By M. Merritt © 2015
I am a mother to three beautiful boys. When I was pregnant with my first son, I researched everything. Well, almost everything. The one topic I ignored was circumcision. Looking back, I wonder why more websites do not touch on the subject. For example, if a new or expecting mama is researching breastfeeding, there should be information pertaining to how much pain impacts feeding for a newborn, but not many sites focus on this, for fear of upsetting their readers.
In my research, I didn’t look to any specific websites, I just did a lot of Googling. At the time, I was an aide at a local hospital in a U.S. city where circumcision was common, and proper intact care was almost unknown. My job was to watch over the patient who suffered from Alzheimer’s and dementia to make sure they stayed in their beds and did not injure themselves. I witnessed many sponge baths. Many of the men were circumcised, but there were a few who were intact. I can remember one intact patient that was in a comatose-like state. He was unable to care for himself, so he relied heavily on the nursing staff to keep his body clean. At the time, he appeared to have a fungal infection in and around his penis. Every single nurse/doctor/nurses aide who cared for him remarked about his intact genitals. They would say that he was 'dirty' or that it was his own fault that he had infections because he was not circumcised. Because of experiences like these, mixed with the fact that nearly every other male I knew was circumcised, my husband and I decided to have our first son circumcised.
After a somewhat traumatic, induced labor and delivery, a couple doctors came in to my hospital room to ask me why I wanted to have the elective surgery performed on my baby. I feel like it didn’t really matter what I said, because after giving them my reasons, they simply nodded and were on their way. Looking back, I wish those two or three doctors had given me some information about what was going to happen to my son. If they had given me some facts or statistics, maybe I wouldn’t have allowed my baby to be cut...
Fast forward to when my baby was brought back into my room after being circumcised. The doctor (who was also my OB/GYN at the time) made a crude remark about having to use the bigger clamp on him. She said this with a huge grin and a giggle. At the time, I didn’t know what to feel. Was that supposed to make me feel proud? I don’t remember much from that day except that my baby was very unhappy. He did not latch well (if at all) after being cut, but breastfeeding was one of the things I was very adamant on. My baby boy seemed to not know what to do and when he did latch on, he would frantically suck until I began to bleed. It was awful. I would beg the nurses to help me latch him on correctly every hour, and they all said he was latching fine. They got very annoyed with me after a couple hours of this. I cried and cried, telling them I know something was wrong. Looking back, I have NO idea how I did not connect the dots. My baby boy was in pain!
When my son turned 3 weeks old, it was the first time I was able to finally latch him on properly. Up until then, I was pumping around the clock. Our first three weeks as a mother/child dyad were spent pumping, bottle feeding, and being very stressed out. All I wanted in the world was to cuddle and nurse my precious baby boy. My son was clearly upset most of the day and night post-circumcision, and still, I did not understand why.
After he healed (as best one could be after such a horrible surgery), breastfeeding got easier. Once he hit three months, I started 'liking' some parenting pages on Facebook. At first, I just 'liked' random pages, (still being new to the world of Facebook) and it was then that I was first introduced to a group of people who called themselves intactivists.
I’m not sure who any of these particular people were at the time, but their comments and posts were absolutely terrifying to me. I witnessed attacking and name-calling, and after viewing many horrible photos posted for shock value, I dismissed the credibility of intactivists in general. From that moment on, I hid or clicked away from any and all information about circumcision.
I went on like that, in a state of cognitive dissonance, until about a month later.
I began researching when it would be a wise time to start my baby on solid foods, and came across DrMomma.org
, and eventually found the Peaceful Parenting
Facebook page, too. Once there I noticed that a lot of the posts dealt with the topic of circumcision as well. The only difference was that the information was presented in a gentle, research-based way. The posts were factual and informative. I even noticed that the readers and commenters had a more approachable style with their words. I began to wonder if maybe I had been wrong all along…
I am not sure exactly which post I read that day, but I do know that the words in it were what ultimately got me to the point of wanting to learn about circumcision. Nothing I read made me feel threatened, or scared. It was straight facts and science-based information. I think I sat at my computer for hours that day researching circumcision for the first time.
That was the day I had another label to add to my name: regret mom
. From that moment, my eyes were opened, I regretted having my son circumcised with my whole heart.
I eventually needed to take a couple steps back, because it was all too painful for me at the time. I wronged my son, and the guilt from that seemed as though it might swallow me whole.
One day I was reading the comments of a post about circumcision over at Peaceful Parenting
, and I came across a comment from a mother exactly like myself. She found herself consumed with guilt and shame, and did not know where to turn. Someone responded to her, and her words encouraged me to keep on going. She told this mama that there are other people liker her, and that there were things she could do to help herself heal. Because of those words of encouragement, I was able to move forward.
Here is a list of the things I have done/am doing to help with the guilt that comes along with being a regret mama:
1) Apologize to your baby.
It sounded silly at first to me, but doing it felt great. I let out a good cry, and I believe it really helped start the healing.
2) Plan to apologize to your son when he is old enough to understand and process the apology.
This is a huge one. My son is just about 6 years old, and I know the time is
quickly approaching. I have decided to wait to speak to him about it, because he is a very sensitive and emotional being. I need to wait until the right time. When that time is here, I will make sure my son knows how sorry I am. I will prepare myself for all the emotions he may have. Sometimes I wonder if he will be angry at me. I know my little boy, and I know how big his heart is. I am sure he will offer up his forgiveness, but it may take him a while. And that is okay. Anything he feels is the right feeling. After all, it was he who had almost half of his penis mindlessly cut off for no good reason at all. He deserves to be angry. But, no matter what, he WILL know that he is a hero to his younger brothers and the countless other baby boys we've been able to 'save' from routine infant circumcision as the result of this experience. It is my hope that he knows I understand how big a deal circumcision is. I will make sure to always be accepting of any feelings he may have regarding what was done to him.
This is something else I struggle with, but writing down my feelings about such a traumatic time has been therapeutic for me. It forces me to really face my fears and look the practice of male genital mutilation right in the eyes.
One thing I suggest to all the regret parents reading this is to never force yourself. Take your time and treat yourself gently. You deserve that, and pushing yourself too hard can actually be counter productive in your journey to healing.
4) Get the word out!
At first, I did not think I was capable to something like this because I am a very introverted person, but I had this nagging feeling that something had to be done, and I was perfectly capable of doing it! It is hard at first, but there are gentle ways to inform expecting mamas, raise awareness and take part in public education. For the most part, people welcome genital autonomy information happily when it is presented in a way that meets them where they are at. Today, I am Co-Director of Intact Rhode Island
, our state chapter of Saving Our Sons
, and take part in numerous educational expos, demonstrations and events each year.
5) Keep ALL future sons intact.
For me, this was a no brainer. After all the pain my son dealt with, there was no way I could put another child through such a barbaric procedure. My eldest son suffered, and still does suffer, in so many ways because of being circumcised. No child deserves to deal with that.
I went on to have two more sons after my first, and keeping them intact has helped me on such a deep level.
Someday, when all of my sons are curious as to why their big brother looks different, I will tell them the truth. I will apologize to them as well. I wonder if they will be upset with me for allowing someone to hurt their brother. I will prepare myself for anger, which ever direction it may come from. Ultimately, I will tell my younger two sons that their big brother is a hero. He and his daddy are their heroes
. They both survived male genital mutilation, and lived to save other boys from it. Someday I will make sure they realize how amazingly brave and strong their big brother is. And their daddy, he is the bravest of them all. Admitting he was violated as a baby was not easy for him, and because of his strength, two of his sons will never know that pain in childhood, or that loss in adulthood. That is a hero! ♥
If you're a regret parent, like myself and so many others, who are raising both circumcised and intact sons, you can connect with me at Keeping Future Sons Intact
, or in the private KFSI group: FB.com/groups/FutureSons
Further experiences from parents with circumcised sons who are keeping future sons (and grandsons) intact: DrMomma.org/2010/05/i-circumcised-my-son-healing-from.html