***Update*** This post is over 2 years old now. With time I have come to terms with my guilt more than I had when this post was written. It doesn’t mean I’m OK with the decision, it just means that I have forgiven myself and my husband for the uninformed decision we made. I know this post has been shared by many online groups that are anti-circumcision and I’m fine with that. I just want people to understand that it was not written to shame or guilt the families who have circumcised. It was written to share my own feelings about the subject for families who are still deciding. My boys are now 5 and 3 and so far neither has asked why their parts are different…
Hitting publish on this post is like stepping out on stage nude, but even more so because it is more revealing than not wearing clothes. I want to post this more than anything in the world and at the same time I want to hit erase on both the post, and the moment that made this post possible. First, let’s go back to 2008…
When I saw my first son in 3D on that giant screen I was thrilled. My husband and I wanted a boy and there IT was. Happy cheers and tears all around!
Planning for a boy was exciting. I picked an alligator theme for the nursery and even cross stitched an entire set of Mario’s from the Nintendo games. I just knew my son would be a gamer like his father and myself and I couldn’t wait to play video games with him. Names were hard to decide on. Had he been a girl I had a name all picked out. Once we decided on “Fletcher” we were set. Nursery-done. Name- done.
The “to cut or not to cut” debate came up in the many conversations about the little baby kicking in my tummy. I let my husband decide. At the time it seemed like a decision he should make. Unlike cloth diapers, I didn’t research that aspect of having a child very much except to know that there were two choices.
When I toured the hospital I asked the nurse about the procedure and if the babies received any pain medication, how bad was it, would they be in pain after, and what would we do to care for it. She showed us the little baby shaped table with straps and outlined what would happen. A knot formed in my stomach. I pictured my vulnerable newborn strapped, screaming, to that table. Suddenly I wasn’t as happy about having a boy. If he had been a girl this terrible decision would not fall on us and I would have a clear conscience.
November 22 I gave birth. November 24 I was set to be released from my hospital prison and would be sent home with a baby. The only thing keeping us from our home was the circumcision.
As I write this and hold back tears I see the signs. I should have said No. I should have realized that the obstacles put forth on us were meant to steer us toward another decision. I should have listened to that little voice in my head, that knot in my stomach, the physical illness that crept up on me as the event came nearer.
Instead, I waited. We were informed that the doctor from our practice on staff did not perform circumcisions for personal reasons. SIGN. The other practitioner, a midwife, did not perform them. SIGN. We would have to wait until after 4:00 PM for the next doctor. I had never met this OB and yet I was expected to trust her with my son’s genitals. SIGN.
I remember feeling annoyed at being in the hospital many hours longer than I should. I also remember the anxiety as this procedure loomed over me. I dreaded what would happen to my son but I convinced myself this is what was right. This is what millions of parents do every year. It is normal, routine, every day. If it were so bad why in the world would so many parents choose this? Breathe.
The time came and a nurse explained again what would happen. We were told my husband nor I could go with him because so many have fainted in the past. SIGN. My first born son was wheeled away in his bassinet to a room: location unknown. I honestly don’t know how long it took. Ten minutes, thirty, an hour…. I sat on the bed and cried. I started having a panic attack as I envisioned my baby back on that baby shaped tray with his arms and legs strapped down. What must he be thinking? Every time I thought of the pain he would be going through my anxiety would get worse. My husband, ever calm, tried to reassure me.
The nurse and the OB who performed the circumcision wheeled a burrito baby into my room. He was asleep. I breathed a sigh of relief and wanted to scoop him up and never let him leave my side again. The nurse and OB explained about how to care for the newly trimmed penis. I was so afraid of doing something wrong that they had me change a diaper there in the hospital. Again, the knot in my stomach returned when I saw the red, oozing, bleeding penis. I felt physically sick at the sight. Suddenly, I hated myself. I tried to hide the internal dialogue happening as I learned to gently apply gobs of (non cloth diaper friendly) vaseline to the penis, then add a tiny square of gauze over the top to prevent chaffing. I was assured he was feeling no pain and that it would heal quickly. After they told me that he slept through most of the procedure I wondered if this was true (how could it be, unless he was in shock) or if this was a lie designed to make mothers feel less guilty after seeing the result of the circumcision. (Perhaps a L&D nurse would like to chime in on this one.)
Weeks passed and I noticed that my son’s foreskin wasn’t peeling back as it should. Or, I thought it wasn’t. I’m no penis expert. I asked our pediatrician and she confirmed that there was some skin adhesion and we could do one of two things about it. Because it was significant we could use a steroid cream on it to thin the skin and hope it pulled back. Or, we could wait until he was curious enough to start tugging away and hope it broke away then. The knot in my stomach returned. This is so wrong, I thought to myself.
We used the cream and saw a little improvement but not much. Every visit to the pediatrician left me more concerned and feeling more guilty because it looked as if I had ruined my son’s penis. I did begin blaming the OB for a botched job, but saw so many other cases of this happening to other boys (friends’ children) that I started thinking it was common. But not common in a good way.
One day, long after my son turned one, all of the skin was able to pull back. Finally, things looked “normal.”
Over time many things changed in my life. I learned more about parenting, babies, and pregnancy thanks to the internet. I can’t explain when and why but one day I broke down in tears when I was bathing my son and saw his penis and the unnatural look of it and realized the ramifications of what had been done to him.
I cried at the idea of him missing a part of himself. I cried at the possibility of one day having to tell him that I and his father are the reason he was cut. I cried because he experienced unknowable pain and I can never take that back or truly understand what it felt like. I even cried at the thought of him missing out of future sexual satisfaction because I thought circumcision was normal and that if I DIDN”T have it done to him he might one day have a future partner who wouldn’t want to have sex with him.
And I cried because he didn’t match his brother. His little, intact brother who was bathing along side of him. My boys were splashing and smiling and I was crying because one day I would have to also explain why one penis didn’t look exactly like the other. How the hell do you explain that do a pair of curious young boys?! I’ve played out the conversation a million times and no matter which way I choose to say it it doesn’t sound good.
Why am I choosing to post this? (assuming I grow the ovaries to do it.) I think there are a million reasons, but one is that I am finally following that knot in my stomach. The knot that has been nagging me for over 3 years. I didn’t listen to it the first time it tried to warn me NOT to cut. Now the knot is telling me that I need to tell me story so maybe another boy won’t have to get strapped to that baby shaped table.
A few years ago I stopped following a few Twitter users because every time they tweeted about MGM (Male Genital Mutilation) it disgusted me. It angered me that they would broadcast those messages and images. I was still clinging to a notion that what I had done was OK and a valid choice for many parents. I scoffed at those “intactivists” and convinced myself that they needed to find a new cause. In reality, those blog posts and tweets were just reminding me that I had done something that couldn’t be taken back.
I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty. We all make mistakes; some are just harder to live with than others. The decision to circumcise my son weighs on me every. single. day. Each time I see him nude I am faced with what I did to him. Over time the guilt has only increased as I learn more and more about the ramifications of being cut and what this might mean to him as an adult.
Hitting publish is going to take more courage than anything else I have done in my life. I’m terrified of criticism and negative comments. I don’t do well with hurting anyone’s feelings and this post is likely to do so. I’m even afraid that people I know in real life will read this and judge me. Before you tell me I am awful for circumcising in the first place, or awful for not circumcising, or even more awful for posting about it, read “Who I am and Where I’m Coming From.” I can’t even explain why I’m posting this, I’m just finally listening to that knot in my tummy and hoping maybe a little cathartic blog post will give me some sort of relief.
(PS, I cannot read back over what I just typed. I’m already in tears and I can’t re-live it again. Please excuse any run on sentences or typo’s.)