Nursing School: OB Clinicals and My Experience With Infant Circumcision

By Sophia Murdock, R.N. © 2016


During my second to last semester of nursing school, I went through my OB clinical (which included antepartum, labor and delivery, postpartum, NICU, and OB triage units, as well as lactation consulting) at one of our local hospitals. One morning, before we headed to our assigned unit for the day, my clinical instructor enthusiastically told my group, "If you get the chance to see a circumcision, definitely do it. It's cool!"

I didn't think much of her words at the time. Of course, as nursing students we wanted to see and experience as much as possible. I had unexpectedly found myself enjoying my OB clinical and was so excited and eager to learn as much as I possibly could.

While in the mother/baby (postpartum) unit, the nurse that I was working with that day told me that we'd be assisting with a circumcision. I had never seen one before, so I took the opportunity, not knowing what to expect.

After we had taken the newborn back to the "circ room" in the nursery, I watched the nurse gather the necessary supplies, place him on a plastic board [a circumstraint], and secure his arms and legs with Velcro straps. He started crying as his tiny and delicate body was positioned onto the board, and I instantly felt uncomfortable and disturbed seeing this helpless newborn with his limbs extended in such an unnatural position, against his will. My instincts wanted to unstrap him, pick him up, and comfort and protect him. I felt an intense sensation of apprehension and dread about what would be done to him.

When the doctor entered the room, my body froze, my stomach dropped, and my chest tightened.

This precious baby was an actual person. He was a 2-day-old boy named Landon, but the doctor barely acknowledged him before administering an injection of lidocaine into his penis.

Instantly, Landon began to let out a horrifying cry. It was a sound that is not normally ever heard in nature because this trauma is so far outside of the normal range of experiences and expectations for a newborn.

The doctor, perhaps sensing how horrified I was, tried to assure me that the baby was crying because he didn't like being strapped onto the board. He began the circumcision procedure right away, barely giving the anesthetic any time to take effect.

Landon's cries became even more intense, something I hadn't imagined was possible. It seemed as if his lungs were unable to keep up with his screams, and desperate attempts to maintain his respirations.

Seeing how nonchalant everyone in the room was about Landon's obvious distress was one of the most chilling and harrowing things I had ever witnessed. I honestly don't remember the actual procedure, even though the doctor was explaining it to me. I can't recall a word he said during or after because I wasn't able to focus on anything but Landon's screams and why no one seemed to care. I only remember that the nurse attempted to give him a pacifier with glucose/fructose at some point.


Landon was "sleeping" by the end of the circumcision, but I knew it was from exhaustion and defeat.

I had watched as his fragile, desperate, and immobilized body struggled and resisted until it couldn't do so anymore, and gave up.

Seeing this happen made me feel completely sick to my stomach and I told myself that I would absolutely refuse to watch another circumcision if the opportunity presented itself again. I was unable to stop thinking about what I saw and heard...

The sounds that I heard come from Landon as he screamed and cried out still haunt me to this day.

A few weeks later when I felt somewhat ready to revisit the topic, I began researching why this was being done to infant boys. It didn't take long before I learned the truths about circumcision - truths that were never told to me during nursing school. I was never taught about the possibility of keeping boys intact or anything about the foreskin or intact care.

During one lecture, I learned about post-op circumcision care as if it was the default to circumcise baby boys. It was as if there was no other option -- this was just what we do. My own research revealed that not only was there an alternative, but that this alternative was the only acceptable and ethical option.

I learned that the United States is one of the few countries that is still routinely circumcising newborn babies, and that this procedure is condemned by most of the world, including Europe.

I learned that the foreskin is not just a useless flap of skin at the end of the penis, but it is a normal, healthy, and functioning organ that is present on every mammal, male and female.

I learned that male foreskin has important protective, immunological, and sexual functions.

I learned that for infants and young children, the foreskin is fused to the glans (head) of the penis (as our nails are fused to our fingers), and that circumcision requires the forcible separation of these structures.

I learned that research evidence does not support the alleged health benefits of circumcision (such as a lowered HIV risk and fewer UTIs) and that the studies that did show benefits had relied on flawed methodology.

I learned how easy it is to care for an intact penis on a child, and that cleaning it is just like wiping a finger (as opposed to all of that troublesome circumcision care that I was taught in nursing school).

Most horrifically, I learned that over 100 infant deaths occur yearly from circumcision related complications, such as hemorrhage.

I still believe that Landon's parents, in consenting to the circumcision that I witnessed, truly thought that they were doing what was best for their child. Unfortunately, they weren't given factual and complete information either, and therefore were not able to make an informed decision. They didn't see what their son experienced while restrained to a plastic board, and only saw the "peaceful" sleeping state that his body was in when he was returned to them, post-defeat. Maybe they were told that he "slept right through it" or that he "took it like a champ" just like so many other parents are.

The neuropsychological effects of circumcision have been well-documented, but are almost never spoken of. Most likely, Landon had entered a state of withdrawal, dissociation, and exhaustion after enduring an unbearable trauma to his body that he was unable to escape from.


Like me, you probably haven't heard these truths about circumcision from any health care professional. I still remember how much my faith in the nursing profession shattered on that day. I remember questioning: how could such a blatant violation of the Code of Ethics for Nurses not only be allowed to happen, but be promoted by so many nurses? How could so many members of the "most trusted profession" (as ranked by a yearly Gallop poll - something that was often bragged about by my nursing school professors) be complicit in this atrocity?

Perhaps as you've discovered the truth, you've found yourself asking similar questions.

Parents - as a nurse who has learned the truth, I would like to assure you that you do not need to put your son through this. You do not need to try to convince yourself that your son won't remember being circumcised and that it is "best to get it over and done with while he's a baby." You do not need to attempt to assuage any guilt by telling yourself that he'll thank you for it later. You do not need to suppress and distrust your fundamental, biological instinct to protect your child.

Instead of signing that consent form, ask yourself: what is truly best for my son? If my son could speak up, what would he want for himself?

Instead of telling your doctor that you'd like to have your son circumcised, you can say that you will not allow them to harm your precious child. Instead of handing your son over to be strapped to that board, you can hold his warm and tiny body close to your chest and assure him that he'll be kept safe in your loving arms.

Parents, you have the power to protect your son from the unnecessary pain and trauma that Landon was forced to endure. Keep your son intact.

Graphics by Intact Asheville
Available educational postcards for sharing with patients or friends at SavingSons.org/p/info-cards.html

Related reading from registered nurses

On the ethics of registered nurses assisting in forced infant circumcision:
DrMomma.org/2014/04/on-ethics-of-registered-nurses.html

Circumcision: A Male R.N.'s Perspective:
DrMomma.org/2010/03/circumcision-male-rns-perspective.html

The day I withdrew from nursing school:
DrMomma.org/2010/01/day-i-withdrew-from-nursing-school.html

The biggest lie told to parents:
SavingSons.org/2016/04/the-biggest-lie-told-to-parents.html

If this stained circumstraint could talk:
SavingSons.org/2012/06/if-this-stained-circumstraint-could.html

Nurse's circumcision tools:
SavingSons.org/2014/02/post-circumcision-tools-and-discarded.html

Using a catheter without retraction: my nurse did it and so can yours:
SavingSons.org/2013/01/using-catheter-without-retraction-my.html

Educating parents about circumcision (from Colorado NOCIRC) &
The Elements of Informed Consent (from Colorado NOCIRC):
http://www.coloradonocirc.org/pamphlets

Ethical Decision Making in the Clinical Setting: Nurses' Rights and Responsibilities:
http://www.jognn.org/article/S0884-2175(15)30232-X/pdf

Medical Professionals for Genital Autonomy
FB.com/IntactCare (to volunteer to respond to parents' questions or be on the MedPro advisory panel, email SavingSons@gmail.com)



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SaveSave

River of Life: Breastfeeding / Natural Weaning Mural in Tijuana, Mexico

By Danelle Frisbie © 2016


A beautiful mural celebrating the joys and goodness of natural weaning is depicted on Tijuana’s largest public health care facility.  The message, painted by Ariana Escudero, is that there is no shame in breastfeeding your baby (of any age). "2 years or more" reads a part of the caption underneath this nursing mom and her little one.

Escudero painted the 45-by-15 foot mural at Hospital General de Tijuana in Zona Río, in part because of the social insults she experienced while breastfeeding her two babies.

"It seemed so important to me to bring this message in this way because many mothers will come [to the hospital], but they’ll come to doctors -- many of whom are surprisingly misinformed about breastfeeding -- just like the general public," says Escudero. This particular hospital is where approximately 90% of local mothers birth their babies, so the mural (at the hospital's main entrance) is seen by most. She continues, "Mothers who decide to breastfeed our children do not have any reason to be censored. That’s why we must normalize it to create a culture of breastfeeding, and fight for women’s right to choose [to nurse their babies]."

Myths and misconception about the normal feeding of human babies is widespread in Mexico. Many mothers say that nursing in public is even more taboo in Mexico than in the United States, and as a result most new mothers are opting for artificial baby feeds, despite the fact that this costs significantly more than breastfeeding (both in immediate formula cost and resulting health care costs for babies who become ill more often without human milk).

One local Tijuana mother, Athena Valencia, writes on Facebook, "This past Friday on a bus in Tijuana a gentleman sat next to me and my baby. From the beginning he looked kind of grumpy... My baby she fidgeted, and the only way to calm her down was to nurse her. He turned around and said, 'That's disgusting!' I felt like crying. This is one of the reasons I don't like breastfeeding in public. But at home, everything works well for me and my baby."

Another mother writes, "[This mural] is so beautiful. I've spent days with my heart broken to pieces just a few steps away from her, but always look back and think how beautiful it is for my baby to live healthy, without pain of disease, and being a mother so many things are represented in this painting."

Due to this social pressure, Mexico has one of the lowest rates of breastfed babies in any Latin American nation - at approximately 14% for babies 0-6 months.


The mural project cost $9,000 in total, half of which was funded by the city, and the other half fundraised. Crianza Alternativa wrote on behalf of this (2014) fundraising effort, "Mexico, a developing country, is particularly vulnerable on the subject of breastfeeding due to high levels of poverty and lack of education on the matter. We have become so unattached with our motherly instincts that we have doubted ourselves on simple things like, 'We can provide full nourishment for our children. We CAN breastfeed.'"

Escudero finished her fantastic work of art during July and August, 2015, and this year all mothers birthing at the hospital will be met with an empowering image as they bring their new babies into the world.

Photograph from Derrik Chinn, San Diego Magazine


Breastfeeding community and support at The Breastfeeding Group:
FB.com/groups/Breastfed

Excellent breastfeeding books for nursing mothers (read one before your little one arrives):
http://astore.amazon.com/peacefparent-20?_encoding=UTF8&node=1

Related reading (articles at bottom of page):
DrMomma.org/2009/08/books-for-breastfeeding-mother.html

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