The Choice We Can’t Change

Written by NPN Guest on November 11th, 2010

Activism, Circumcision, Holistic Health, Intactivism

Sawyer-31  by Vivid Expressions Photography 2009
When we made the choice to circumcise our son, we did so with little research. We did it because it’s “what’s done”. It never occurred to me that something so common could be questionable.

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

10 Responses to The Choice We Can’t Change

  1. Lorien

    Mama, when we know better, we do better. It’s true that you cannot undo the past, but writing and advocating and telling other mamas of your regret can change the future for some other little boy.

    Hugs to you for your pain, but please also accept my congratulations on being open to knowledge, regret and change.

  2. Elena

    Thank you so much for speaking out. Your courage in telling your story will help other mothers make a decision they will feel comfortable with! Your children are lucky to have such a loving, wise and thoughtful mother.

  3. Rachel  

    My son is 19 now and, to this day, I still remember when he was brought back to me after being circumcised. I will never forget the “stunned” look on his puffy-eyed little face and the deafening silence as he lay wrapped tightly in the corner of the bassinet. The regret, fear and sadness just went right through me. Even worse is when he was a little older and his pediatrician (who was Jewish) commented to me about how he was butchered (the skin was noticeably cut deeply on one side). I haven’t had another son yet, but when I do he will be untouched!

  4. Jenny  

    I think it’s great that you are sharing your story. It’s so helpful to others who are still struggling with this decision. I’m about 95% sure that if our firstborn had been a boy, we would’ve opted to circ. Luckily the first two were girls. Now we are pregnant again and, having had years to think it over and read stories like yours, we know we won’t be allowing it.

  5. Kat

    Thanks for sharing your story, I know it can’t be easy to relive the experience, but I know you will be helping many to make an informed choice. Many hugs!

  6. kelly @kellynaturally  

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I have a good friend who circumcised her 1st son, because she didn’t know any better, and didn’t circ her 2nd son, because she did. You make the best decisions you can with the information you have at the time, mama. Forgive yourself, and choose to make a difference in the future. ((hugs))

  7. Momma Jorje

    Thank you for sharing your story (and pain) with us here. My husband and I hope to conceive a son next year. While I told him we could argue this topic when we get a confirmed male, he wanted to argue it. I plan to send him a link to this article. So yeah, you may directly impact other little boys’ lives.

  8. Lisa C.  

    I am moved by your story, and your courage to share… Although I have g/g twins, I can relate to so many things done out of feeling it’s the norm and just being part of the flock… that I TOO wish I had KNOWN and done differently. But knowledge is power, and you just empowered a few, KUDOS mama….

  9. Heather

    Wow, I read your story and I felt like you wrote it for me – everything you wrote from the reasons you thought you should circumcise to how you felt about it after, was everything that went through my head as well, and after educating myself on the topic years later, I now realize that there is so much more to it, and like you said, if I ever have another son, I will not put him through that pain. Thanks so much for the touching story, I am sure it will open many more eyes.

  10. William Swaffer

    As a circumcised man who resents it, it is interesting to get a mother’s perspective on how easily it can happen within a culture that thinks that cutting healthy parts off a baby is normal. Reading this has helped me to progress along the path of understanding and forgiveness.