Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Why I Speak Up

By Anna Bilyeu © 2012



"Why don't you just mind your own business?"

"This is a private matter - butt out!"

"Why are you shoving your opinion down our throats? You're so judgmental!"

These are examples of responses I have heard and seen, given to people who speak up for babies in regards to RIC (Routine Infant Circumcision). This is the story of why I continue to speak up, despite my discomfort, or unease, or any negativity I might receive in response. These are the reasons I refuse to stay silent when I see misinformation being spread.

My education about the male body was the same as most kids growing up in the Midwest in the 1980/90s. I don't recall even hearing the word "circumcision" until I was at least 16. It was only about 5 minutes of the human sexuality class at my Catholic high school. It consisted of our teacher basically saying, "The foreskin is a flap of skin on the end of the penis that is removed soon after birth, for hygienic reasons. I once knew a man who needed to be circumcised in old age, and the recovery was horrible. So it's better to do it early..." 

I remember my B.S. meter going off at the time, but I didn't revisit the issue until years later. What I found out horrified and angered me. The foreskin wasn't just a “flap of skin”, it was a healthy and functional part of the male body, with a purpose. I looked into the history of circumcision in this country, and saw that it wasn't health concerns that had driven its rise at all, and that in fact, there were no health benefits to doing it. Once I learned that no health organization in the world recommends routine infant circumcision, that was it. No way would I even consider doing such things to a child of mine. 

I was so angry. I felt like I had been actively deceived. I was also immensely grateful to be learning all of this before I was pregnant. I was suddenly broken hearted for all of the parents who had believed the lies and consented to it, all the while thinking they were doing the best thing for their child. I was angry and sad for all of the boys who endured the pain of the surgery as well as the recovery period, and for all of the men who experienced difficulty because of their circumcisions. For all of the partners of those men who would also be impacted. It felt like waking up and realizing that something I had believed to be true my whole life was not. Something I thought was helpful, or not a big deal, was in fact very harmful.



I had my first son in 2005. He was born in a hospital, after transferring from a homebirth. Everything ended up going fairly smoothly, and he was born 4 hours after we arrived. I remember my midwife asking if we were going to have him circumcised. When our answer of "No Way" was heard, she sighed with relief and said, "Good!" We were asked several other times by doctors and nurses during our short stay. Each time we got the same response - clear relief on their faces and "Oh good!" I still wonder what kind of responses we would have had received if we had said "yes" or "we aren't sure..." 

I continued to educate myself about circumcision during the next few years. I came across stories about complications that can occur, how it can drastically change the function of the penis. I was saddened to read that an average of 117 babies a year die from complications. I was able to see my son's body functioning normally, and there were several times, after some really messy diaper blowouts, that I was very thankful his glans was protected. It was easy to take care of him, as I knew proper intact care. i.e. - only wipe the outside like a finger, and do not retract. I saw the natural changes that come as a boy gets older, as the foreskin becomes retractable on its own, and only by the boy himself. It was becoming very clear to me that everything I had ever been told before about the intact male body was just wrong. Seeing the way it all really worked fueled my desire to spread the word.

I started to speak up to friends and family members who were expecting. I recalled my anger, wanting desperately to inform so that there would be no more regret. I tried my best to speak with love -- to consider and reconsider everything I was saying -- so that I would be heard. It wasn't enough. I did not fully realize how huge the lie about circumcision was, how long it had been repeated, and that it had really been believed by so many people. I was not listened to. My information was ignored, several times, and I felt defeated. I was starting to think that maybe I should "butt out" -- that I should just leave others to make this decision -- even if they were doing it without having all of the facts. I started to become self-conscious. Surely everyone must have thought I was a freak or a weirdo for even talking about this. I started to forget how important the facts really were, and started believing that it wasn't my problem. I didn't want to step outside my comfort zone anymore.

Soon after those experiences, I was asked by a friend who was expecting a boy if I had my son circumcised. I froze. I was just getting to know this woman; I did not want to seem like a freak right off the bat. I considered the fact that she was planning a homebirth, and told myself that she would likely come across the information on her own. I knew she was researching a lot of natural birth and parenting information, and assumed that surely she would research this as well. So I gave up my power. I failed. I didn't point her in the direction of the truth. All I said was "It isn't necessary, so we didn't do it." I had 'minded my own business' and left it to her and her husband to decide, with no attempt to open their eyes. 



I was ashamed of myself because I let my insecurities get in the way of what was really important. After her son was born she casually mentioned that they had circumcised him. I was shocked. I carefully tried not to show it, as I did not want to offend her. Turns out, she bought into the whole 'it's cleaner' myth. She had also handed the decision over to her husband 'because he has a penis' and he took the, 'Well, it works for me!' approach, and that was that. No further research was done. 

I was crushed, but again, said little for fear of offending her. Months later, she stumbled across some of the same information I would/should have sent her. She told me she cried for three days straight out of regret. She called me and said, "Why didn't you tell me everything? Why didn't I know?" I told her about my other experiences -- that I felt beat down and defeated -- and how this all kept me from saying what I should have said. She assured me that it wasn't my fault. That she had dropped the ball on researching it, and that it was ultimately her decision. I knew that it wasn't really my fault, but I also knew in my heart that I could have stopped it from happening. Here was the one person who would have looked at all of the information and decided against it, and I hadn't shared any of it. I knew right then that I needed to push past any discomfort or worry about how others would see me. I felt a renewed sense of responsibility -- as an educated person on the matter -- to speak up, and speak loudly. My friend went on to have another son, who was left intact. She is now an outspoken advocate, in a way that sometimes only mothers who have done it, and regret it can be.




Sliding an intact info card into preemie and newborn boxes of diapers is one effective way
to reach expecting parents with information before they have their baby.


I carefully considered the best way to be heard on the subject. It seemed to be a difficult thing to just bring up out of nowhere, or to work into a conversation with friends, let alone strangers. I am an introverted and sensitive person, and I find it difficult to speak up around people I don’t know. I take care to always speak without offending; something that often feels impossible with a subject like this. When I found the
info cards and info packs on the Saving Our Sons website, it felt like I had found the perfect way to get the word out in my area, as the rates in my state are still very high. I ordered some cards and started hiding them in baby books in book stores. I also tuck them inside newborn and preemie diaper boxes. I hide them inside other baby products and items, so that they won't be found until later, when the item is home and being opened by expecting and new parents. I figure that this is a great way to get information out there, without confrontation. I ordered an info pack, so that I could have something to lend to expecting families, and they could make a truly informed decision. Facebook is also a huge help in sharing intact information. I post on my local Intact Network chapter, answer questions from parents, and pass on any information I think might be that 'light bulb' moment for people to look at circumcision in a whole new light.


It is my goal to change the dialogue, to get people to look at circumcision another way. The burden of proof is on those who wish to do it, not the other way around. A parent should never be in the position of stopping another parent from having it done. If one parent desires circumcision, they need to do the convincing. I work to empower mothers to stand up for their sons, to not take the easy way out in saying, "Well, my husband has the penis, so it's his decision." I wrote a letter to my high school, saying that I was concerned about the way they were teaching incorrect information on the topic. I pointed them to Catholics Against Circumcision, and said that I was still disturbed that so many of my classmates may have taken that information as truth, and never looked into it further.

I am no longer afraid of what people might think of me. I know that my intentions are good and if I speak the truth -- with love and thoughtfulness -- I will be heard. Things are turning around. People are looking deeper and finding out the truth. If we all speak up, our collective voice will be strong, and we can drown out the lies. I have two sons now, and I rest easy knowing I will never have to have a conversation with them about why I altered the most sensitive part of their bodies. My friend is dreading the day she will have to explain things to her older son, and that fact still weighs on my heart. I am willing to push past the discomfort that comes with discussing this issue, because I never again want to have to answer the question, "Why didn't you tell me?"





Anna Bilyeu lives with her husband and two sons in Missouri. In addition to her work as Director of Intact Missouri, she works part time from home and is pursuing a Bachelor of Health Sciences at The University of Missouri. She hopes to use her education and passion to help parents make informed choices that will positively affect their families and communities. 

Additional resources on circumcision and intact care at Are You Fully Informed?

Join with other families like Anna's friend who are Keeping Future Sons Intact here


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9 comments:

  1. Amen! I love the fact that you leave a card on newborn diapers!! I used to leave stickers stating "I contain Genetically Modify Ingredients" on stuff at the grocery store lol

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  2. Keep speaking out for what's right and for those who cannot speak for themselves. If you change even ONE mind, it is worth it.

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  3. reading this made me feel frantic to keep speaking up regardless of the backlash I often get. It seems there is one baby every so often I know of that is spared because of my intactivism. It does get hard, and it does wear me down. But hearing that there is another baby boy out there who gets to keep his whole penis pushes me on! I always think of the starfish story where the man is tossing the thousands of beached ones back into the ocean one at a time. Another man approaches him and says there is no possible way he can save them all, but the first man replies while throwing another one back "made a difference to that one."

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  4. Thank you for the support! I will always carry regret and shame for not doing everything I could before. I have decided to use those feelings not to drag me down, but to motivate myself to continue to speak up, moving past my discomfort and nervousness. It gets a little easier every day, and I know I am making a difference. My own unease in discussing it is nothing compared to the suffering that baby boys who undergo circumcision experience. Physically, emotionally and mentally, both when it occurs, and for the rest of their lives. For them, and for their parents, I will continue to speak up.

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  5. Thank you for this post. I had similar experiences trying to save my nephew's foreskin and feeling like I was coming across as a freak and causing problems in the family and I had decided to back off my advocacy. But it is important for me to hear about experiences such as yours and hear a reminder of how important advocacy is. You are inspiring!

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  6. yes, right. you must speak up, because you know the problem

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  7. Thank You for this. I was very "uneducated" and with my own son my husband "educated" me and said "absolutely not! And this is why". My parents response was "but you have to". I have been fighting with myself on how to approach people about it. On facebook alone, I have seen 4 or 5 friends complain about how hard their sons are crying from circumcision, or how bad they feel for their babies, etc. And I just want to scream "then why did you do it!!".

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  8. I am that mother, who didn't know better and failed to do the research when my son arrived. He was circumcised. I will never stop regretting it.

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    Replies
    1. Don't be so hard on yourself. Forgive yourself, direct your anger where it belongs, at doctors who lie to parents.

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