We went to a military-provided “baby boot camp” prior to the birth of our boy/girl twins where we were taught intact boys require a lot of maintenance. The nurse instructor said we would have to help our son clean himself until he was 7 or 8 and could do it himself. I couldn’t imagine trying to clean my 8-year-old son’s penis on a daily basis. It seemed . . . inappropriate. The nurse confirmed what I already thought: that circumcision is done for sanitary reasons. My other vague thoughts on the subject were stigma of being different in the locker room and a vague notion that it was an appropriate religious thing to do (we are Christians and I was wrong on that one too). Frankly, I was so worried about all things related to their birth (the mandatory c-section, preeclampsia, breastfeeding twins and the possibility that one or both of them could have Down syndrome) that the circumcision question just wasn’t at the top of my priority list.
My hospital experience, with a c-section, long recovery, and supplementing with formula wasn’t my ideal, but overall it went well. The only thing I would truly change about their birth is the decision to circumcise my son. I am embarrassed and sad that I made such an uninformed choice for him. The morning after they were born, the hospital staff took both babies for checkups and performed my son’s circumcision. I never saw him intact.
When the nurse brought him back into the room he was quiet for a few moments. Then he began to scream. I held him close and cried. My family thought I was hormonal, but I knew immediately that I had failed him. I knew that I loved them both more than I’d thought possible, yet I’d requested to have him harmed. For what? Because I thought it would serve him better socially? Because I was worried about cleanliness? It seemed so ridiculous now. How could I have allowed, requested, for him to be hurt so badly on his second day of life? I held him all night, trying desperately to nurse him and his sister, knowing that his reluctance to relax, to nurse, to sleep was directly related to the fact that he was in pain. Pain that I was responsible for. It broke my heart.
Later, a friend of mine wrote a blog post about why she chose to keep her son intact. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about the idea of leaving our son intact as an option until I knew someone who made that choice. After all, every man is circumcised, right? Her post led me to several others, where I learned the United States is the only country in the world that performs routine circumcisions for non-religious reasons. So that whole cleanliness thing? Apparently the rest of the world’s population has it figured out. I learned that there are cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies who use human foreskins as research material. That made me a little sick, because it means that those corporations have a vested interest in my son’s foreskin. Maybe that is why it is good business to keep male circumcision “normal”. I learned that a child’s intact penis requires no special care. So that picture in my head of having to help my son clean his penis long after that would be appropriate? Inaccurate. I wouldn’t have to do anything different for my little man than I do now. Oh and my concern about being different in the locker room? Looks like I may have caused him to be different, since only 32% of American boys were circumcised in 2009. So two-thirds of his peers will be intact. The final nail in the coffin was when I stumbled on a link to a video to watch a male circumcision be performed. I couldn’t make myself watch it. The idea of seeing a newborn baby be hurt that way makes me physically ill. If I can’t watch it, how on earth did I have it done to my son?
I can’t take back what’s already happened. My husband and I don’t plan to have more children, but if we did have another boy, I simply couldn’t do it again. I do wish that the medical community would take an active role in discouraging male circumcision. I think if parents were informed about the risks, they would make a different decision. I know I would have.
Sara is a Coast Guard spouse and stay at home mama of twin toddlers. She writes Family Organic, a blog about going green, parenting, and food.
Photo credit: Sawyer-31 by vividexpressionsphotography, on Flickr