Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Circumcision: My Story

By Danielle LeRoy © 2012
My two sons walking along the ocean's edge.

I feel like I have to tell my story.

Not because I think I am some super human that needs to be studied. Because I am just like every other mother out there. Nothing makes me special or different. I found out I was pregnant when I was 21 years old. I went to bed at night dreaming about pink dresses and barbie dolls. I had the *perfect* little girl name picked out. I dreamed all about how a little girl would look up to me and I would do all these fun girl things with her. I also dreamed of breastfeeding and baby wearing. I would let her run around naked in the summer sun. I would let her sleep in my bed. She and I would wake up to the warm sun on our faces!

January 2007 I practically danced into my ultrasound. Telling the tech that I JUST KNEW my baby was a little girl! I laid down, she squirted that cold gel onto my belly. The tech wasn't overly nice, I was freshly 22 years old and single. No family, few friends. I was in the ultrasound alone. It didn't bother me but it seemed to bother her.

She smirked and asked me if I had any boy names picked out. "Nope." "Well you are having a boy so you will need to pick a boy name." She said indignantly. I am pretty sure I was in shock. I just kept thinking, what in the heck am I going to do with a little boy? Was she sure? This baby is a *gasp* boy?

I went to work after the ultrasound and told all my co workers that it was a boy. Everyone laughed about me thinking it was a girl. We joked that he might have to wear a dress, or at least some pink! Then someone, and I am not sure who, asked if I would circumcise him. I said, "I don't know. Maybe not. I mean. I don't know." I remember this conversation so clearly. It was over five years ago but it could've been yesterday in my mind. I remember what I was wearing and where in my work place I was standing. I don't remember who asked me, but I remember their words.

As soon as I said I might not do it, everyone chimed in. "You have to snip the tip!" "It is cleaner, you don't want them to get an infection." "Foreskin is so gross...who likes turtlenecks?!" None of these really phased me. But then... "You have to have him cut, you don't want him to be the only guy in gym class with a covered wagon." First of all...that is hilarious. Covered wagon? Ha! I busted out laughing! Covered wagon! Then I got to thinking about my own gym classes in high school. Ugh. I was bigger than most girls in every way. Taller, bustier, bigger feet. It was terrible. Going into those locker rooms and slipping into gym clothes as fast as my over-sized body could move. Torture. In fact I stopped going to gym class in the 10th grade and had to take it again my senior year. I didn't know anything about having a son or a penis, but I did know about the horrors of the locker room. No way was my son going to go through that!

A month or so later I moved 1,000 miles away with a friend. Circumcision didn't really come to mind again. One OB visit close to my due date I asked the doctor about his opinion on circumcision. I remember this very clearly also. "Well, it is cleaner. I would have it done if I were you." Something inside of me wilted. I remember thinking, "Well, if he says I should do it then, I have to do it." This was before Facebook -- social networking was limited to Myspace and even that was pretty basic. I only knew how to shop online, I never used the internet to do research. In fact, when I was in high school and college we used real books to do research. I took a "Childbirth Class" and circumcision was never once mentioned. Car seats were. The epidural was. There was one day on breastfeeding. That class was a joke. I was the only one there as a single parent, so no one talked to me. It was so awkward.

June 2007 my beautiful boy was born. 1:39pm. 9lbs 12oz. I turned into a mother in that exact moment. He had to go to the NICU because he had gotten stuck. I tried to get out of the bed to follow him, I hadn't even delivered the placenta yet! I cried and some nurse told me to relax. Please, I hadn't even touched my son yet... I just birthed all alone and I wanted my baby! I was up and walking in 45 minutes. I paced outside that NICU waiting to be let in. I needed my baby in my arms. I needed him to hear my voice and smell me. I knew he needed my milk.

I was finally let in, but I was not allowed to hold him just yet. I couldn't nurse him either. They wanted to bathe him first. I was all alone, I didn't know I could refuse. 4:45pm that night I finally got to hold my baby. I was so scared, I had never held a newborn before. But I knew that he was mine and I was his. I held him for about 30 minutes before they made me leave him in the NICU. I was told to eat and relax, he needed more tests, and NO, he could not breastfeed yet. He was so big they thought he had high blood sugar (he didn't). I was up all night walking back and forth to the nursery, begging for my baby. At 2am the nurse promised me that if I went to sleep until 6am, I could have him in my room for the whole day. But this story isn't about my birth or birth experience so I won't go further into my feelings about the way we were treated while we were there.

At 6am I sat straight out of bed and rang for the nurse. I started crying happy tears, I could finally have my baby all to myself! I had no family and no friends around so no one would bother us - just me and my baby all alone, finally. They brought him into me and I scooped him up and put him inside my hospital gown. He stayed there until 1:30pm. Then they came in to get him to be circumcised. Everything inside of me said no. I started crying. I felt like I had fought so hard to get him here and now they wanted to take him away again. I told the nurse I didn't really want to let him go. She said it is better if it is done now because he won't feel it. She told me that most babies don't even cry. She said she wouldn't give him a pacifier, she would just put some sugar water on her finger tip, and it would be over in just minutes. She calmed me down enough to take him, and I cried when he left the room. I wrote in my journal about how awful this whole thing was, and nothing like I wanted it to be.

The nurse brought my son back to me. He was asleep. She said, "He did great." And added that he never even cried and that it was probably harder on me than it was on him. He slept all day and nursed just one time.

The next day we went home. He slept all day again and nursed only once. But he grew to be a strong boy and turned 5 years old this June.  He was exclusively breastfed until he was 7 months old and weaned at almost 14 months.

Fast forward to 2010. I was pregnant again and having another boy! I was ecstatic! I loved having a son! I loved everything boy and was SO glad that my first born was a boy! There was a lot going on during my second pregnancy. We became homeless when I was 20 weeks pregnant. I was single again. I needed to move back to my home state and figure things out. Get back on my feet. There was A LOT on my mind, and circumcision was never one of those things. I just assumed I would have it done. After all, I didn't want him to look different than his brother. I think I actually said that to someone too.

I did have friends with intact children, and it never bothered me. I never thought twice about it. In fact, no one ever said anything to me about it at all. All penises are different, whatever. No biggie.

My second son was born in June 2010. 4:55pm 8lbs. 11oz! He was beautiful and perfect just like his big brother. We were going through some trying times as a family but I was so glad to have this little boy! I stood up for myself a little more with this birth. I had a c-section (again, this story is not about my birth so I won't complain here) but he never left the OR, and as soon as I was wheeled out of the OR I had them put him skin to skin on my breast. He nursed right away! I tucked him into my hospital gown and thanked God that we were finally together.

I don't remember him being taken to be circumcised, nor do I remember signing any consent form for circumcision. His pediatrician (who was also my pediatrician) came in when he was two days old and while looking him over she said, "Oh, you've had him circumcised." All I could say was, "Yeah."

Five days postpartum I was readmitted to the hospital with necrotizing faciitis. I refused to leave my son and I needed emergency surgery. The nurses told me he could stay, but I had to have a non-patient adult with me at all times. Also, if he was circumcised, he could not be skin on skin with me. I didn't understand what his penis had to do with anything. I wouldn't learn until later this was because we could not have two open surgical wound sites (mine and his) coming into contact with one another.

I was in the hospital for two weeks. That was a lot of time to hang out with my friends who took turns staying in the hospital with us all day and all night. It was also a lot of time I spent on Facebook. I stumbled across a link to Peaceful Parenting on Facebook and then to DrMomma.org. I saw a lot of things on this site that I practiced. Cosleeping, babywearing, extended rear facing, breastfeeding, home and unschooling and... circumcision? Wait, what?!

I spent one full night reading everything on circumcision at DrMomma.org, and then I left this site and went onto other pages. I looked at the American Academy of Pediatrics. The World Health Organization. The CDC. No one recommended routine infant circumcision. I cried and I cried. I laid in the hospital bed and I wept. I kept telling my recently circumcised son how sorry I was.

What had I done? Why had no one told me? How did I not know? Why didn't I find this out sooner? I researched car seats for MONTHS - why did I never look into circumcision? I flashed back to that nurse in 2007 who took my first son to be circumcised. SHE LIED TO ME! That was my first thought. My son did cry! He was hurt! He did not sleep through it - he shut down from the pain and the trauma of being cut. It never should've been done. Then I thought back to the doctor, a man with dark hair and very hairy arms. He wore the ugliest green scrub top. He lied to me! It is NOT cleaner. He should not have recommended it! Then my coworkers who joked about the "big snip." Did they lie to me too? Or were they like me and just didn't know?

Not only was I over coming this massive infection that almost killed me, but now, because my son had an open wound, I could not undress him and slip him into my shirt. I did not get to feel his soft warm body on my breast. I needed that comfort - I needed to feel his little body rise and fall on mine. But he had a wound too. I kept him dressed. I was careful when I changed him. We left the hospital when he was two weeks old, both of us with healing wounds.

A few months after I learned the truth about circumcision, I started asking people about it. A LOT of my friends said things like, "It is a personal choice for parents to make." I didn't agree with that but I didn't know how to tell them this. How do you just tell people that they are wrong? A month or so later I decided that my friends were good people and they just didn't know the truth or facts about circumcision. I mean, I am a great mother... I do my best. I love both of my children with every fiber of my being. I make educated decisions. I never purposefully hurt them. Sure, it was horrible when I found out the truth of what I put my sons through, but I am glad that I know now so that I can make sure that no future sons will go through that. Certainly my friends will want to know the truth too! I made it my job to tell people the truth about circumcision.

Wasn't I surprised when I discovered that a lot of people do not want to know the truth. Babies are dying every week, here in the United States, from circumcision. How could people get angry and defensive about this fact? I lost friends. I was called names. Then one day someone called me a name I had never heard before: Intactivist. It felt so good.

None of my new 'intactivist' friends called me names or made me feel bad about circumcising my boys. In fact, a few of them called me brave for admitting that I was wrong. It took a while, but I do feel brave now. I am not afraid to talk to people about circumcision. I am not afraid to save babies. I post links on my personal Facebook profile and I make them public. I send messages to people I know are expecting. I send intact info packs of materials. I card Target and Walmart. I wear a tshirt that says, "If men were meant to have foreskin, they would be born with it!" I serve as Director of my state's Intact Chapter. I can turn a conversation with a stranger to the subject of circumcision in no time!

One day I will apologize to my boys. My oldest has no foreskin at all and has the brown scar line from his circumcision. When the time comes, if he wants to do so, I will offer to support him in restoration. My youngest does have foreskin left and his glans is covered completely. I am thankful for that, at least he still benefits from having part of his foreskin remaining. I know they will forgive me because they are so kind and compassionate. They will know that I never meant to hurt them. I cried a few times writing these words...my heart is still so heavy. I sometimes look at pictures of the boys when they were first born. Being propped up by a nurse, their wet little bodies and swollen faces... and their intact penises. That is when I am most sorry. That is when I want to turn back the clock and tell myself to go with my gut and that if it feels wrong it IS wrong. I speak out against routine infant circumcision because the pain and remorse I felt when I found out the truth cut me so deeply that I cannot let anyone else feel like like this. Please, research circumcision.

~~~~

19 comments:

  1. Sounds like your 2nd son had a very loose circumcision, so that's good! I am sorry about your first son, but you didn't know better. This is why I tell all my pregnant friends, I never want them to experience this kind of regret. But try not to feel like you are a bad mother, because you are an amazing woman and I know you must be a good mom :)

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  2. This story brought tears to my eyes. I sympathize with your feelings for I have them also. My first son was circumcised. I did not know better, yet I feel so much guilt for it. My second son is not. I wish people would seriously think about this decision more.

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  3. (((hugs))) mama. so powerful.

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  4. This story brought tears to my eyes too. Thanks for your contribution to the fight against this insanity on behalf of all those boys who will hopefully be spared in future as a result. May they enjoy better lives than that which I and many others who have gone before have endured.

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  5. I am so inspired when people share stories like this. It would be so easy for you to stay silent about this, to say "oh well" and just move on. But instead, you have the courage to write this, to speak up, to help save babies. Thank you!

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  6. Hugs. This brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing and helping educate people about this issue.

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  7. Wow Dani you are amazing and this just highlights its you are a wonderful mother/father and your boys couldn't have better I love you all to pieces keep writing talking and informing your a good person and very brave to do this : )

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  8. Boys like yours are victims of the fact that educated polite America will not speak the truth about how the penis looks and functions. Doctors are not taught the truth in medical school. Most sex ed and marriage manuals will not print the truth. The sexual truth has emerged only thanks to the internet, which has enabled adult women to blog aspects of their sex lives, anonymously.

    You have experienced much guilt and sorrow. Please taken comfort in the fact that routine circumcision has come to an end in your descent. Your grandsons will not be circumcised, and thus this compulsive surgery will end in your family line.

    The persistence of routine circumcision in the USA is grounded in provinciality, American triumphalism (whatever America does must be best), sexual ignorance, and most of all, the belief that having nonconforming genitals dooms one to a failed social life. If this last were true, what has to change is not the penis, but American attitudes about the penis.

    The human body does not come with a typeset User Manual. We all have something to contribute to that manual, based on our day to day lives and mistakes. Ms Leroy, thank you for sharing with us what you have lived and learned.

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  9. This story makes me so grateful my first was a girl. By my second, I was more educated, but I would have the same kind of regret if my first had been male, because I had never thought to question RIC. My heart goes out to you because I know it could have happened to me, and I can relate to all the misinformation spread in the early part of this century and how that reinforced the "normalcy" of RIC. Thank you for telling your story and being a voice for change!

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  10. Thanks for sharing and for educating about the normal, intact male. I was circumcised and I wish I wasn't and I know many men that feel the way I do. We support each other but support groups for men who have been non-consensually circumcised, shouldn't even exist. Please keep speaking out.

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  11. I think you are brave for speaking out and trying to educate others. My husband is an MD, and he fully admits that they learned nothing about the foreskin in medical school and residency training, except how to cut it off. Luckily, he had an attending physician who emphasized that it is cosmetic surgery with no benefits that would outweigh the risks of the procedure itself. We now have 3 intact sons, but I do not like to think about what would have happened had that doctor not told him the truth in time.

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  12. I have just read this story and was VERY happy of the choice I made as a parent of my son. My husband (who is italian) and was not cut as a child, spoke about if we had a son he didnt want him to be cut. I though long and hard before comming to my decision. Did I want him to be made fun of it the locker room scene? No of course not no parent wants their son to be different. My main question was is it medically necessary? So while being pregnant I asked my Dr. MANY, MANY times and talked about it several times and always got the same answer. No it was not medically necessary. OK then why on earth would a parent put their son through that???? Is it because you dont want him to look different? As a parent I would rather he look a bit different than be cut unnecessary! Dont put your sons through this. ITS NOT RIGHT!

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  13. I am truly blown away. I had no idea. When my son was circumcised, I felt so bad for the little guy. I didn't know why it needed to be done but why not since everyone does it. My husband complained that it didn't look quite right. There were times when it would look a little red and then we found what appeared to be a piece of string in the skin of my son's penis! I don't know the process so I still have no idea why there was a piece of string in there. As he got a little older he had issues in the morning with feeling pain in his penis due to the stretching of the skin from waking with it erect. In fact, I now believe that his foreskin was trying to reattach and I had no idea. You should never have to take your child to the ER because their tiny genitals are swollen and red. If I could go back I would have never had him cut!

    I thank you for being sharing your story and for being so brave. I don't understand why circumcision is so main stream. I even mentioned to my husband that I wish we would not have had our son cut and he kind of flipped out on me. Even though he knows that something was not right with it. He should know by now that Momma does her research :) There are so many misperceptions that it makes me sick. Thank you for speaking out with the truth!

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  14. I'm so glad I knew of this site and the information that it offers before my boys were born. I'm also incredibly glad that my first child was my daughter, if she had been a boy, she probably would have been cut because I did not know any better.
    My sweet little identical boys are intact, despite insults and rude, crude comments from members of my own family. I don't care what anyone says, they will NOT be cut without a legitimate medical reason, which I know is rare.

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  15. my son was circumcised the same way your first son was.it was done vary tight and has a brown ring around it about half way down his shaft. or about 1 1/2 inches from the head. if i new what they all did i would have neaver agread to have him circumcised.i am so sorry i did it to him. hop he will forgive me when he get older.

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  16. Thank you for sharing your story, I was holding back tears reading it.

    When I first found out that infants were circumcised like this, honestly, I was horrified. As well as very angry with the people who do it, saying this is abuse and how could a mother do this. (it might be important to note I grew up in the UK where this is not common) But after becoming an intactivist I now understand that they where misinformed, that they were lied too, and instead I hate the people who promote it and the doctors that tell you it's the right thing to do. When a doctors says something to you, you trust them, why would we ever question a doctor? I certainly wouldn't! What they are doing is abusing parental trust - that is unforgivable!

    Once again thank you for your story and I wish you and your sons the best for the future, keep doing the work you do - the internet and facebook are great resources and ways of getting the message out there - that it's not okay, and doctors KNOW this! You are a strong, brave woman, and I can tell your sons mean so much to you, I know they will forgive you when they hear your story.

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  17. In February 2009 my first son too was circumcised because it was "routine" and "necessary", when the Dr brought him back to me i felt so horrible and guilty that he had gone through something so traumatic. And the pain he had to endure afterward while it was healing was just unbearable to watch. I have researched circumcision this time around and i am due to have my second son Oct 9th i will not be having him circumcised. i wish i had known with my first son how unnecessary the procedure was, so i could have saved him the pain :'( but am so thankful now for all of the information available on circumcision. thank you so much for sharing your story! i too was a young single mommy with my first son and went with what was "normal". but with your help and everyone else that has put their stories out for the public to hear i have made my decision to keep my baby boy whole :) thank you!

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  18. @lbtfw: How much skin a man has on the tip of his penis is a fashion statement, a cattle brand of religious and tribal identity. Routine circumcision began soon after Lister discovered sterile surgical protocol, around 1870. It became fashionable among British and American urban upper middle class families, as a way to keep the penis clean without having to teach how to clean it, and to discourage masturbation, then seen as highly immoral. Circumcision was seen as so valuable that it was performed without anesthesia, because in those days general anesthesia was more dangerous than now, and local anesthesia did not exist.

    After 1920, concerns about masturbation ebbed and parents became less prudish. The daily shower became a universal norm. Starting in 1950, circumcision went into decline in every English country except the USA. In the USA, the bald penis became firmly entrenched as the norm. Many maternity wards did not bother to ask the mother's permission. The result is that many doctors and medical school professors cannot think clearly about that very tender part of the human body, the tip of the penis. I am very pleasantly surprised that the circumcision rate in USA maternity wards is as low as 55%, given how Americans fear that their sons will be social failures in the locker room and bedroom.

    Lidocaine was first marketed in 1950, and was an effective local anesthetic. But it was little used in routine infant circumcision until the turn of the millenium. Last century, about 100 million American and Canadian boys were circumcised in the first week of their lives, without any pain reduction. This was a monstrous barbarity.

    Sometimes, leading a good life requires defying convention. And letting a son keep the tender moving sexual parts he was born with is something worth being defiant about. Ladies, 23 years of marriage strongly suggest to me that foreskin improves foreplay and intercourse, especially in middle and old age.

    Routine infant circumcision is not a medical procedure, but is the biggest unsolved problem in the social psychology of American sexuality, one that American medicine and social science have given very little thought to. Thanks to the internet, we lay people are becoming informed about it and its consequences for sexual pleasure and functionality, despite having been let down by the leading lights of the medical profession. I am most grateful to women such as the owner of this blog, for breaking the silence. Speak Truth to Power. Tikkun olam.

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  19. I almost had my sweet baby boy circumcised, but after researching the hell out of it me and and my husband decided that there wasnt a good enough reason to do so. I am so sorry that you feel so much guilt but I am sure both your little boys will be just fine. Love to you.

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