what I learned about routine infant circumcision during my pregnancy
I initially believed that I would have my baby boy circumcised when he was born, simply because I thought that it was something that "had to be done", like cutting the umbilical cord. As my pregnancy progressed I started thinking about my desires for the bonding period after his birth and I started to research all of the procedures that would be performed on my baby while in the hospital. I was shocked by what I learned about circumcision.
The foreskin is not an inconsequential "flap of skin", as I had been led to believe all of my life. It is actually a highly specialized organ with tens of thousands of nerve endings and grows to be up to 15" square or more in area when a boy becomes an adult. Throughout life, it performs many functions. In infancy, the foreskin provides protection from urine and feces since it is closed and tightly adhered to the penis like a fingernail to a finger (it stays that way until about the age of five, but sometimes until the age of 18 or more). In adulthood, it provides protection from the rubbing of clothing and it provides intense sexual sensations for the man and his partner. Circumcision permanently removes all of these benefits. Also, contrary to popular belief, the foreskin needs no extra cleaning attention; personal hygiene requires nothing more than the same "wash and wear" care given to his little bottom.
Circumcision is not a "little snip" as I had heard many refer to it. Approximately 2/3 of the penile skin and most of the sensitivity of the organ is removed. It is an extraordinarily painful procedure, as the delicate foreskin is forcibly ripped from the penis and then slit, crushed and cut away. It takes about 15-20 minutes, with the baby separated from his mother and strapped spread eagle to a plastic restraint. Pain relief is not normally administered although circumcision is classified as surgery. It was thought years ago that babies this young felt no pain, but this theory has since been disproved. A matter of fact, the opposite has been determined through numerous studies - babies feel pain much more intensely than adults. Today, the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) considers it unethical for a doctor to withhold pain relief during circumcision although many still do.
The United States is the only country in the world that routinely circumcises infant boys yet there are no proven medical benefits and many possible complications, ranging from simple cosmetic imperfection to amputation and worse. Circumcision is perpetuated by lack of knowledge on the part of well-meaning parents who believe it is a simple, painless and/or required procedure (as I did) and silence on the part of medical personnel who should be guiding them otherwise. Circumcision has become entrenched in our society yet it is not discussed openly, which effectively prevents objective examination of the issues at stake and allows the activity to continue unrestricted (although many are working to change this through education and legislation).
Given the absence of any proven medical benefit, many parents indicate the cosmetic social and cultural reasons for doing so anyway, such as "looking like Daddy" or "fitting in". But how many men really know or care what their father's penis looks like? And what about other body parts, more commonly exposed to the public at large? If baby's eyes, ears or hands don't look like Daddy's, would you consider surgically altering them to match? The concept is even more preposterous when applied to the penis.
When our boys are grown enough to be hanging out in the locker room, statistics indicate they will fit in just fine. Today (years 1999/2000), the circumcision rate is less than 60% and dropping, as many enlightened parents (including Jewish parents) decide to leave their babies intact as God and nature intended. Worldwide, more than 80% of men are intact. Statistically, if circumcision is chosen for him, there is a better chance that your son will come home from school one day to ask why his foreskin was removed than the chance that he will ask the reverse. And how many boys would admit to another that he was looking at his penis in the locker room anyway? (This is such a ridiculous statement - I can't believe that anyone would actually surgically alter a child because of it!)
Of course, if your child decides when he is older that he would prefer to be circumcised; he will be free to make that decision for himself later in life. The fact is, most intact men would never choose to have their foreskins removed, any more than you would volunteer to have the tip of your tonque lopped off. Which begs the question - why make an irreversible decision on his behalf now unless you are completely certain that he will be happy with it later?
Talk to your doctor. He or she should tell you that no medical organization in the world recommendations routine neonatal circumcision. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association have both published position statements, which strongly recommend against the performance of this procedure on newborn babies. Hopefully your doctor will be informed about this, but he or she is likely to tell you that it is "your choice" without giving you much information either way (as my midwife did). Please ! Do yourself and your baby boy a favor and do your own research before he is born. There are numerous books and videos available, or you can research on the Internet as well.
If you decide to circumcise your son anyway, your doctor must ethically include pain relief (per the AAP position statement). Believe it or not, circumcision surgery is normally done without any pain relief whatsoever. Consider whether you or your husband would willingly undergo surgery of the genitals without anesthesia or pain relief and then ask yourself why you should be satisfied with any less for your newborn baby. You must ask for pain relief and ensure that what is given works - many of the creams that the doctors use do not deaden most of the pain.
I am sure that you, like me, would want to know that your baby is as comfortable as he can be while undergoing any procedure; the only way to guarantee this is to stay with your baby at all times while in the hospital. Insist that you and your husband be in the room during the entirety of this intensely stressful procedure. If you feel already that you cannot participate in the circumcision surgery of your baby by being there to comfort him, consider why you would allow your innocent, trusting newborn son go through something that you cannot bear to watch. The feeling to protect your baby is natural. It should be telling you something - listen to it.
You want the best for your baby, and this is perhaps one of the very biggest decisions you will ever make on his behalf. Good luck.
unconvinced ? please watch this videothe reality of circumcision
a treasure trove of information on circumcision
for more original articles, return to everything you wanted to know about circumcision but were afraid to ask.
artwork and graphics by
|all original content © udonet.com 2002 except as otherwise indicated|
click for contact information and comments