Circumcision: I Promise, Never Again

By Shannon Weissman © 2013

My heart aches every day for the mistake I made that I can never take back. I cry and hope that my son can forgive me for the uneducated decision that I had no right to make on his behalf. 



January 2011: My son was born perfect. My labor was unmedicated and fairly quick. I was proud of myself and my lil babe for doing so well. He was 8lb 3oz of gorgeous chubby baby! He nursed right away and was very happy. My husband, who is Jewish by birth but not practicing, assumed that our son would be circumcised. I never questioned it. I didn't know I should. I didn’t think there were risks. I was so ignorant. I hardly even thought about the procedure until that day. I had no idea what it entailed.

While I was pregnant, my husband approached me about having a brit milah. I told him I knew nothing about it and he would have to do all the work researching for a rabbi and temple, etc. But we ignorantly never researched the details of the surgery itself. What he did find out was there was no mohel where we live and if we wanted the procedure done by a mohel we would have to fly one out! Because that was a stretch for us and we had no family close enough to attend, my husband decided to say the Jewish prayer himself as the pediatrician performed the circumcision.

When the doctor came in to talk to us about our son's circumcision, all I could think about was how this was the safest and best option for him in the long run - believing all the common myths American parents typically hear. I asked the doctor how many circumcision surgeries he had performed and begged him to be careful because my baby only gets one penis and there was no going back. (Boy did I miss the message in that!)

Our physician joked that this was his first time performing circumcision, and then reassured me that he had performed hundreds before and he would do just fine. He almost tried to tell me this was an unnecessary procedure, but he failed to warn us of any risks or any dangers involved. We did not have to watch a video about circumcision, although we had been required to view the shaken baby syndrome video... Why don’t they give parents full disclosure on circumcision procedures as well?! At the time, I didn’t even consider that death was a risk at all. Dumb, I know -- death is a risk of any surgery. But I hadn’t even considered it. If I had, then my son would most certainly remain intact, because his life is much more precious than circumcision. I would not have risked his life for this. I know now that I am lucky he is alive.

We had permission for my husband to be present in order to say the Jewish prayer while they performed the circumcision, but there was no way I could have been in that room. Now I wish I had been... I'm sure I would've stopped it! I cannot imagine seeing my perfect baby held down and tortured.

When my son came back to the room, he would not nurse for hours. He just slept. I realize now that he was in shock. My poor, innocent, one-day-old baby was in shock. I asked if it was normal for him to not be nursing, and I was assured that this was typical post-circumcision. Hospital staff tried to calm my fears by telling me he did not cry during the circumcision and everything went 'perfect.' They used a Plastibell and told me it was safer. Plastibell circumcision leaves part of the plastic ring on the head of the penis during the post-operative healing phase. It falls off on its own around the same time as the umbilical cord. I asked about how to care for this and was told not to put anything on it! Period. No other instructions. I was surprised because I did remember a friend having a son not long before and she told me about using lots of Vaseline. But I asked again, and was again told the Plastibell required no extra care and to not put anything on it -- it would heal on its own. I should not wipe it with a wipe, but drip a little warm water on it from squeezing a wet paper towel. That's it. No further instructions, no warnings, nothing to look out for, no directions for how to care for it after the Plastibell fell off. And we were sent home...

Thinking back, I cannot even remember changing my son's diaper before he was circumcised. I try so hard to think about what his body looked like perfect and whole and unmutilated. But I can’t even remember. I didn’t even give him a chance.

The first week home was uneventful. But when the Plastibell ring started to fall off unevenly I got nervous. I called everyone I knew who had a son and asked if they were circumcised with a Plastibell and if this was normal. A friend of mine stopped by who had a son with this type of circumcision and said it looked normal. At our 2 week check up the doctor said it was okay and not to worry. We were again told we shouldn't be putting anything on it. When the ring came all the way off I was relieved. Everything seemed to be alright? But I've never taken care of a circumcised penis before! I noticed there was still enough foreskin to cover the head of his penis. So, once a day I would pull it back just a little to wipe it clean. I never pulled it back too much because I didn’t want to hurt my baby. Everything seemed fine.

At about 3 1/2 months I noticed that a small part of the remaining foreskin was reattaching to the head of my son's penis. When I asked the doctor about this at his 4 month visit, she said not to pull it apart because it would cause scarring and cause him pain in the future. So I was sure not to pull it apart! I then started to notice this remaining foreskin attaching even more. Every time I talked to my mother about my concerns, she would tell me I was 'obsessed with his penis' and she was sure it was fine. This of course made me feel worse. Was I 'obsessed?' I don’t know. How could I not notice it? I changed him 10 times or more a day! He did not seem 'fine.'

We saw a different doctor at our next visit and he told us to separate the remaining foreskin from the glans (head) of the penis by pulling it apart, but I was concerned about scarring as the other doctor had warned us about. So I did not. And then I started to do some research online... I learned that what he has are likely penile adhesions. Some sources told me to separate it at home and some said that he would need another surgery (repeat circumcision).

At about 8 months I took him to a naturopath because I wanted to try out a more natural health care provider. Even though it was going to cost me $200 out of pocket for our first visit, I was excited to talk to someone more on my page. When I called to make the appointment and spoke to the N.D. on the phone, she assured me that she could address every question I had, including his circumcision. After our pricey appointment, however, I was extremely disappointed. Not only were we rushed with hardly enough time to recall the questions I had, she also looked at his circumcision wound and said, "I think it looks okay, but I’m not a penis expert." Really? We never went back.

A few months later I made an appointment with our doctor for a referral to a urologist. I wanted to talk to someone who looked at penises all day. I needed an answer! Our doctor refused to give us a referral. She said if he wasn’t in pain, not to worry about it. She said to give him a warm bath and then gently separate the foreskin from the glans, and apply Vaseline. At this time my son was 10 months old. He would not sit still in any way whatsoever for me to try to separate it. And I was terrified I was going to make it worse.

I felt like a failure of a mother! How could I not protect him. How could I just let them do a surgery on my one day old PERFECT baby without doing any research?!

Today, I am so angry at myself that I cannot stand it. I make myself sick to my stomach wishing I could go back to that day and change things. I have permanently mutilated my perfect baby boy. Definitely have scarred him with my ignorance. I regret it every single day with my entire heart and soul.

When he was about one year old I finally reached out to the intactivist community and got more answers and more knowledge than any doctor had ever taken the time to tell me. I am still learning every day. We have decided to leave his adhesions alone and hope that they separate during puberty like a normal foreskin would. If he ever expresses that he is in pain we will readdress it and first look into steroid cream options and manual tugging to help separate the adhesions. Another surgery would be a very last resort.

I have also decided that when he’s old enough for the conversation I will explain to him why I allowed this to happen and hope that he forgives me. I will talk with him about foreskin restoration and offer to pay for products if he decides he wants to pursue that. I have also thrown myself into intactivism. I serve as Co-Director of Intact Hawaii and will never allow anyone I know to have a baby boy without the knowledge I have today. I cannot force anyone to change their views, but I do hope they are open minded enough to listen and research before it is too late. I will spread the truth to change the future for our children. Our sons deserve to have their genital autonomy protected, just as our daughters have today.


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 These cards are available to request and share here: http://www.savingsons.org/p/info-cards.html


Hear from more parents whose sons were circumcised, and find resources specific to those raising both circumcised and intact sons at: http://www.drmomma.org/2010/05/i-circumcised-my-son-healing-from.html


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12 comments:

  1. Awww, I really feel your agony over this! I did not circumsise my three boys because I knew enough about it at that point. I can't imagine how I would feel if I did say yes. I would feel exactly like you do. Guilty. But you have to let all that go now. You didn't know!! But now you do and what's done is done. You are now helping thosands of other babies, so maybe, just maybe your son gave up his forskin so that thousands of other babies don't have to!! And it sounds to me like his body is trying it's darndest to get get that forskin back! I know he will forgive you. You are a wonderful mommy and he will know that when he is older. Hugs to you! --Julie

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  2. i'm surprised the circumcision was performed on day one, jews usually wait until the baby is eight days old, to reduce the risk of hemmoraghing. i said no to genital cutting when my jewish son was born 21 years ago, i'm thankful every day for my decision. peace to you and your son...

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  3. I am in the same boat. My oldest son was circed and he developed adheasions and the doc ripped his foreskin away when he was 14 months old. To this day when I go to just clean him he says no and starts crying. I have to reassure I am just cleaning and I am not going to touch it with out the cloth. I kept my 2nd son intact.

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  4. If your son always feels like you're on his side, which most parents are and I'm sure you are too, then he'll forgive you because he will understand that you truly thought it was the best thing to do at the time. He will probably come to understand how even in the era he was born, the medical community is just too afraid to tell parents that they really shouldn't do this to their sons. "It has to be the parents' choice" they always say. Thank God some docs and nurses do take a stand and express how they feel, their job be damned. We need more in the medical community like that.

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  5. This is my story EXACTLY, with the exception of the Jewish part. Words cannot express how much of the same pain I feel about my decision. Thank you for sharing this, as difficult as I'm sure it was. Knowing that there's someone out there going through what I'm going through (extreme guilt, dealing with the adhesion..) makes me feel at least a little better.

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  6. I can completely related to this story, breaks my heart that medical "professionals" continue to not educate parents about circumcision. I have one son circa and one intact.

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  7. If you are requesting a referral to a specialist, they are required by law to give you one, regardless of whether or not they agree with you. I would be pushing the issue, taking it up as far as I could in the chain of command. Either that, or file a lawsuit. This is your child....a human being. Parents gut feelings are far more reliable than even a lot of Doctor's. You are the one who knows your own child best.

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  8. That's a horrible story :( poor baby, poor mother.

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  9. as mothers we make the best decision we can in the moment we're currently in. it sounds like you are still holding onto a lot of guilt. you did the best you could and it's not going to help any to hold onto this. your guilt will turn into deep anger and bitterness and for the sake of your son, you need to forgive yourself - as it seems that you blame yourself for "letting this happen" to him. but it was still a choice in that moment. what you know now you didn't know then. try to forgive yourself.

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  10. Sorry, momma. I reluctantly agreed to having my first child circ'd and immediately regretted it. To this day I tell friends/family that doing that is the one decision I have made as a mother that I truly regret (my gut told me not to and I let myself be pressured). I have three more sons, all intact, but still have immense guilt over my oldest. I am grateful that there were no complications. I also know that we can forgive ourselves and work to make sure we educate our sons and daughters for the future.

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    1. Keep telling everyone that! I'm sure there will be others who will remember you telling them and it will help them stand up to the pressure to have their own babies circumcised. There may have all ready been some, whether or not you are even aware of it. I also have one circumcised son and three intact sons, by the way.

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  11. When you explain to him what happened, the fact that you work with Intact Hawaii will be further evidence of your sincerity. With my one circumcised son, it was a little different. He was circumcised before I got him, but I had failed in my attempt to convince the social worker in charge not to have him circumcised before giving us custody, as he always did. I later went over the guy's head and wrote to those in charge of a whole chain of adoption agencies, and convinced them to adopt a new policy of forbidding their employees to take part in requesting or paying for circumcision. When my son was old enough to ask me about it, it made him very happy that I had done that.

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