Yes, you read that right, we’re going to talk AGAIN about circumcision, but this post is a little different. I’m not writing this to try to tell you what to do. In fact, this post is actually going to start off with a confession; the day after my first baby was born I had him circumcised.
Whew. Okay. We got that part out of the way!
When I was pregnant with my oldest child, I must have read everything that I could get my hands on. I was very strict with myself and did everything that I could to maintain my weight, to avoid every item on that list of no-no foods (deli meats, sushi), and struggled through headaches and pains to avoid using medications like Tylenol even though my OB said it was fine. I started a pregnancy journal and had the baby’s full name picked out by 14 weeks along.
When I got to the chapter in my pregnancy how-to book about circumcision, we had just found out that the baby was going to be a boy and I remember reading about the detailed procedure and cringing, picturing them doing this to my tiny, new baby. I had never really read anything about circumcision before, and not only that, but I literally knew NOTHING about foreskin. Like many new moms-to-be, I decided to leave that decision up to his father, figuring, “Well, Dad’s got a penis and I don’t, so he will know the correct decision to make here.”
Well, it turns out that my husband was reading FAR less about this baby than I was and without researching any part of it, or even reading the chapters I had so nicely bookmarked for him, he told me that we would have it done because “that’s just what you do” and “we don’t want him to look different.” Even though the description had made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, I didn’t argue with him.
I ended up being (unnecessarily) induced and after 12 hours of Pitocin, our perfectly healthy baby boy came torpedoing into this world. The circumcision was performed the following day and we listened closely as all of the aftercare instructions were explained to us. They even sent us home with a whole packet of information about how to care for it and danger signs to look out for in case he got an infection. (Whoa, wait… an infection?? Isn’t that what we were trying to avoid? We’ll get back to that.)
Have you ever seen a freshly circumcised penis? It’s basically an open, raw wound that you smother with Vaseline and hope that it keeps it moist enough to not stick to the diaper. Have you ever skinned your knee open? Imagine the feeling of peeling a gauze bandage off of it when it gets stuck. Now imagine someone pouring warm, acidic liquid all over it; because that’s what’s happening to this brand new, little person every time they urinate. Then that wetness gets to just sit there. You ever wear a moist Band-Aid over a cut?
Every time our new baby wet his diaper we immediately had to change him because it hurt him so badly. And when he would poop, well, that was a whole different ball of wax! Cleaning poop off of a penis and a set of testicles (especially when it’s a learning experience with a less than one week old) is one thing, but having to do it while your child is screaming bloody murder in your face because he has feces covering his raw, sensitive glans is quite another.
Fast forward a few years and now he is almost five. We are constantly reminding him to clean himself and have had to teach him to be sure to tug on his “foreskin” (basically just the remaining bit of skin that was leftover) and pull it away from the glans because it is constantly trying to reattach itself. As our son has gotten older, we have had issues with the “foreskin” trying to reconnect and also teaching him how to keep himself clean.
So when we got pregnant with our second child, I was in a different spot with the medical side of birth. I had not had a good experience with my first delivery and therefore spent a lot of time reading more than just baby books and fear-mongering websites. I started to look into the facts about birth, the facts about induction, and even the facts about circumcision. We found out that we were having another boy and the decision of circumcision came up after a prompting from our care provider.
Like I have already stated, my husband was not into researching everything pregnancy like I was and so it wasn’t something that he was concerned with. He had automatically assumed that because we had circumcised the first boy that of course we would be doing the same with the second. All those complications involved with the first baby? Yeah, those weren’t necessarily complications at all! They were just snags that happened when you leave the glans open and raw like that. Those issues we had with our first baby in the first several weeks we were all learning how to be a family were totally “normal” and were all listed in our handy little info packet that was sent home with us.
In reading up about circumcision I was very surprised to learn that, with the exception of Israel, the United States has the highest rate of circumcision. Most countries don’t practice it, in fact many have had the procedure banned. In some cases, circumcisions are botched, leaving men with noticeable scarring or sexual dysfunctions – and that is in mild cases: baby boys sometimes die from the complications of circumcision.
I also took the time to learn about the many functions of the foreskin and how having one intact would benefit my child. It might be tough to think of it like this, but the foreskin can easily be likened to an eyelid or a pair of lips. One of its main functions is to protect the sensitive skin underneath and to keep that area clean and moist.
Along with keeping the area underneath clean and moist, the foreskin is actually adhered to the glans and won’t even start to detach until around age three! So all that stuff we had heard before about it being “cleaner” to cut that part off was total BS! It’s attached! That means when your baby has one of those really big poo-splosions and craps up the back of his onesie, you won’t have to also deal with carefully and calmly wiping poop off of a swollen and painful wound. With a baby who is NOT circumcised the foreskin does a fantastic job of keeping everything covered, so you don’t have to worry about it getting inside at all! You just clean it off like a finger (likely how you’ll clean up your own finger after checking for poop) and go about trying to remove said onesie without resorting to scissors.
Then there came the whole deal with him not only looking different from his Daddy, but also looking different from his older brother. Well, when you really get down to it, they’re already going to look different in so many more obvious ways, does it really matter? For instance, our oldest boy has green eyes and his younger brother ended up with blue ones. His older brother has light brown hair while his head is covered in pale, blonde locks. They are different heights, different weights, and have vastly different personalities, so why in the world would anyone be worried about their penises looking the same, which they probably wouldn’t anyway.
I was asked about what we would do when he was teased about his foreskin in the locker room at school and I honestly had to laugh at that one. First of all, adolescent boys are going to tease one another about SOMETHING, so for me to be worried about that NOW seems a bit pointless. Secondly, the circumcision rate in America is going down every year, so chances are he will not be the only boy with foreskin. And lastly, because I will explain to him why we left him intact when he is old enough to understand, he will be able to educate his friends and tell them how when he’s older, having a foreskin will make sex feel better for both himself and his partner, allow him to masturbate without needing lotion, and add girth to his penis. What adolescent boy wouldn’t want that?
And while we’re on the topic of sex we may as well just get it all out there right now: “Anteater”, “turtleneck”, “Water Snake”; the list of horrible, sex-shaming nicknames goes on. It’s a disgrace that we would alter a baby’s body so drastically just to make it more aesthetically pleasing for ourselves. Yet if someone wanted to start trimming the labia from the genitals of baby girls I am positive that people would be totally up in arms. Has it ever occurred to anyone that the basic function should override the supposed aesthetics?
I have also been asked about what I will say to my oldest son if he should ever ask me why I decided to have his foreskin removed and not his brother. Well, I plan on telling him the truth. I thought that I had read all of the right information and, at the time, I thought I was doing what was in his best interest. However, if I am truly honest with myself, reading about the procedure made my stomach turn. That feeling was human instinct and I plum ignored it. I thought I knew what I was doing and I was wrong. I felt in my heart that going through with the procedure was a bad idea but did not feel like it was truly up to me to make that decision.
And truth be told, it wasn’t. It wasn’t up to me and it shouldn’t be up to the Daddy either “just because he has a penis”.
So, okay, they say that circumcision is “cleaner” and “healthier” and will keep your child from “being made fun of.” Well let’s just say you believe all of that (which is fine, and it might be what your care provider has told you); where does it say that this procedure HAS to be done within the first week of your child’s new life outside of the womb? Isn’t there already enough going on? Chances are you’ve got a birth you’re healing from, other children to care for, breastfeeding (which can be quite stressful for some) to learn, and you’re probably hungry and sleep deprived. WHY in the WORLD would you want to add in “caring for an open wound”?
Where does it say that the offer to be circumcised will expire after the first two days? Why can’t it just be left up to the person whose penis status is being questioned to decide? A lot of people will get a child’s foreskin removed because of the possible risk of infection. But what about tonsils? Appendix? TOENAILS? All of these things can become infected yet we make no mention about having them removed at birth. Many people will research more about their newest cell phone upgrade than they will about their own pregnancy and labor, and even fewer will research about circumcision.
If I were to wish one thing for you, it would be for you to read, read, read about circumcision. Don’t just read about it in the US, check out what they say about circumcision in other countries, where it is seen as a barbaric practice. Or do your baby a solid and watch the procedure being done on YouTube. Arm yourself with knowledge and if anything, wait until the child is old enough to be given proper pain management for such a painful procedure. Even better, leave them intact and allow them to decide it for themselves.
It makes me sad when I think about what I have taken from my oldest son by having him circumcised, but I feel like I have all the opportunity in the world to help make it better by passing on what I have learned to others. Hopefully, with the correct information, they will make better choices than I did. I have looked into the information on foreskin restoration so that I may pass it on to my son should he be interested in it one day.
Having circumcised one child does not mean that you have to circumcise them all. Even if you have FIVE boys that were circumcised you can TOTALLY leave the next intact! None of our children will be exactly like the next. Even if their genitals don’t match Daddy’s or each other’s they will always be brothers and that is what’s important. I leave you with a quote that has always resonated with me about our decisions regarding circumcision:
“Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.” – Anonymous
Photography Credit: http://earthmamaphotography.com