I was 18 when I discovered I was pregnant with twins in 2002. I had only been sexually active for 6 weeks. 6 weeks!!! I was in shock, I was terrified, and not once did the question of whether or not I would circumcise (if I was blessed with one – or two - boys) enter my thoughts. For me, this was a given. In the complete and total haze that surrounded me during those months of trying to wrap my brain around the fact that I would soon be a mother to not just one, but two little babies, whether or not to circumcise did not cross my mind. It was not confusing. It was not difficult. It did not weigh on me. I did not feel heavy in my chest when I thought about it. In fact, I did not think about it before the arrival of The Twins much at all. Like I said, it was a given. Of course I would circumcise any son of mine. Why wouldn’t I?
My husband has told me that just before the birth of the twins, we briefly discussed whether or not to circumcise our son. We were also expecting a daughter. He says I became angry when he broached the subject and that I couldn’t understand why he would even question the decision. He recalls it was a big enough reaction for him to let it go. I do not recall this exchange, but remembering the person I was back then, I certainly can’t say it isn’t true.
Oh, how I wish it weren’t true.
The Twins were born just 1 week, 1 day shy of 40 weeks. I developed pre-eclampsia and was induced. It took me a couple of days to fall in love with my babies, but once I did I was hit hard with a fierce love like I’d never known before. They were instantly my reason for existing and I immediately knew my life would never be the same.
When we took them for their 1 week check up, I knew it was also circumcision time. We were informed at the appointment that my state insurance would not cover circumcision since it is cosmetic and that I would need to pay out of pocket if I still wanted my son to have the surgery. I hesitated, but only because I did not have 100 dollars to spend on something like circumcision. My step-mom offered to pay for the procedure, as long as we paid her back. I agreed and she paid the woman behind the counter.
I sat nervously in the waiting room, but the nerves were more about the car ride home since we lived almost an hour away from the doctor’s office and The Twins did not like riding in the car. I had no idea what was about to happen to my little boy, despite knowing that circumcision involved cutting off some skin from the head of the penis. I knew they would cut him, I knew it could hurt, but I also thought I knew that it was numbed, that he wouldn’t feel much, if any pain, that it was easier on him now than when he was an adult, that this was in his best interest for a healthy future, and that he would definitely be made fun of if we did not do this for him.
A medical assistant came out to get us and we were guided through the halls to a room. The twins were undressed and weighed, measured from head to toe and the pediatrician looked each of them over. They fussed a little bit, but nothing traumatic. Both were gaining weight well and seemed happy. I was allowed to dress my daughter, but they took my little boy to get him ready for his surgery. I blurted out a question about anesthesia, and they assured me they would numb him first. I began to feel a huge pit in my stomach. I started seeing silver utensils and blue sheets and suddenly I needed to leave the room. I said I couldn’t stay, but did not want to leave him. My step-mom stepped up again, offering to stay with him. I was unsure, but took her offer since I needed to feed my little girl.
I am going to stop right here and say, you should all know as I write this I keep having to pause and breathe and try to take in the experience all over again without completely falling apart. I hate remembering. My palms are sweaty, my heart is racing, and I am hot all over. I am back in that waiting room. I am sitting there, knowing they are about to hurt my little boy and feeling like I really need to go get him, but also trapped in this sort of …power struggle within myself. Do I go and get him and let him keep that “disgusting flap of skin” or do I let them hurt him, knowing I am making a “painful, but necessary” decision? I decide to feed my daughter.
I am looking into my little girls eyes and a lump in my throat starts to rise. The tears are coming, but I am fighting them back. Suddenly I hear a scream of alarming proportions rush down the hall right to me. It is my little boy. It is my new baby. He is screaming in pain, screaming for help, and now my tears fall. They fall hard. Again I am overcome with the strong desire to go save him, go help him, go stop them, but I cannot will myself to do it.
“It’s already happening,” I think. “If I go back there now, I’ll just make it worse. Surely it’s almost over.”
His screams roar on for what feels like an eternity. I feel like I am trapped in a soundproofed room and only I can hear him. Everyone around me moves normally, like nothing is going on, like this is completely and totally okay. Like this happens every day. Like it isn’t new, it isn’t alarming, it’s .. no big deal.
Finally. Finally my little boy is brought out to me. He is wrapped up and covered and he looks like a peaceful, sleeping baby. He looks nothing like the little boy I just heard screaming across the office. And for a second, I question whether it was him at all. But deep within I know it was. I know it was. I’m sick, but looking at his peaceful face it’s hard to believe it was anything but easy.
The days following are difficult. I am instructed to put silver nitrate on his penis and globs of Vaseline to help his penis keep from sticking to anything it touches. Diaper changes are nightmares. He screams just like he did when I wasn’t there to comfort him. No matter what I put on his penis, it still sticks to the diaper. He cries ferociously every time he urinates and I find myself changing him much more frequently, worried some feces or urine will cause an infection. He sleeps a lot, which is not normal for him, and he eats minimally. Within 10 days, it is healed completely and it’s like it never happened.
Fast forward 4 years and I am pregnant again. We are expecting another little boy, The Monkey, and 20 weeks into this pregnancy the topic of circumcision pops up on my pregnancy board. Lots of people are doing it, some are not, some think that’s weird, others don’t know what to think and suddenly it hits me that I am going to have to make this decision again. I am going to have to go through that again. I am going to have to put my baby through it again.
Oh God. What now??
This is where it all changes. I hear what a couple of mothers I trust have to say about it and suddenly, circumcision doesn’t feel so cut and dry. It feels like I have a choice, like I am not doomed to feel pushed into that same corner and unable to protect my child. This time, it feels like maybe I don’t have to hurt my baby at all.
I ask my husband what he thinks about not circumcising our son, and this time he is the one who gets defensive. I explain to him where I’m coming from – that a foreskin is much more than a flap of skin, that it really, really hurts the baby and I know because I lived through it the first time (he was away at military training) and so did our first born son. I explain that it was traumatizing for us both and if we can avoid it, and it seems like several moms are starting to, maybe we should. I feel confused and start to question keeping our little guy whole. What about our firstborn son? Will he feel weird because he is circumcised and our second son isn’t? How is that “fair?” Within days I realize that way of thinking is completely ridiculous. I cannot allow the guilt I feel over circumcising my first son, C, push me into circumcising our second son to prevent questions and having to be honest about what I chose for him. We decide not to circumcise.
When The Monkey is born and they ask if we want him circumcised for the 3rd time, we keep saying no. I hesitate once because I am a worrier and I worry about things I have not lived through, but in the end we leave the hospital with our son intact. I, nor any of my future sons, will ever have to encounter the anguish and upset C and I were faced with previously. A huge weight feels lifted and I am so happy with our decision.
When we got pregnant with Doodle, it was a no brainer. Obviously, he would remain whole as well. Isn’t it amazing the complete 180 we did from just 7 years previously when we had The Twins? Doodle and The Monkey are whole and our eldest son, C, is not. I regret it every day.
I recently discussed the choice I made for C with him. He is 10 and the conversation was inadvertently brought up. I couldn’t lie.. so I had to tell him the truth. It was a pretty brief discussion because within a few minutes C looked horrified and asked me to stop talking. It was heartbreaking. I had thought about how we’d discuss it a million times. How maybe he’d forgive me, maybe he’d realize I didn’t know what I was taking from him. Maybe he would be okay and it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, like so many men claim it’s not. I had no idea it would go the way it went and I was not at all prepared for his reaction.
The reality of what circumcision is, is scary. It is heartbreaking. It is unnecessary and should not be a decision made lightly by people who it will not affect in the future. It should be thoroughly thought through before the choice is made for someone else and you should consider how your child will react 10, 15, or 20 years from now when you have to explain why you did what you did.
This is the age of the internet, of information at your fingertips in less than 2 seconds, and everyone – everyone - has the ability to fully research these choices we are making for our children. Especially one as prominent as circumcision. I don’t care where you live, you have to be aware now that circumcision is controversial and there are tons of studies and theories and ideas out there. This decision is not an easy one to make unless you let yourself be guided by someone else. Do the research. Read. Talk to people. Talk to mothers, talk to men, talk to anyone who is willing to chat. Circumcision may not have seemed like a big deal 10 years ago, but today it has become a very big issue – and with good reason! So don’t do something you may regret without being sure you can and will take responsibility for whatever outcome.
We research car seats, cribs, blankets, diapers, hospitals, doctors, formula, all in the name of keeping our babies as safe as possible, but when it comes to a procedure that can kill our children, and does kill at least 100 babies every year, we don’t give it a second thought. It is social conditioning and we have become numb to the horror of circumcision.
Maybe you totally disagree with me. Maybe you prefer cut men. Maybe you yourself prefer your cut penis. Maybe you are worried your child will be made fun of, should look like Daddy, could get penile cancer, be more likely to get STDs, HIV, etc all from not getting circumcised so you still think circumcision is best. And you know what? That’s not my business. All I am asking of you, to try and help you avoid the pain my son and I have been through, is look into it. Wouldn’t it be nice to not feel offended by my stance on this topic because you feel confident in yours? The only way to get that is to become educated on the subject and then make a decision.
You can start here:
Whole or circumcised, does it really matter? I think it does. Do you?