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Babies, In the News (or not), Parenting

The Circumcision Decision: A Tale of Two Boys

Every expectant parent of a new baby boy is faced with the decision of whether or not to have him circumcised. Years ago we believed that this was a helpful procedure, designed to protect our young men and promote hygiene. When I was expecting my first son, many of my hours of research were devoted to determining whether or not circumcision would be in his best interest. Ultimately, I decided it would.

Set of surgeon's knives by Birmingham Museum and Art GalleryBack in 1998, the American Academy of Pediatrics still recommended circumcision for newborn boys. There was some research that indicated positive outcomes including a reduction in urinary tract infections among other health benefits. I was also concerned about social repercussions such as locker room experiences, dating, and “looking like Dad.” What had me worried about the procedure, however, was the way it was being performed. At that time, infants were not anesthetized. I knew that research had proven infants experienced pain. The old beliefs that they did not had been debunked. But still, doctors were not offering pain relief of any kind. I was told that this was because it was either too dangerous or made the procedure riskier. I also discovered that the majority of circumcisions were performed by inexperienced interns or residents. That did not make me feel comfortable at all.

I decided that I would bring my son to a mohel. This is a rabbi, who in the Jewish community, has been specially trained and certified to perform circumcisions within their faith. I am not Jewish but I wanted someone who knew what they were doing. The mohel also would only do the procedure on the eighth day and would give my son a small amount of kosher wine. That was the closest I could get to an anesthetic and I liked the idea of giving him a few days on earth that were positive and loving before experiencing pain.

Although I knew this wasn’t perfect, I believed that circumcision was ultimately in his best interest and this was the best that I could do.

Tidy by Ran Yaniv HartsteinThe arrangements were made and we went to the mohel’s house. He was very kind and gentle. He gave my son a bottle of diluted kosher wine as he made preparations. Then he brought out a plastic board with straps on it. My son was placed on this board and strapped into it, spread eagle. He was quiet and calm. The mohel suggested that I might want to turn away at this point. I refused. I told him I was not leaving my son while he endured this painful experience. I stayed right by him, talking to him softly.

Then, my son was cut.

My baby instantly lurched up off the board as far as he could go. He was tied down and only eight days old, but he hurled himself up into the air. He let out the loudest and most terrifying scream I’ve ever heard. It was gut-wrenching and came from deep within him.

I will never forget that sight. I will never forget the sounds he made. It was one of the worst moments of my life.

Untitled by DiannaThe mohel was very skilled and very fast. He only took a couple of seconds. He untied my baby and gave him back to me. I tried to nurse him. But he was still crying. Hard. He was so upset he kept pulling away. It was the worst thing that had ever happened to him. I know. I saw the whole thing.

It was only a year later that I was pregnant again. When I found out I was having another boy, I immediately began to struggle with the circumcision decision. I had already circumcised my firstborn. Of course, I would have to circumcise my second, right? I couldn’t have one son look like Dad and another who didn’t.

The pregnancy went along very nicely and every other choice I had to make I felt great about. Breastfeeding, birth plan, immunization schedule, sleeping arrangements. But right up to the end, I just couldn’t imagine putting another child through the horror of what I had seen.

I couldn’t knowingly put my child through that kind of pain.

So, it was decided that circumcision would be his choice. If he ever decided, at any time, that he was uncomfortable with his body, he could have the procedure. I would help him with it. At an older age, he would be entitled to pain relief, too. The minimal benefits being touted were easy to counter with simple care. I would just teach him to wash himself, just like he brushed his teeth. Sure, you might get cavities. But you don’t pull your teeth out to prevent them. So, the AAP was saying you might have fewer UTI’s if you get circumcised. That suddenly just didn’t seem worth it.

Why would you cut off your foreskin to prevent an infection when you could just as easily practice good hygiene?

My younger son is 12 years old now. He has never once questioned why his penis looks different from his brother or father. We’ve always talked about their two circumcision stories and why I made the choices I made. They are both comfortable with their bodies. My older son knows I made the best decision I could and he’s fine with that. My younger son knows that he has a whole, natural body because I loved him too much to intentionally cause him pain and he has the absolute right to change his body if he ever wants to. He’s okay with that, too.

Kaylee eyes by Adam SelwoodI’m not going to tell you what to do when it comes to circumcising your son. I do want to encourage you to learn everything you can about this medical procedure. Many who perform circumcisions do not tell parents the full extent of the risks involved and encourage them to separate from their babies during the procedure. Please don’t do that. If you decide you will circumcise your infant, please ensure that he receives adequate pain relief. Unmedicated surgery on his penis is beyond cruel. No human being deserves that. I also want to encourage you not to circumcise for social reasons only. My intact son is very happy with his body and has never even questioned the difference between him and his brother and father. Any social issues that may arise can always be handled later in life. You can wait.

I don’t regret circumcising my firstborn. I know I did the best I could. But I hate what happened to him and the memory of it makes me both sick and sad. I wish I had known better. I’m glad I had the courage to leave my second born intact. That’s what is most important. When we know better, we do better. So learn as much as you can before you decide. That little baby boy of yours is counting on you to get it right.

©UnnecessaryWisdom.wordpress.com 2013

What are your thoughts on circumcision? Did you circumcise your son? Why or why not?


12 thoughts on “The Circumcision Decision: A Tale of Two Boys

  1. It IS a difficult decision, and a personal one. Some people have extremely passionate feelings on this topic, and understandably so.
    Rest assured that the procedure has changed since your child was circumcised. The infant is most certainly anesthetized now even using a topical cream to freeze the area where the needle would go first.
    I can’t imagine witnessing that kind of pain in my child. It would haunt me as well, and i think I would have made the decision that you did for my second.
    Personally, I have looked at both sides, and tried to write a somewhat lighthearted article about this difficult decision. I have of course spoken to my doctor, who is very effective at presenting both sides, and she seems to feel that it is completely reasonable to go ahead. Her exact words were ” There is no right or wrong answer, just a right or wrong answer for you”.
    Thanks for taking the time to read my post, and referring it in your article!


    Posted by cookie1986 | May 26, 2013, 12:00 pm
    • Yes, it is a difficult choice. Unfortunately, the statistics I’ve seen show that the majority of boys are not provided anesthesia to this day. I’m relieved to know your son will be given pain relief. When I was doing my rotations for nursing school in the mother-baby unit, the screams from the circumcision room were unmistakable and I could always tell when they were happening. It’s just so sad. I was happy to link to your article because I think the issue is hard to work through and we all have a process we go through. We arrive at different conclusions. But we all, as parents, want the best for our kids. Best wishes! ~Zoe


      Posted by unnecessarywisdom | May 26, 2013, 12:52 pm
      • I can’t imagine no anesthesia! How barbaric? How is that even permitted?


        Posted by cookie1986 | May 26, 2013, 1:37 pm
        • These are the reasons I was given and in researching the issue, I see they are still listed as objections to the routine use of anesthesia by some medical professionals today:

          1. He/she had tried using local anaesthetic over the years but found that the infant appeard to be in just as much pain, if not more
          2. The needle to inject the anaesthetic is very painful, as is the local anaesthetic itself
          3. There is a concern about the increased chance of infection with the injecting of local anaesthetic, as the puncture
          4. Holes from the needle would be in the diaper area surrounded by urine and faeces, below the area of the circumcision […which raises questions about the risk of infection at the much bigger circumcision wound itself…]
          5. There is a concern regarding potential allergic reaction to the anaesthetic
          6. Local anaesthetic tends to distort the site of the circumcision and make it more difficult to perform
          7. The period of restraint for the infant in the cirucmsion board is prolonged when using local anaesthetic, and the restraint causes the infant distress
          8. In the community, local anaesthetic is not used, and not the standard of care

          Performing infant surgery without anesthesia is an antiquated practice based on the belief that infants don’t feel pain. It takes time to reverse the practice. And knowledge. And parents insisting their infants are treated humanely.


          Posted by unnecessarywisdom | May 26, 2013, 3:30 pm
  2. You should regret your failure to protect your son from genital mutilation. The fact that you say you don’t says a lot about your character. It is not a difficult decision and it is not a personal one for a parent to make.


    Posted by B | May 27, 2013, 1:10 pm
    • I don’t know how you came to your decision that you were against circumcision, but in 1998, there was very little information about the procedure available. There were no videos and there were no facebook groups. I don’t feel guilty about the decision I made because I know that I did the best I could for what I knew at the time. I thoroughly researched my choice and believed I was doing the best thing for my child. I had no way of knowing what I didn’t know. I can’t feel guilty about that. That serves no purpose. Instead, I learn from my mistakes and do better. And I move forward in life, continually striving to do better. This is not to imply that if I could do it over again, knowing what I know now, that I would do it again. Of course not. That’s seems to me to be quite obvious. I refused to circumcise my next son. But regrets are a heavy burden that help no one. I forgive myself for not knowing, I continue to do my best by my kids, and I continue to acknowledge and learn from my mistakes. That is the best that any of us can do as parents.


      Posted by unnecessarywisdom | May 27, 2013, 4:42 pm
  3. Would your husband or you be willing to talk with my husband about the decision and what the family dynamics are like when the intact boy became old enough to notice the difference? I am currently 39 weeks pregnant with #3 and we don’t know the gender but I deeply regret my decision to allow my first son to be circumcised even though it was in a celebratory, religious (dad’s Jewish, I’m not) ceremony. DH believes that the psychological effects of having one circ’d son and one intact son far out weigh the infant’s discomfort and minuscule complication risks. I don’t want to unnecessarily hurt another of my babies and I believe DS is irritated more easily than he would be if we had left him intact, but then again I don’t have a penis. Will the email address I provide to post this comment allow you to contact me?


    Posted by Patricia Arav | September 26, 2013, 7:36 pm
  4. 1. Nature Really Likes Male Circumcisions

    Way down under in Melbourne, Australia is the story of a tightly done male adult circumcision of the ultimate kind. You’ll never believe the story … or will you?
    Around 17 years ago, I became aware that circumcision was of interest to me. How to go about it ? What an embarrassment, how to sneak into a Doctor cost etc. I became more and more frustrated, as I knew I wanted it done. Australia is a hot climate too and I wanted a slick model penis, not a sock, at half mast. I had learnt from school that I was bisexual, I would use the odd opportunity to check out and occasionally talk another classmate into pulling down his pants and letting me give him oral sex. Both circumcised and uncircumcised, although I didn’t know what circumcision was then, I was only ten ! We start pretty early in Australia !
    Anyway back to circumcision. I became more and more, frustrated and there didn’t seem to be a way of resolving the issue. Then I had a bereavement in the family. If I couldn’t solve this simple problem… It was a question of honor.
    So what I did may surprise many. I am an everyday kind of bloke, a family now, job and the rest of it. So don’t be too shocked. Where there is a will there is a way.
    I had been researching on the net at the time and I was reading and seeing pics of tribal and African circumcisions. There are great stories of the Tuli in the Philippines and also teens putting their penis on a log with a piece of twine and the elder slicing off the foreskin, high and tight, leaving a terrific red patched scar.
    I decided after much viewing and research that this is what I wanted. I was a bit far from the Philippines and Africa, so this is what happened.
    One long weekend when there was a Public holiday, I decided to have a go myself. This is not for the faint hearted.
    On the Friday night, I did the usual, a few beers then came home. I opened a bottle of white wine and proceeded to watch an x-rated video. Of course with a long ring barked cock or two. After a while I was ready. A bit of popper amyl and I was more or less ready to have a go. At circumcision.
    I knew the skin would be sensitive, so I had purchased from an adult store, delay spray. This I think had lidocaine like when you get Suntan mozzie burns cream from the supermarket only stronger. I applied it to my foreskin until the end of my cock felt number, than usual. Another drink and some poppers, a look at the tightly taut scarred cocks on the TV screen and it was time. Time to join the rest of my male brothers on the planet with a permanently forever nude glans and a stripped pointed helmety penis. Intention purple glans to always lead the way, from that night on or else.
    I sized and drew a line working out where to cut and checked this out numerous times. Another drink, more amyl and an inspection of the video playing and I was ready.
    I took a very sharp pair a medium size sewing scissors and sat down. Carefully lining them up, I very slowly, and I mean really really slowly, put them through the line on the foreskin I had drawn. I had already pulled the foreskin as hard as I ever could in front of my glans.
    Slowly but surely I got the job done. Everything dropped back behind my glans and my foreskin lay on a tissue. A dream come true. I couldn’t believe my absolute relief and satisfaction.
    All this time later nearly two decades on, I am still happy. A couple a days later, I consulted a friendly doctor and some stitches were added on the quiet to complete the job.
    Result is I have a very tightly circumcised penis, with absolutely no frenulum or foreskin.
    The absolute tightest male circumcision possible, for myself and any partner I should choose, whether it be female or male. Amazingly there is no two tone scar and the circumcision join is one color and height. No different levels of skin height or misalignment.

    Nature really does like circumcisions.


    Posted by Mystery Tomcat | October 1, 2014, 9:22 am
    • What you may not realize, mystery Tomcat, is that by the time you performed your circumcision the foreskin was no longer tightly adhered to the glans of your penis. In a newborn the skin is tightly adhered. It’s like ripping a fingernail off the skin beneath. Much more painful and traumatic. Additionally, an infant doesn’t know why he is made to undergo such pain. He is not reaching a goal, he is just undergoing pain. I have absolutely no problem with men choosing to change their anatomy if they choose to do it.

      Unnecessarywisdom, my son was born in 1998 and I had already decided that he would remain intact. I could not come up with a good enough reason to have my baby go through that kind of pain. My dad, who was born in 1942 was intact because his family was very poor when he was born. Nudity was not a big deal in my household when we were young, so I had a certain comfort level with the thought of a natural penis. I feel for you and I respect you for staying with your first son when he was being circumcised. At least you didn’t do what most parents do and send your child away to have it done with out being there to comfort him. That is the height of cowardliness to me.


      Posted by almckean | May 4, 2017, 6:50 pm

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