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.
Back 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.
The 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.
The 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.
I’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.
What are your thoughts on circumcision? Did you circumcise your son? Why or why not?
- Circumcision Part I: Uninformed Consent–The REAL Dangers That Doctors Don’t Tell You About (motherwiselife.org)
- The Science of Circumcision (mylespower.co.uk)
- Infant Circumcision with Anesthesia: Does It Really Help the Pain? (www.thewholenetwork.org)
- Hot on the Titties: All About Penises (ihaveanopinionidliketoshare.wordpress.com)