I am a part of a group of parents. We don't want to be grouped together, but we love each other. We don't want to have to comfort each other, but we do. We don't want to feel the way we feel...but we do. We are mothers and fathers with circumcised sons. We are parents that unknowingly made a decision that was never ours to make. We also speak out against routine infant circumcision and we do it because we know the horror. We know the pain it causes. We know the pain that it causes because the boys we love the most survived it.
From the moment that I discovered the truth about circumcision I knew I would have to tell my boys that I chose it for them. I knew I would have to apologize and explain it to them. For almost 2 years it lived in the back of my mind. My oldest son is almost 6 and is reading and absorbing everything. He started reading my intact info cards and sounded out “penis” and I knew the day was quickly approaching.
March 2013 I was planning our first visit to Washington D.C. for Genital Integrity Awareness Week. I booked the hotel and put aside money for gas and food. I requested time off from work. I was fund raising for the event night and day! I was eating, sleeping and breathing activism. Then one day, while in discussion with other Intact Network Directors I realized -- C was going to come with me and see the signs that pictured babies being circumcised and he may overhear conversations about the dangers of circumcision. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had to tell him.
For three days I was on egg shells. What do I say? What words do I use? Do I tell him everything? C is a kind person, he is very empathetic and feels everything very deeply. It is fair to say that he is his mother's son. I knew that once I told him, he would share in my own heart ache.
I couldn't let this consume me any longer. One night, as I finished up some work, I took a deep breath and dove in. I recorded the conversation so that I could refer back to it. I knew his words would be important to me and to our story. What follows is a portion of this recording.
“Hey, C, come here... I want to talk to you about something. So, [Deep Breath] you know we are going to Washington D.C. in a couple of weeks?”
“Do you remember what I said about why we are going?”
“Ok, well that is what I want to explain to you.”
Can I make this upbeat? No. I can't but I am going to try!
“My friends and I give
0.out those little cards, and I wear these bracelets, and I wear my shirts to the gym and we write those messages on my car.”
“We talk to people about... to moms that have boys. We talk to them about something called... [*sob*] ...we talk to moms about something called circumcision.”
There I said it. Circumcision. I spit it out like sour milk.
“About work?” His little face was so confused.
“No. It is something...it is something that in the past that doctors have told moms was good for their babies. Doctors sometimes said that it was good. But now I have done all this reading, and all this learning. And I found out that...I found out that the doctors were wrong. It is NOT good for babies.”
“It is NOT good for babies?! What is it?” His eyes were strained, this look of concern was so obvious.
“It is a surgery that some babies have...[*sob* DEEP BREATH] It is a surgery that some babies have that...when you are born you are born with some skin on the top of your penis, that is called foreskin. It is there to protect the end of your penis. They take that off, in this surgery, when you are really little.”
I have no idea what words to use. How much is too much? Is this too much? Should I end this conversation? Am I ready? Is HE ready to hear this? What have I done?
He still looks so confused. His big, blue eyes are so wide, I can see him thinking it all through.
“When you were born I asked the doctor if I should do it and he said that I should...[*sob*] So you had that surgery and so did your little brother. I didn't know that it wasn't good for babies. I had no idea. The doctor told me that it was right. And then after your brother was born I started doing more reading and I made a lot of new friends on Facebook. People started talking to me about it and I learned that it is not better for babies and it is not right.”
“Then why did they take the skin off my penis?” He looks horrified and I can see the fear in the strain of his face.
“A lot of doctors do it to make money. So, they told lies to make some moms believe that it was good. And the doctor that told me to do it, he lied to me and I never should've done that. But I believed the doctor because I thought he was right.”
“But he wasn't right.”
“No, he wasn't and I am so SO sorry.”
“So now -- now I know better and I know that we shouldn't do this to our babies. That is why I talk to people about it. That is why I write on my car, that is why I wear these bracelets, so that people will talk about it. So that people will know that when the doctors say that they SHOULD do it...I just want other moms to know that it is okay to NOT do it so that they don't feel like I feel sometimes. I feel sad sometimes that you are missing a part of your penis that might help you. I am very sorry that I listened to the doctor and didn't learn about it first.”
“It's okay. The doctors shouldn't be telling lies like that.”
“No they shouldn't.”
“The doctors - we need to call them and tell them not to tell any more lies. They don't need to cut off foreskin anymore. And that is why we are going to Washington D.C.!” My little activist. There is a wrong and he wants to make it right. I told you he was his mother's son!
“That is right, we are going to talk to everyone that we can and we are going to tell them the truth. We are going to give them all the right information so that they won't do this to their babies. And we are going to go together.”
“Because that is what you have to do when you know what the truth is, you have to always tell the truth!”
“That is right! I am telling you this because while we are there you might see pictures of babies being circumcised, you might hear people talking about it and how bad it is for babies. I didn't want you to see it and be confused and not know what it was about. When we are there, if you see something that upsets you, you can just tell me and we will talk about it, okay?”
“You don't want to take off babies' penis skins! I am going to tell everybody that those doctors lied to you. Every single people - I am going to tell them!”
“If you ever have questions, I will answer them for you. You are such a smart boy, you know that? And you are so sweet and kind. You know that?”
“I know that because you always tell me that I am those things. I know that some doctors don't tell lies, but we should tell the other ones to not tell lies, like taking off penis skin. You can't cut that off because that is a part of our body. Wait... are we borned with that foreskin?”
“Then we have to need it?”
“Yes. You are absolutely right. More moms should listen to their hearts, because I have learned that if it feels wrong, it probably IS wrong.”
“Why did those doctors tell you that lie? To take my penis skin off in a surgery?”
“They told me it was going to be good for you. That when you grow up you would be happy that it was done.”
This conversation went on loop for another few minuets, and I apologized many more times. It was his way of processing the whole thing, it made no sense to him and talking about it over and over was his way of putting it all together.
For the first few days after our talk, circumcision was brought up a lot. He said that he was going to tell everyone -- and he did! We go to our local YMCA regularly and he told his little friends there about foreskin and circumcision. He brought it up at home multiple times. I thought it would never end, but I knew it was his way of processing things, so I answered all of his questions honestly, no matter how many times he asked them.
Genital Integrity Awareness Week started and we were going to Washington D.C.! I was so excited to finally meet so many people that I have worked with on Facebook for the past couple of years! My boys were excited to make new friends, and C in particular was excited to advocate for babies. We spent 4 full days in D.C.
On our second day there I was at a DrMomma table with info cards and books on it. There was also a circumstraint and circumcision tools on it. I watched C approach the table and go straight to the tools. He touched each one. He was holding a scalpel and looked up at me.
“What are these things Mom?”
I wasn't expecting this either. I took a deep breath, “That is a scalpel.”
He put his hand on the velcro of the circumstraint. “What is this thing?”
My mind jumped to the day he was born. I saw his little 10lb body strapped to that board. I remembered his deep baby cry. His chest heaving. I have never been more sorry a day in my life. “That is the board they put the baby on to do a circumcision.”
“The doctor put me on one of these?” He was so casual.
“Yes.” If we weren't surrounded by hundreds of people I would have started crying. I could barely breathe. I guess saying it was done and seeing the circumstraint were two different things. Seeing that velcro in his little hand was overwhelming.
He picked up the gomco clamp. “Which one of these did the doctor use to cut off my foreskin?”
“I'm not sure honey, they didn't tell me.” I don't want to know.
He moved over to the restoration devices on the Saving Our Sons table. He asked how each one worked and I took them apart and explained to him how he could, when he is older if he wants to, restore his foreskin. I explained to him that a lot of men do it and if he wanted to when he was older we could talk about it and find one that worked for him. Once he seemed satisfied he went back to playing with his friends.
On our 3rd day in D.C. was the big march to the White House! I was so excited -- we had over 100 people in the march and lots of kids! I had never done anything like this before, but I was ready! People around us were chanting, “His Body! His Choice!” and C asked me what they meant, so I explained the phrase to him. He asked if he could say it too, I told him that he could say anything he felt like saying, so he started quietly chanting, “Circumcision is not your decision!” He looked up at me and asked if that was okay to say. I said, “Of course it is, if that is what you feel!” Tears stung my eyes. This beautiful boy with all his courage was speaking out against circumcision on his own. He knew as much as I knew. He wears the scar of my own ignorance, the ignorance of our society, and is speaking out. Something that grown men often can't even do -- he is doing it. My brave, strong, beautiful boy!
We marched on and I was so full of pride, for him, for me, and for my friends around us. A man walked up to me and said, “You should be ashamed of yourself - having your kids out here!” C looked right at him, sign in hand, and said, “I am circumcised and I am angry!” The man turned around and walked away, no doubt he did not expect my 5 year old to speak up for himself! I could no longer hold back, tears fell from my eyes. He is circumcised and he is angry. He is circumcised and I am angry. This is why we are here, this is why we march. I march every day. Not to the White House, but I march.
I can honestly say that I am glad I talked about circumcision with my son. The weight of the conversation was lifted from my heart. I can now say, there is nothing I am withholding from him. It was hard. Looking into his big blue eyes and telling him that I made a choice for him that was not mine to make. That I took something from him. That I put him in harm's way. That I had a hand in some of his pain.
I love my son's honesty. I love his forgiveness. I love that he sees me as a hero, for him and for other babies. One of his friends asked him what his mommy did for work and he folded his arms over his chest and said, “She saves babies from circumcision!”
I don't save babies alone anymore, my boys and I do it together! We go carding, and they each have their own child size, “His Body, His Choice” bracelets. Since GIAW in D.C. we have done three large, formal events with Saving Our Sons in my city, and each time C is excited to tell parents attending the baby expos the truth about circumcision.
At one event an expectant mother left our table promising to keep her son intact and I was so happy I was crying! I had never changed someone's mind in person like that! C ran up to me and asked what was wrong and I said, “I am crying because the lady that just left has a baby boy growing in her belly and she is not going to circumcise him!” I was holding his sleeping brother at the time, but C wrapped him arms around me and said, “We saved a baby, Mom!” Yeah, we did baby. I couldn't save you, but you and me -- we are going to save many, many babies! ❤
Pick up a set of your own info cards to spread the word near you, get involved locally, or support one of many events and maternity expos in need of funding to take place across the nation and abroad.
I Circumcised My Son: Healing From Regret (collection of parents' stories)
Keeping Future Sons Intact (public page)
Functions of the Foreskin
Foreskin Restoration Resources
Also by LeRoy:
Circumcision: My Story