the magnitude of harm that would result from subjecting a newborn to such trauma.

Months later, we had a healthy baby boy, who we kept intact. Despite having made the right decision for my son in protecting him from mutilation, the horror of what I had learned about routine infant circumcision (RIC) was still haunting me, and it did for months. I could not simply forget what I now knew. I wondered how many other parents would take the time to adequately research RIC before making this huge decision for their sons. I wondered if they, too, knew the truths of this painful, unethical surgery, or whether they believed the myths.

I felt that I needed to do something. I could not stand the thought of babies being subjected to such harm. My baby was safe, but what about others? Would their parents protect them, too? Or would they not know any better and be deceived? I then decided that I would do something. I wanted to help share pro-intact information with parents so that they, too, could make an educated decision and protect their babies from harm. I thought of how extremely grateful I felt for those who take the time in making accurate, pro-intact information available for expecting parents to easily find. Knowing what I know now, I am certain that I would not have gotten such honest information from the doctor because so many in the U.S. profit immensely from this procedure and are appallingly uneducated about proper intact care. This made me thankful to have done my research independently as opposed to solely asking a medical professional, who may have given me a very biased and potentially harmful answer. I thought that by becoming an advocate, this could be my way of giving back, of paying it forward, of helping other parents to protect their babies as well. After all, had I remained uninformed, or had I been misinformed, this could very well have been done to my own son and I could not have forgiven myself had I allowed it to happen due to a lack of education on my part.

I started with ordering info cards through Saving Our Sons and carding new baby items at Target and any place that sold baby items. Then I decided I had to do more. I contacted The Intact Network and volunteered to help. I was offered the responsibility of Co-Directing Intact Pennsylvania, which I eagerly accepted. I participated in several small, local protests outside hospitals that routinely circumcise healthy newborn babies - something I had never in my life done before. I was definitely stepping outside my comfort zone! As a new activist and member of the network, I suggested that we organize a carding event at a local maternity and baby expo. At that event, we gave away hundreds of informational cards - many directly into the hands of expecting mothers! There were countless pregnant women there and I hope that the information we shared was helpful to them.

Around this same time, I wrote a letter that I sent via e-mail to the task force members of the AAP’s updated circumcision policy, making them aware of the injustice against newborn babies that would result from their unethical statement. In this letter, I asked that they withdraw their new statement, and in its place, create a new one with accurate, unbiased information acknowledging the risks of RIC, the benefits of keeping babies intact, and that it include proper intact care (i.e. leave the foreskin alone!).

I feel it is also relevant to my story to add that there are a few people in my life who had the courage to approach me with this difficult topic during my pregnancy. Unknown to them, I had already done my research on circumcision - yet I am still grateful that they cared enough to step forward and mention to me the idea of keeping my baby whole. I know that could not have been easy - I myself am still learning, mostly through being around other pro-intact baby-saving advocates, how to broach this subject in such a way as to educate gently, without seeming judgmental, and without leaving the impression of over stepping bounds.

I have to say that it is very encouraging to see an increasing number of activists every day and gives me hope that one day MGM in North America will end. I am extremely grateful to be just a small part of this movement which I believe to be immensely important. I wish to see our country offer our boys the same protection that we offer our girls. All babies deserve to be protected equally, regardless of their sex, the culture they are born into, or the religion of their parents.


Danielle lives with her husband and children in Pennsylvania. She mothers her three little ones, ages 4, 2, and 1, and is a recent graduate of UMUC. Danielle works closely with other advocates, Co-Directing Intact Pennsylvania in an effort to raise awareness about the facts of circumcision and to share intact information with new and expecting parents across the state. 


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2 comments:

  1. What I love most about your story is that you highlighted so clearly the baby steps from one position to the next, taking you all the way to being a powerful activist and these are all duplicatable by others in their own locations. Think of the impact we would have if each and every one did the same. Thank you for writing and sharing a glimpse into the making of an activist.

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  2. I am just here for some moral support today- a Mom that I went running with this morning mentioned that her 4 year old was just "recircumcised" due to complications from the procedure at birth, and her husband was too squeamish to help him, so the little boy had been screaming and writhing on the floor while she was trying to find some vaseline. I just feel so sad and discouraged that parents still continue to subject their sons to this harmful procedure. Thanks for the positive story. I needed it.

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