Thursday, April 11, 2013

Kelly's Story: I Changed My Mind

Kelly is the mom of three sons, one circumcised, and two intact.  I so appreciate her being willing to share her story here.

 Circumcision: I Changed My Mind
by Kelly McLane

When I was preparing for the birth of my first child, there was only one thing I knew I did not want - an episiotomy. I wanted to try to give birth without drugs but I was open to an epidural if needed. I wanted to try laboring in water. I wanted to try breastfeeding but wasn't sure if it would work for me. So when it came time to push and I heard my midwife say, "Let's try a couple more pushes and then we might have to CUT..." I gathered up every bit of strength I had and pushed my baby out even though I couldn't feel anything because I had an epidural. I knew I did NOT want her to cut me down there. It seems ironic now that shortly after birth, I handed my baby boy over to be circumcised.

Before I get started, I want to emphasize that I am not writing this with the intent of making any parent feel bad or guilty about their decision to circumcise a son - what's done is done. I have friends and family that chose circumcision and I do not judge their decision, we all do the best we can with the information we have at the time. I am a very proud mama of three amazing boys - my first son was circumcised but the next two boys were not. I am sharing my story with compassion and hope for all the baby boys not yet born, that maybe by sharing my story, I can save *just one* baby from the unnecessary pain and harm of this procedure. I recognize that this is a very controversial, extremely sensitive, and culturally taboo subject but I have learned that, for most people, the more a person knows about circumcision, the more they are against it and I will always wish that I had been better informed before I had my first baby boy.

I was raised Catholic in North Dakota with two sisters and no brothers. I do not remember ever seeing my father naked so I honestly do not know whether he was circumcised or not. I would guess yes because he was born in the 50s when many baby boys were circumcised, often without consent from their parents. The topic of circumcision never came up in my family. To tell you the truth, I naively assumed a circumcised penis was the way boys were born. With that assumption I can't say for certain if any of my sexual partners were circumcised or not because up until I found out I was pregnant with a baby boy I really had no clue about normal male anatomy.

In 2004 I was pregnant, and we found out our baby was a BOY! The decision to circumcise or not came up right away. I did all the research and came to the conclusion that I did not want to circumcise our son. I believe at that time I likely found out more than the average U.S. parent discovers. I learned that circumcision is painful, harmful, and medically unnecessary. I learned that no medical organization in the world recommends routine infant circumcision, not even the American Academy of Pediatrics. I learned what the procedure entails and I watched a video and had to mute the sound, no way did I want my baby to go through that. I shared what I had learned with my husband hoping he would agree with me.

Unfortunately, he did not. It wasn't even a decision for him, it was going to be done no matter what I said. We argued. I shared the information with him, I showed him the video, but his mind was already made up. It was closed actually. For him, it was a simple procedure that newborn boys went through, much like cutting the umbilical cord. Until then, he had not given much thought to being circumcised as a baby, but felt that he was just fine the way he was, so his son would be too. In the end, I foolishly gave in. I didn't protect my baby even though my maternal instinct screamed to do so. I let my husband choose circumcision for our son because he has a circumcised penis and I don't.

However, I had to justify this decision in some way - I couldn't just let it happen knowing what I knew. I didn't care about percentages, I've never really been one to do what everybody else was doing. And at that time the circumcision rate in the U.S. was about 50% - so half were keeping their sons intact, and half weren't. Even though some people claim a circumcised penis "looks better" that didn't make sense to me. How could I possibly think my baby's body was ugly or defective?! I am not a religious person and even though my husband is Jewish we do not practice Judaism so there was no religious reason. So I grabbed onto the one study that claimed circumcised babies have a slightly lower chance of urinary tract infections. My husband has a kidney disease that has a 50% chance of being passed down. Bingo. We circumcised our baby because IF he has this kidney disease, then we should do whatever we can to reduce the chance of a urinary tract infection which could potentially harm the kidneys. That was my reason, my excuse. I insisted that if we were going to circumcise our baby, my husband had to go with him. I did not want him to go through it alone. I was really hoping that this would change his mind, but nope, still just a simple procedure in his eyes. Going with our son actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise later on...

Our perfect and healthy little baby boy was born into this world on April 21st. For some reason, the pediatrician we had chosen wasn't called while I was in labor, so she didn't show up at the hospital until the next day as we were checking out. "What about the circumcision?" my husband asked. "Oh, we'll do it in the office next week," she said, "Call and make an appointment."  I said I was worried about the procedure and she blew me off saying it's no big deal - that I shouldn't worry about it. She also said she was "pro-circ and thinks it should be done." We scheduled the appointment for April 30th. Even though I wish so many times that during that week I had changed my mind, put my foot down, and protected his tiny perfect body, I didn't. The decision had already been made.

So we took him in. My husband went back with him. It seemed to take forever and a nurse came out at one point. She was laughing the whole thing off and mentioned that I looked "terrified." "Yes, I AM terrified!" I thought, "You people are back there forcefully separating, cutting, and removing a part of my baby's body and it is taking for-freakin-ever!"

They finally brought him out and the doctor informed me that my baby needed a couple stitches, no big deal. I wanted to throw up. My tiny little baby, his perfectly normal body, had stitches in his penis. How could I have let this happen and for what reason?! I really, honestly, don't think I will ever forgive myself for letting this happen to him. I knew better. But it did happen and I couldn't change that and so for weeks afterward at every diaper change I fought back tears and apologized to my baby as I gently pulled back and detached the remaining skin that was obviously trying to heal itself and re-cover the glans that, by nature, is designed to be covered.

In 2005 I became pregnant again and we didn't find out the sex this time. The babies would be 16 months apart. At first, my husband was very adamant that if baby #2 was a boy, he would also be circumcised. "They have to match, they have to be the same," he said. I prayed to the universe for a girl, even though I had a good feeling it was another boy. This time though, I was NOT going to give in. Two wrongs do not make a right. Maya Angelou said "When you know better, you do better," and even though I knew in my heart the first time, I wasn't going to make the same mistake twice. I wasn't going to let another baby of mine get stitches in his penis for no reason. I also learned more about the foreskin and what is lost when it is removed and how important and valuable this part of the male genitals is during infancy, childhood, and throughout a man's life. So I told my husband that if he really wanted it done, he would need to call the doctor, make the appointment, and take him in to have it done. Knowing his inability to do these sorts of things (ha!), I felt relieved inside.

Thankfully, throughout the pregnancy, and as my husband slowly processed his own experience with our first son's circumcision, he was able to see circumcision from a different perspective. I made him tell me what had happened during our son's surgery, even though I didn't want to know. I had to know. We both ended up in tears.

I continued to share facts and information, but this time, we didn't argue about it, it was kind of a non-issue because we didn't know if we were having a boy or girl. Believe it or not, what really sealed the deal for him was watching a Penn and Teller episode on circumcision. What really stood out for him was the historical reason Americans started practicing non-religious genital cutting in the first place. If you don't know, you should definitely find out before making this decision, because it really is bull. [Hint: Google Kellogg and Graham.]

Our second baby, another boy, was born peacefully and naturally at home in the tub. No appointment was made and he was left whole just as nature intended.  I remember asking my husband, "What about circumcision?" He said after having an amazing homebirth, he saw no reason to take our healthy and perfectly normal baby to the doctor to have a part of his body cut off. I will admit, I was a little nervous about taking care of an intact baby because I had zero experience with normal male genitals. But as it turns out, it is MUCH easier than taking care of a circumcised baby. I currently have 10+ years of mothering two intact sons (baby #3 was born in 2007 - another boy!) and ZERO urinary tract infections. One time, son #2 was playing outside naked and got poked in the penis by a really nasty weed in the yard. His foreskin swelled up and it was a little scary but his foreskin did its job and protected the very sensitive glans (head) of the penis. If his foreskin had not been there, the glans most likely would have swelled up and prevented him from peeing normally. Hooray for nature and a normal body!

So, this is my story. I've experienced both sides of this parenting coin. The heartache and guilt I've felt following my son's circumcision led me to be a voice for baby boys who cannot say NO for themselves. I firmly believe ALL human beings, girls and boys, have a right to their normal, intact genitals. Should an adult man or woman choose circumcision for themselves, as an informed, consenting person - fine by me. But routine infant circumcision is not a compassionate thing to do to a little newborn baby - it hurts, it harms, and there is no good reason to do it. The foreskin is a very important part of penis! It's his body, it's his penis, and it should be his choice whether or not he wants his full penis - foreskin and all.

A shocking number of doctors in this country have very little knowledge of normal male anatomy. They do not understand the value and functions of the foreskin, they are only taught to amputate it. Our doctor did not give us accurate information, she was completely biased, and we did not give informed consent as we should have been able to do. Let's make sure our physicians receive feedback, and are encouraged to look into this subject more themselves - for the sake of their future patients.

I do not blame the doctor in our case, she only did what she knew. Nor do I blame my husband as he is a victim of circumcision himself. I can only blame myself for not listening to my mama instinct. And I blame our culture for desensitizing us to male genital cutting and allowing it to continue for so long when other English speaking nations abandoned the practice long ago, or never even started cutting babies to begin with.

The good news is we are well on our way to becoming a non-cutting country, like the majority of civilized nations around the world. The infant circumcision rate in the U.S. has dropped to under 35% in recent years, and will only go down from here as more parents learn the truth.

In the future, I will be honest with my circumcised son about what happened to him and make sure that no future grandsons of mine are cut. My husband and I are proud that we protected our 2nd and 3rd sons' autonomy and genital integrity, and once and for all ended the cycle of genital cutting in our family.

Kelly originally shared her story here:
Re-shared with edits with permission

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