Mother and Son II painting by Bryce Brown of Bryce Brown Art.
What follows is my personal and intimate experience with routine infant circumcision. Infant circumcision is a very emotive issue for me and it took a lot of courage for me to write this. My only hope is that others might gain something from my experience.
Once we discovered we were having our first baby boy, the topic of circumcision briefly came up. I don't have a penis, so I was intimidated by the subject and left the decision up to my husband. I trusted that he would know best because he is a kind, loving man. I did a little research - but not balanced research. I focused on the benefits of circumcision and passed over the possible complications and risks. I was too unsure of myself, as a new mommy, to question this.
When my baby boy was a couple of weeks old, we took him in to have him circumcised. I was so nervous and everything in my being was telling me to hold my baby tightly and bolt out that door. I asked the doctor why we should be doing this and he told us that our son would thank us when he was older. So, I handed him over and allowed the doctor to strap him down. I insisted on being there by his side because I felt that if it had to be done then at least I could be there to hold his little hand.
It was the most horrific sight I have ever seen and it still haunts me to this day. I can tell you that circumcision was EXTREMELY painful for my newborn baby boy. He had the painkiller and the nerve block but still he cried so hard that he turned purple in the face. Pliers were used to pull his foreskin away from his glands. The clamp and a scalpel were used to cut away his foreskin and he did bleed. It was awful and I cried.
For several days after, he screamed every time he peed. My heart would break, every single time. Cleaning is/was not easy for us. For several weeks, I had to apply ointment to his red, sore penis after every diaper change to keep the urine and fecal matter from infecting his exposed glans and to keep it from chaffing. He cried every time I had to do this. Circumcision compromised our breastfeeding relationship and his sleep patterns were restless for weeks. He was a baby with difficulties (borderline colic) which I now believe was post traumatic stress due to his circumcision. He would not look me in the eyes for months. His development was disorganized and full of anxiety. He seemed very sensitive to pain and did not cope will with stress. He was emotionally upset and physically uncomfortable for much of his infancy. He has had bleeding, penile adhesions, infections, rash on his glans... He would cry every time he grabbed or pulled on his is genitals. I was full of regret over having him circumcised and it was one factor as to why I suffered postpartum depression. Three and a half years later, I still have to clean around his coronal ridge because smegma gets caught there. His glans is very sensitive and this makes him uncomfortable. Through all of this, and by doing research, I have learned that these complications are not uncommon.
Due to my son's temperament and sensitive nature, I believe he would have benefited greatly if we had left him whole. I'm not saying that circumcision caused my son's behavioral challenges, but that it amplified them, and it has had a profound, disruptive effect because of his sensitivities. I worry that the trauma he experienced due to circumcision will continue to have a negative impact on him, with long lasting physical and emotional scars. Having my first son circumcised is my deepest regret, for him.
Three years later, we discovered we were having another baby boy. I was so upset because I knew we would have to have the circumcision discussion, again. I wouldn't have been able to live with myself doing it a second time, knowing what I know now, but my husband did not agree. We did hours and hours of research and had many intense discussions. In the end, my husband admitted that the only reason he wanted it done, again, was so our new son would match his daddy and his older brother. I thought he had known best the first time around but how could he... he was circumcised as an infant and that's all he knows.
During my second pregnancy I was seeing a Jewish midwife. We had several conversations about circumcision and how my husband and I were struggling with it. She explained that she decided to have a Bris but not circumcise her son. This was instrumental in giving me strength to stand strong in my conviction to allow my son to remain whole. If my Jewish midwife could keep her son whole then I, as a Christian, could keep my son whole, too.
This time around, I fought so hard to keep my second son intact, and I was reluctantly willing to let my husband leave to protect my child. He could either accept that our next son would remain as God intended, or he could walk out that door, if he chose to. Eventually, he accepted that our son was not going to be circumcised. Praise the Lord, my second son is healthy and whole!
I used to think circumcision was our parental choice, until I realized it was impacting me in a big way. My husband is circumcised and after years of marriage we are realizing that his lack of foreskin is causing me pain during sex. I always thought the chaffed, burning and raw pain that I feel for several days after sex was my fault. I tried everything to make sex more comfortable, but nothing significantly helped. Now, we are realizing that circumcision is the cause. I am so angry over what circumcision has taken from our marriage! I am so upset that my husband and I cannot enjoy each other the way we are meant to! His parents made this decision for him, but I do not feel it should have been their choice. Now my husband and I have to live with the consequences of that decision for the rest of our married life.
On top of my pain, my husband has lost sensitivity over the years and he has tight, bent erections. Sometimes they can be painful for him because he does not have enough skin to grow into. My husband is slowly beginning to realize that we made the right decision when we kept our second son whole, and this intimate struggle has led us to discuss foreskin restoration because it would benefit both of us. Male circumcision impacts women, too, and I worry about my first son and his future partners. The worst part of this whole situation is that these complications were completely preventable because routine infant circumcision is an elective, unnecessary procedure.
How will we explain to my boys the reason one was circumcised and one was not?
We will explain that we did the best we could based upon what we knew at the time. Then, we learned more so we did differently. We will tell them that we love them both very much. I hope that they will have the maturity to accept one another for their differences, and love one another unconditionally. We will tell them that they are both very much loved, but a little different. We will apologize to our first son for taking his choice away, and tell him about foreskin restoration. We will support and encourage our son in any way that he needs, so he can make the choice to take back what was taken from him, if he chooses to.
As you can tell this is a very emotive issue for me and I have deep personal and intimate reasons as to why I feel so strongly. Please understand, I am not judging anyone for their own past choices; I'm simply sharing my story. I have one circumcised son and one intact son, and I love both of them fiercely. I can relate to both sides of this issue, and have learned so much from this experience.
With that said, if I could go back, I would definitely leave our first son whole because it is his penis and, therefore, I do believe it should have been his choice to make. In the end, my first son's sacrifice saved my second son. When we know better, we do better...
Mother with Two Sons by WillowTree
Hear from other parents who have walked a similar road and are raising both circumcised and intact sons at, I Circumcised My Son: Healing From Regret.
To begin a faith-based investigation of your own, see these faith considerations on circumcision (Judaism, Christianity, and Islamic resource lists).
Additional information on the prepuce (foreskin), intact care, and circumcision at: Are You Fully Informed?
Also by Bly:
R. J. Bly is a wife and stay-at-home mom to two precocious little boys, Keaton and Deckard. She says that it is a joy to be able to stay home with her boys and offer them the very best of her time and energy. Bly comes from a broken family (neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse) but she plans on doing everything in her power to provide her boys with a safe and loving home. She says her sons have taught her a great deal about patience, love and respect. Because of them, Bly is an intact advocate, a homebirthing, full term breastfeeding, natural immunization building, cloth diapering, babywearing, cosleeping momma.
Bly graduated from Washington State University with a degree in Public Relations/Communication and hopes to apply this to a career once her boys are older. For now she says mothering is her chosen full time job. Bly volunteers her time as a La Leche League Leader to help mothers and their own babies in her community. She has been diligently working with a few colleagues to purse a breastfeeding in public bill for Idaho and hopes to introduce it into the 2013 legislative session. Bly also serves as Director of Intact Idaho, a grassroots chapter sharing research based information on intact care and circumcision to parents and professionals across the state.