Friday, April 16, 2010

I don’t think they will be talking about this in the locker room.

We decided to get Baby F. circumcised.  It wasn’t an easy decision.  Unlike some of my friends, I don’t have strong convictions either way.  I don’t consider circumcision to be evil and akin to mutilation.  Nor do I believe that it negatively impacts a man (i.e. decreased sensitivity.)  On the other hand, I don’t believe there is compelling evidence to circumcise.  It used to be thought of as the more hygienic option, but most doctors now will argue that one is not more hygienic than the other.  So, what does one base her/his decision on at that point?  I passed the decision on to Mr. F., thinking that perhaps he might have stronger opinions on the matter.  In the end, Mr. F. decided to circumcise; it was a cultural decision.  (Although with the decrease in male babies getting circumcised, I imagine that there will be a cultural shift in a generation or two.)

So, with the decision made, the only question left was who should perform the dreaded deed?  After all, if I was choosing this path for my son, I wanted the procedure done right.  I had heard too many horror stories of mangled jobs.  The midwives at the birth center suggested I go to a urologist who specialized in pediatrics.  “He knows his stuff,” they said.  Last week, we headed up the road.  The doctor was very professional.  He met with us beforehand to explain to us the procedure and what care would be needed afterwards.  I handed over my son to the nurses with apprehension.  I would be lying if I told you I didn’t have second thoughts.  I had second, third, fourth, etc. thoughts.  Was I crazy to do this?

As we waited the 10 minutes for the procedure to be completed, one of the nurses sought to comfort us.  “The doctor does very cosmetic work,” she said.  “Cosmetic work,” I thought?  Do guys analyze their circumcision jobs?  Is this something to be compared in high school and college locker rooms?  “Hey, nice circ there.”  On the drive back, I brought the subject up with Mr. F.  “Absolutely not,” he said.  “Guys don’t evaluate their circumcisions.”  I shared this incident with my sister.  She said she had a similar experience, although it was the urologist making a comment--“That’s a good looking job, if I do say so myself.”  I guess it is important to take pride in one’s work, regardless of the specifics.

When the procedure was done and Baby F. was brought out, I felt very guilty when I looked at his very red and swollen organ.  However, I think I was bothered by it more than Baby F., which is good, I guess. 

Of the 4 or 5 moms in attendance with fussy, newly-circumcised babies, Mr. F. was the only father.  Granted, the appointment was in the middle of the day, in the middle of the work week, but by-jingo, I made sure Mr. F. was going to be there, despite the inconvenient time!  He, after all, was the one who made the final decision on the matter!  On talking with the nurses, we heard that it was very odd indeed to see a father at the appointment.  It was also very odd to have a breastfeeding mother.  “How nice it is that you are able to calm him down so quickly by breastfeeding!” they exclaimed with surprise.  Which makes me wonder what kind of clientele they get to have a breastfeeding mom be a rarity.

So what did I learn from this whole experience?

1. I am more bothered by my son’s afflictions than he is.
2. Fathers are wusses when it comes to circumcisions.
3. The boob is an excellent comforter and should be employed more often.
4. Urologists and the nurses that work for them take pride in a job well done.

What I still have inconclusive thoughts about:

1. Whether or not to circumcise.   


Caroline said...

I think it is very brave and commendable of you to admit that after the fact, you still have inconclusive thoughts about it.

I also think it's wonderful that you are breastfeeding, and I wish you the best of luck keeping it up.

I do hope, though, that you will listen to your instincts and continue to research the topic. If you did decide that it was something you wish maybe you hadn't done, that's okay. You can use that knowledge to educate others so that maybe they can make a better decision.

It is an unfortunate fact that doctors are still biased towards circumcising, both from a financial perspective (they make $ doing them), and from a psychological perspective. It is EXTREMELY hard to admit that something you have been doing for years and years might be harmful to a child.

Thanks again for writing about your experience. I am sure it will help other parents who might be going through similar situations.

Best of luck to you and your family.

Joel said...

Hmm, that was an intriguing account of the event.

I guess I will offer my opinion, and you can feel free to take it or leave it.

I would like to acknowledge how easy it is to pass a decision over to a partner when you don't have strong feelings on it either way.

Babies do react to pain differently. A study reported by CNN once showed infants circumcised without anesthesia have cortisol level spikes that compare only with torture. Some babies appear to fall asleep during the procedure (though, this happens with other events babies find traumatic as well. For example, if you give a child too many vaccinations in a single visit they can 'fall asleep' for days as their body tries to deal with the situation. Violence or injury can have the same results).

I would also like to clarify that your disinterest in using words like mutilation to describe the procedure ring true with me as well. I think that word carries with it the connotation of 'intent to harm' and I think your account alone easily dismisses any attempt to harm.

However, I would like to contest your disbelief in decreased sensitivity. It is a fact that the foreskin is one of the most densely innervated structures on the human body, with thousands upon thousands of fine-touch nerve endings similar to those found in the fingertips and lips. Totally unique from the rest of the penis. Its healthy, sensitive, valuable tissue.

It also protects the head of the penis and the urethral opening.

So, it is there for a good reason.

I found that comment by the nurse quite startling.. it does seem kind of odd to talk about how cutting off part of a baby's penis has positive cosmetic results.

I personally find it a little disappointing when people in our culture see that as a good enough reason to take a scalpel to their childrens' healthy, normal bodies.

In any case, my intent is not to suggest some kind of post-operative guilt-trip... rather, I am encouraging you to continue with that train of thought you finished your note with... to keep questioning the procedure.. to think about why you really had this done.. and if that is good enough, considering what is lost...

What has happened as happened, though, and I think you should just enjoy this process of being a mother. :) I can tell that you're a caring and involved mom, and in that sense, he's plenty lucky. :)

Mark Lyndon said...

I'm totally against circumcision unless there is a clear clinical need, or someone chooses it for themselves. If it's going to be done though, then it should be done by a urologist. It's genital surgery, and there's just too much that can go wrong.

Washington Hills said...

I'm choosing not to add to the opinionated one-sided debate here, but I have to say that I laughed and laughed through this! "Hey, nice circ there." Classic!

Sarah said...

I'm not wanting to get into a debate here either, but I will say that most parents consider their options carefully and ultimately make the decision they feel is in their child's best interest. I find it disturbing to see words like "torture" and "mutilation" used in a conversation with a mother who has just had her son circumcised. Whether or not she is second-guessing her decision, what do you hope to achieve by heaping on the guilt after the fact?

Joel said...


My message had this purpose, which I did state,

"I am encouraging you to continue with that train of thought you finished your note with... to keep questioning the procedure.."

The goal would be to speak out about it. Just because you did it does not mean you need to remain ignorant to what it entails, or to just accept it as fine.

If you realize that the experience was poor, and that you regret it, you have an AMAZING opportunity to speak out AGAINST the practice, to keep future mothers from making the same mistake.

That is a very worthy goal, and one I thought Lady Susan might be open to considering.

Parents in other cultures often practice extremely unethical acts on their children.. just because they think its "for the best" is not a free pass to never question the ethics.

Healthy, valuable body parts belong to the individual, not to parents. Not even to well-meaning parents.

Caroline said...

@ Sarah,

I am sure you are someone who makes decisions carefully regarding your children. However, it is a sad truth that MANY parents give the issue of circumcision zero thought whatsoever.

I am not saying the blogger didn't give it thought. Just that lots of parents don't. They simply make assumptions based on their cultural conditioning that circ is harmless and normal (which it is not).

I apologize if I caused any pain or distress.


Wild Rose said...

Wow - quite the debate here. Just proves how contentious and emotionally laden the topic.

I see fathers coming all of the time to their circumcision appt. Our clinic does circs at 2 weeks attached with the 2 week visit, perhaps that has something to do with it.

Also, none of us push the decision one way or another. The medical reasons to do it at birth are minimal - meaning the risk of penile cancer, acquiring HIV, etc. Like you said, it is strictly a cultural decision. But never an easy decision ...

Are their still places that don't use any anesthetic for the procedure? Everyone that I know who performs circs uses a nerve block at the base of the penis. Babies also respond very well to sucking on sugar water during procedures like this, simulating breast-feeding I'm sure.

Joel said...

@Wild Rose,

The risks OUTWEIGH any "potential" health benefits. Even those potential benefits are QUESTIONABLE.

I notice you tout HIV reduction as a fact... its NOT a fact.

You admit the medical reasons are not why its done - its cultural.

In what way is it ETHICAL for your clinic to profit from cultural genital cutting on non-consenting individuals?

In what way is it ETHICAL to cut off healthy, sensitive, valuable genital tissue from children for non-medical reasons?

Lady Susan said...


I do believe Wild Rose was very careful in not stating her personal opinion, but instead was just commenting on common pediatric practice and general medical thought. I think, therefore, it inappropriate for you to rail against her personally. (And also because she is a good friend of mine.) There are other venues in which "to make a change" rather than attacking the patrons of this blog.

I would like to keep this discourse civil. You have stated your (very strong) opinion, please give leave for others to do the same. As blog mistress, I give myself liberty to moderate (aka delete) comments which I think veer from common courtesy and politeness.

KOTFrank said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


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