More from Costello at Thoughtful Momma
I’m coming out of the closet! I am strongly anti-circumcision and I’ve given a lot of thought to talking about it now. It’s such an important issue and I truly feel as though I have a responsibility to raise awareness.
Circumcision is one of those issues that has moms flaring at the nostrils and screaming in protest, regardless of how they personally feel about the issue. I remember the first time someone challenged me on the topic and how furious I was when she suggested I was advocating for infant mutilation. I was, to put it blandly, enraged.
I grew up being raised in a blended faith. My family are Messianics: Jews who embrace Jesus as the Messiah promised in the Tenach. I remember my youngest brother’s Bris quite well but because his Bris was a reception only (the actual procedure was done in the hospital), and the only other one I’d attended occurred when I was so young I couldn’t really remember it. I had no idea, really, what circumcision entailed other than my parents' sublime explanation: “It’s when a little flap of skin is cut off as a sign…”
Years later, I married a man who is intact. Not to go into too much private detail, but I will tell you that I thought it was so COOL. I had this idea that it made him unique, almost exotic. I laugh a little at myself now, of course. I have only ever “been with” my husband so it’s not as if I had anything at all to compare it to and now it seems ridiculous to consider something entirely normal as “exotic.”
However, as we talked here and there about our faith, future children, that sort of thing, circumcision came up a lot. At that time in my life, I truly believed that our son(s) needed to be circumcised. That not doing it to him would be a sin. For me. Not for my son, but for me and for my husband.
I am explaining this to demonstrate the backward and completely blinded point of view I had at that time. When I conceived my first child, I still felt that circumcision was just something I had to do. Thankfully, she came out without a penis! I deeply cared about my child and had she been a boy, I would have had her circumcised believing I was doing the very best thing for her physically and spiritually. I wasn’t any less of a loving person then. I haven’t become more intelligent over the last six years, either.
That said, I was definitely thinking backward. See, I would never have dreamed of asking my husband to be circumcised. If asked, I would have explained that it was his body, not mine, and that the decision to cut himself was between him and God alone.
Are you catching the discrepancy here? It wasn’t okay for me to ask a grown man to circumcise himself, but it was entirely okay for me to make that decision for my defenseless baby?!
Then, one day, when my oldest was about a year old, I become involved (to my embarrassment, now) in a flame-war going on in a wonderful little Yahoo-group that revolved around birthing. As I’m sure you can imagine, people can be vicious at times and don’t really pull any punches when they are advocating their choices for their children. This little war was epic... Someone had posted an informative link regarding circumcision awareness and someone else had immediately retorted about being judged and it went off from there. I kept my mouth shut at that point as my personal opinion was that circumcision for any reason other than religious was stupid.
But then, the fateful words hit my inbox: “Mutilating your son in the name of your god is still wrong, regardless of your religion.” Ooh I was hot! So angry. It was like someone punched me in the stomach. How dare this woman comment on something so intimate and personal as another person’s religious beliefs! I’m afraid I wasn’t even really hearing her point. I was just pissed she presumed to know another person’s heart when making decisions like this. Looking back on it, she did not say anything cruel or intentionally insulting - she was just speaking truth. But it was ON in that moment. I wrote a lengthy, heartfelt, passionate response. She returned it with one of her own. She made me look like a complete idiot without even trying because she had all this “information” about what was done and its life-long implications and I realized I had no idea what I was talking about! So I set about researching her claims, intent on digging up the opposite research to shut her up.
Only, that isn't what happened. I had been told growing up that the intactivist movement was “the Enemy’s” attack on God’s people. That it was anti-Semitic, etc. And I was convinced that I could prove her wrong by going to science. After all, wasn’t it true that being circumcised was healthier? I mean, obviously she was just bigoted or misled…right? RIGHT?
In fact, every click I made drew me further and further into an education I didn’t even know I needed.
I learned, for the first time in my life, what a foreskin really was and how it compared to female anatomy. I also learned about other forms of ritual genital mutilation (FGM) that are not socially acceptable, but defended with the exact same arguments that I was using!
I watched circumcision videos (not for the faint of heart, let me tell you! I cried…a lot). I read medical websites devoted both to defending the practice and ousting it as an outdated, unnecessary, and yes, harmful procedure. I learned things I never dreamed could be true, including that just as many baby boys die during the neonatal period of their lives from being circumcised as those who die from SIDS. That interesting fact spurned me to learn even more, and by the end, I was a changed person. I was humbled and I had some serious thinking and soul-searching to do.
I, like so many others, looked for ways around the religious “need” without actually denouncing circumcision. I researched “gentler” ways to remove the foreskin from the son I hoped for, even going so far as to consider doing it myself so that it was done “Biblically” and with the least amount of harm possible!
It was then, when considering doing it myself, that I realized that I had lost my friggin’ mind! I mean, I’m sitting there, considering cutting a piece of my son off myself in order to protect him from harm!? What was wrong with me?
I came to the conclusion that there was something seriously flawed with my thinking. My husband, of course, had been going through his own thoughts and research, and being intact himself, came to the same conclusions. It was a relief, in a way, but posed other issues for us. Concerns about “sin” and about rejection from my family (who still see this as something sacred and necessary). I’ll come back to my thoughts on that at a later time.
I’m happy, and even proud, to say that I now have a 13 month old baby boy who is happily and blissfully ignorant of what he’s been spared. His body was left intact, as it was designed, and functions normally. It may be that someday he’ll grow up and, for his own reasons, decide to get circumcised. I admit that as his mother I hope he doesn’t: I think he’s perfectly created just the way he is and it would be a real shame to mutilate a part of his perfect little body. But it’s his decision ultimately, and that’s what matters. HIS choice. Not mine.
I share all of this because I want people to understand that I get it. I know how complicated and difficult this “choice” feels because I’ve been there. I’ve agonized over it, defended it, and seethed when anyone contradicted my perceptions of reality.
I really want to talk about this more - it’s a subject I’ve come to feel very passionate about. I want to help stop this horrible practice and enable other parents to wake up and see what it is that we are doing! I realize this topic may piss people off at Thoughtful Momma. For a long time I hesitated to write about it because I don’t really like intentionally offending people. Unfortunately, though, the truth is the truth. Sometimes hearing it angers people. That’s okay. If someone hadn’t offended me, my son’s little penis would be mutilated today, and I sincerely hope that I can share that gift of enlightenment with someone else.
Costello is a mother and gentle parenting advocate who has been blessed with three amazing children. She likes to think of herself as an instinctual mother. She's a home-birthing, child-led breastfeeding, cloth-diapering/ECing, baby-wearing mom who also formula fed her youngest son due to life throwing some curve-balls her way. Her greatest passion is empowering and supporting mothers in raising and protecting the precious lives they bring into this world. Read more from Costello at Thoughtful Momma.
Additional resources on Judaism and circumcision here.
Additional resources on Christianity and circumcision here.
Additional research (scholarly books, websites, articles) on the prepuce, intact care, and circumcision: Are You Fully Informed?