Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Once You Know

What will you do once you know? ~ Inuit Wisdom

Although I have shared a little about our decision not to circumcise our son, I haven't written many posts about it for several reasons, the biggest one being that it is over with. I am breastfeeding and disciplining every day, so I tend to write more about those topics. Also, while most of what I write is to help myself, a mom can always change her mind about discipline and begin to incorporate more gentle methods. With circumcision, I figured that moms who have already made that decision can't undo it (unless they left him intact), so why did it matter?

I have my share of Mommy Guilt. There are plenty of things that I would do differently, given the chance. Thankfully, circumcision isn't one of them. But I definitely don't want to heap shame on women who have chosen it in the past. Why then, mention it at all? Because until we are fully cognizant of what is involved, we risk perpetuating the same cycles of ignorance, pain and guilt. As far as I am concerned, the issue is not what choices you might have made in the past; I am concerned about our future.

A few decades ago in the US, circumcision was "just what you do". Like formula feeding. Most parents didn't question it, and those who did were quickly stuffed full of horror stories about so-and-so's distant acquaintance who was intact and suffered from terrible problems (often resulting in circumcision as an adult).

There were also murky religious views among Christians who reasoned that if God commanded it, there must be a good reason for it. Aside from the formidable verses in the New Testament opposing circumcision, most people have no idea how drastically it has changed since Biblical times. Just as the rod verses in Proverbs have been twisted into something wholly different from what they meant to the Jewish people who first received them, circumcision as typically practiced in the US is light years apart from Jewish tradition.

I've written my response to a few of the arguments I have heard supporting circumcision, although it is brief and incomplete. Some of it is difficult for me to even type, let alone for a mother of a circumcised boy to read. I wanted to try to soften it, but the truth is really so horrific that there isn't a way to present it gently. And, in all honesty, a couple of the reasons, like "wanting to look like Daddy," make me angry. The truth is, the more you learn about routine infant circumcision, the harder it is to present this as a parent's choice in the same way that cloth diapers or disposables are a parent's choice. I don't want to add to anyone's Mommy Guilt. We moms do that enough to ourselves without help from anyone else. At the same time, I want more moms to be aware of the truth about circumcision so that we stop perpetuating it. So read at your own risk, and look to the future, not the past.

* There is no medical organization in the world that recommends routine infant circumcision. The prepuce is a functional, important part of the penis. Yes, removing it can prevent disease, in the same way that amputating our toes will prevent problems there, from ingrown toenails to cancer. That is not sufficient reason for surgically removing it. Boys are more likely to develop breast cancer than penile cancer, and we don't perform mastectomies on one-day-old infants (boys or girls!) just in case they might develop a problem later. Additionally, the number of boys that die from complications of circumcision is higher than you might think. Some researchers agree that it is higher than the number that die of SIDS. Besides death, the number that have ongoing problems resulting from circumcision is extremely high--and some complications are not discovered until puberty. As far as complications later in life for intact guys, the US is one of the only countries in the world where circumcision is the norm. The countries that don't practice it have lower rates of STDS, (including HIV) and other concerns, and do not have vast numbers of middle aged/older men with problems. In terms of hygiene, it is much cleaner to have an intact boy than one with an open wound sitting in feces in urine, and even when they are older needs only a quick rinse.

* Socially, the excuses for circumcision that I have heard are incredibly weak. The whole locker-room thing? Well, my husband, who has spent a considerable amount of time in locker rooms, noted that the guy who was ogling another guy's package was more likely to get a negative reaction than an intact guy. Furthermore, in the US, the number of boys who are circumcised has dropped considerably. They will soon be in the minority (and already are in some states). The most asinine thing I've heard on the whole issue of circ is the "look-like-daddy" bit. For one thing, if they regularly compare penises as adults, well, I think that that is just a little weird. Flame me. And, if cosmetic surgery is OK so that his genitals will resemble daddy's (which they certainly won't until he is close to adulthood, anyway), why stop there? Are you going to give your newborn a nose job so that will look like daddy? Why not? After all, that is something that people will see! It makes more sense than circumcision if your goal is a mini-me.

* Ethically, I cannot justify permanently altering a child's genitals without a significant medical reason. I also cannot justify putting a newborn through a horrifically painful surgery for no reason other than a cosmetic whim. Did you know that until a few years ago, they were preformed without any anesthesia whatsoever? Even now, the pain relief may just be sugar water, and the most powerful pain relief given is a series of injections into the penis. They get nothing afterward, while the wound is healing. Many babies pass out from the pain of the procedure, which not only involves cutting a significant amount of one of the most sensitive areas in the body, but also the equivalent of ripping off your fingernails (the prepuce is fused to the glans the exact same way that your nails are attached to your fingernails, and must be ripped apart in the same way). We used to think that at least they wouldn't remember the trauma. We now know, however, that the body does remember the trauma (even if the conscious mind does not), and that the pain from circumcision creates a difference in the infant's response to subsequent pain (such as from vaccinations) months later.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, as I said. (And as a not-so-serious aside on a very serious topic, I have really tried to mentally shut out all kinds of puns that are screaming to be made. I have confessed before that I have the maturity of a sixth grade boy when it comes to bodily humor, but this isn't something to joke about).

There is so much information out there, including sources to back up some of the info presented here. I will try to come back in and add some. In the mean time, if you would like to learn more on the subject of circumcision, there is a wealth of information at peaceful parenting and Guggie Daly.  They have compiled several pages worth of links and info.  Other sites that you may find helpful are
Doctors Opposing Circumcision
 Circumcision Resouce Center 
Circumcision Information and Resouce Page 
Mothers Against Circ

As a mother of an intact boy, I am so grateful that I found out before making the choice.  He has never had any problems at all.  Care couldn't be easier--leave it alone until he retracts on his own, then teach him to rinse in the tub.  I don't believe that he would want the procedure done, but if he chooses to be circumcised as an adult, he can have adequate pain relief and they will actually know how much skin to take off, unlike if it were done as an infant.

If your child is circumcised, my guess is that you didn't have all the information at the time of the decision.  Had you watched videos of it?  Were you aware of all the functions of the foreskin?  The risks and complications, including some that your son might never tell you about?  The bizarre history of circumcision in the US?  Probably not.  There is so much to learn as a parent, and so much that we don't find out when we would wish.  There are a lot of other parents who don't have all the info, either.  I am not interested in blaming, but I am interested in helping other mothers learn the facts so that they won't suffer the guilt and so their children won't suffer from circumcision.  That is why I choose to speak up, to do my best to get the information out there.  What will you do once you know?


nursinmamaa said...

I am currently trying to overcome my rage. I am a mom to 4 intact beautiful boys. My cousin and his wife just had a baby boy over the weekend. I gave them as part of their shower gift a packet from savingpenises.org. I can guess they never opened it as they had the baby circumsized yesterday. I am at my wirs end and just want to scream. Thank you for your poost. It helps to know I am not crazy!

dulce de leche said...

Oh, how heartbreaking! I want to scream along with you, and I don't even know them. It is one thing when they really don't know, but when you do everything you can to provide information and it is ignored, that is so hard. :( Poor baby.