Monday, April 12, 2010

Intact: A circumcision journey

This is another in a series of guest posts by other bloggers. Read to the end for a longer biographical note on today's guest blogger, Nicole of Navelgazing. Nicole recalls how she and her husband didn't see eye-to-eye on the subject of infant male circumcision.

bomb with lit fuse


Guest post by Nicole of Navelgazing

"I want him to look like me."

My husband's rationale for supporting the circumcision of our future sons was based on the notion of matching penises.

I asked if he cared whether his own penis matched his own father's.

He didn't budge.

I pointed out that the touted health benefits of circumcision were overstated at best.

He still didn't budge.

I showed him the circumcision episode of Penn & Teller's Bullsh*t.

He reasoned that our future son would never remember the procedure. He didn't budge.

I told him that any of our future sons should have a say in any non-medically necessary permanent alteration of their genitals.

He said our future son would thank us for the procedure.

I said he might not.

He said he didn't care. Our future son should look like him.

I said "Over my dead body."

I did not always feel that way about circumcision. The first time I came across an intactivist website in the early 2000s I was repulsed. The site not only claimed that foreskin was necessary but told the stories of circumcised men who were trying to restore their foreskins. I thought it was the most stupid idea. After all, foreskin was just a bit of skin, right? It's not like circumcised men were really missing out. Best of all, they didn't need to worry about unhygienic smegma.

Smegma is the word that I associated with penile foreskin for many years. I first learned about smegma in "Guidance," a class that was taught by our school guidance counselor. Guidance was supposed to help prepare our pubescent twelve-year-old selves for adulthood. The day I learned about smegma was the day we were learning about boys' bodies. I'm sure we girls snickered behind our hands as we learned that smegma was what those dirty uncircumcised boys suffered with when they didn't clean under their foreskins. Smegma was a running joke for the rest of the school term.

I did not think about circumcision again in any great detail until I came across an article in Mothering magazine several years later when I was learning more about natural living. For the first time I understood that my presumptions about foreskins, particularly the smegma issues, were based on myths. I learned the horrifying details of what an infant circumcision truly entailed. Foreskins could not be simply snipped off because the infant foreskin is securely attached to the glans of the penis. This meant infants had their foreskins ripped off. Worst of all, most infants suffered this procedure while strapped down with minimal to no pain relief.

Those brutal details were enough to convince me that I did not want this for my future sons. Yet this salient point from the article struck me:
"No one has the right to cut off any part of someone else's genitals without that person's competent, fully informed consent."
Why hadn't that occurred to me before? After all, I was a proponent of "No means no" when it came to women's bodies. I was horrified by circumcision when it happened to girls. Why had I never considered that boys had a right to decide the fate of their own genitalia?

I brought the Mothering article to my husband. We argued for weeks. Then came the ultimatum. Choose: circumcise or don't have kids! I succumbed and chose to have kids.

In late 2008, I became pregnant with our first child. I walked around with an airy smile for those first few weeks. I would place my hands on my belly as I tried to imagine who was growing in there. My body changed and as my hormones surged I felt the drumbeat of motherhood on a cellular level.

Protect... Protect...Protect...

I knew I wanted low-intervention prenatal care.

Protect... Protect...Protect...

I knew I wanted a homebirth with a midwife.

Protect... Protect...Protect...

I knew I wanted to breastfeed.

Protect... Protect...Protect...

I knew I did not...

Could not...

Would not...have it in my heart to circumcise if we had a boy.

So I brought it up again. This time we did not argue. We battled.

We did not know the sex of our unborn child but that did not matter. The battle lines were boldly drawn with neither party willing to step over to the other side. My marriage came very close to being undone.

two glass knight chess pieces


Then one day I stopped talking to my husband about circumcision. I decided to enjoy my pregnancy instead of living with constant stress. I would let him say his piece and then I would talk about something else. Eventually we convinced ourselves that we were having a little girl and the circumcision talk mostly drifted away.

I went into active labor on a beautiful Saturday, last mid-July. My husband and I drove across state lines to the home where we would welcome our child. We walked, we laughed, we held each other as I breathed through each contraction.

Very early that following Sunday, I grunted and screamed our child onto the bed beneath me.

"You're a...boy!" I eeked out breathlessly.

I looked at my husband who was smiling yet stunned by the fact that our son was no longer an abstract notion. In the midst of our joy I wondered how long we would last before the "C" word came up again.

We lasted one week.

Like dutiful first-time parents we took our son to a doctor's office for his newborn check-up to establish care.

"He looks great! Any questions?" The physician's assistant smiled.

"I have one." My husband piped in. "Our son, he's not circumcised..."

My heart tightened.

"...do we need to do anything special to care for him?"

I exhaled slowly and smiled.

And that was that.

I do not know why my husband budged.

However my husband feels about circumcision, I have faith that any future battle lines will be drawn around the three of us. Our bond with our son is deeper than foreskin. I see that bond in morning kisses and welcome home smiles. I hear it in the laughter of our play. I feel it when we snuggle together in our family bed.

That bond will nurture the traits in our son that matter like honesty, loyalty and respect. And that is how my son should match his father.

drawing of home


At age 16 Nicole left sunny Barbados for a wintry Midwestern state. Fourteen years later her interests include promoting breastfeeding and attachment parenting, particularly among other mothers of color. She homebirthed her son, and proudly smiled and gave a THUMBS UP at 8cm dilated, then discussed cultural competency and female genital mutilation in between contractions. She finally escaped with her family to a sunnier state. Read more of Nicole's writing at Navelgazingbajan.wordpress.com.


Photo of bomb courtesy graur razvan ionut on FreeDigitalPhotos.net;
photo of chess pieces courtesy Carlos Porto on FreeDigitalPhotos.net;
photo of home drawing courtesy djcodrin on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

28 comments:

CaroLyn said...

Yay happy endings! Thanks for sharing.

Restoring Tally said...

I like happy endings, too. I wish more mothers were as informed and protective as you. I was circumcised at birth and really wish I had been left intact.

So that others can find an answer to your husband's question on caring for an infant son without a circumcision, here are pamphlets on care of an intact penis.

amy said...

I love this.

We were one of the lucky couples that agreed completely on non-circ. I've seen this issue divide a marriage...sadly.

Sarah @ OneStarryNight said...

What a great post! Did you ever ask your husband what got him to change his mind?

With DS1 his biological father had him circumcised while I was knocked out in the hospital after my 1st c-section. Nothing like being brought a screaming in pain SAD infant who had a medical procedure against my knowledge or permission.

When I became pregnant with DS2, I made it VERY clear to my boyfriend that he WOULD not be cut. He was/is fully supportive of leaving DS2 intact.

Betsy B. Honest said...

I love this story. Beautifully written.

Rux said...

Thanks for sharing, great ending to your story!
These kinds of stories make families stronger!

jbakley said...

Dang, you sound so much like me, though my husband didn't put up too much of a fight. He wanted our son to look like him, but I expressed my doubts. We finally talked to the pediatrician, who did not like doing circumcisions. That was that. :)

Judith

Inder-ific said...

I love this story!!

My (otherwise really open-minded and crunchy) husband and I also argued about whether to circumcise our son. My parents were anti-circumcision, and my brother was not circumcised, so I felt VERY STRONGLY that my baby boy should not be cut! But my husband insisted that circumcised penises are just "better looking." Most of his male friends agreed with him. Even my girlfriends questioned my beliefs, saying that as a father, my husband should have the final say.

So I flat-out bargained for an intact boy. I gave my husband naming rights in exchange for not cutting him! Because he badly wanted to name our son after his best friend who passed away, he accepted this deal (of course, I would have been happy to name him that ANYWAY, but I gave up all rights to quibble over the name, including middle name). For me, this was an easy bargain!

My husband still jokes that our son will decide to get circumcised later, and I always say, "If it's his choice, I'm fine with it."

Yay happy endings!

Latinalonestar said...

Great story! Way-to-go for protecting your baby boy and for Dad finally realizing that his son is perfect, just as he is.

For anyone reading who is having a boy, there is no extra care for an intact boy. Just wipe like a finger from base to tip. Never try to retract the foreskin!

Lisa C said...

I am bawling. I actually have written a post on this topic recently but not posted it yet. I wish I could go back in time and stand up to my husband for my son. I'm pretty sure he would have budged if I had fought it. Now I cry every time I think of how I have failed my son in this way, and there is absolutely no way to undo it.

livingpeacefullywithchildren said...

What a wonderful ending. My husband is intact and supportive of keeping our sons intact. However, if that was not the case, I think I would also be saying, "Over my dead body." It is my job to protect my children. In my opinion, circumcision is child abuse.

mrs.notouching said...

Beautifully written and couldn't more timely for me personally - we are expecting a boy and we haven't discussed the C-word yet...

Melodie said...

I usually don't read any circumcision posts when I come by them in the blogs I read. I'm not for it but I have two girls so it isn't really something I have ever gotten into as far as subject matter goes. But this reeled me in somehow. And it was beautiful. Thanks for sharing your journey and kudos to your husband.

Teresha@Marlie and Me said...

Great story! Thanks for sharing! I admit that I was for circumcision until I got educated. When we got pregnant with our first, I thought there would be conflict over the issue, but surprisingly my husband was for keeping a boy intact. We had a girl but the same intact rule applied and we opted against piercing her ears.

navelgazingbajan said...

Thank you everyone for the kind words. I was pleasantly surprised to read so many comments.

@Restoring Tally, thanks for providing that link. Intact care is incredibly simple.

@Sarah, I've never asked my husband why he changed his mind. I'm so sorry your first son was circumcised without your consent. I'm glad you have a much more supportive partner now.

@LisaC - *hugs* It is a really scary thing to face such opposition from someone you love.

@Teresha - I've also come to the same conclusion about ear-piercing.

I'm very amazed that my story has touched all of you. Thank you again for sharing your kind thoughts.

katepickle said...

fabulous post.... I think I am extra glad that my husband and I agree on this topic... because I know I couldn't budge on it either!

Janet Tilden said...

Fabulous story! It brought tears to my eyes and a sigh of relief. My two sons are 22 and 11, both intact and both happy to have everything they were born with.

Alona said...

Wonderful story Nicole! You are doing such a great job. Mike and I have already talked about not circumcising any future boys of ours and the other volunteers in my city have discussed it as well. Thank you keep up the good work:-)

Dionna @Code Name: Mama said...

So glad I read this post before I turned off the computer for the night - wonderful story!
My hubby thought he was in favor of circumcision until he made an effort to get informed. Now he is as passionate an advocate for leaving boys intact as I am. (I cannot describe to you how proud I am of my hubby for his advocacy!)
I'd also be interested in hearing about why your husband changed his mind. It could be helpful for some other mama fighting for her baby's genital integrity someday!

Darcel said...

That was a beautiful story! Thanks for sharing.
We would battle about having leaving our son intact if our 2nd turned out to be a boy. This time when I brought it up, he was like "who cares as long as we know how to clean him correctly" That warms my heart.

Lauren @ Hobo Mama said...

I so love this guest post! Thank you for letting me publish it first, Nicole. I still expect to see it in Mothering someday.

To Lisa C and anyone else regretting having circumcised, I've been thinking I really want to write a post on what to do if you've already circed. I think part of it is to forgive yourself, part is to resolve differently if you have more boys in the future, and part is to realize what a powerful advocate you can now be for anyone trying to choose.

Pure Mothers said...

What a beautiful post. I have to admit I cried reading it. My son is intact and my husband was the one who initiated the conversation about it - and did NOT want to circumcise. I was so relived. And I was so relieved to hear your outcome too. So, why did I cry? Because actions speak louder than words and the respect and loyalty he showed your son in his choice made my heart rejoice.

Anonymous said...

It saddens me how so many circumcised American fathers feel daunted by the prospect of changing and bathing an intact son. Could seeing an infant's intact penis trigger deep seated sexual insecurities?

I am elated by the number of American women of childbearing age who bring humaneness and common sense to bear on the most intensely masculine bits of all. It is surpremely ironic that I have learned much about my intact body by reading the writings of women!

Ladies, don't hold back, believing that the male bits sacrificed to circ are completely beyond your ken. You too have a foreskin, namely the skin sheath, called the hood, that covers the tip of your clitoris. Your inner lips are also functionally similar to the foreskin, in that both cover and protect the urinary meatus and the body's primary sexual orifice. Many women cannot expose the glans of the clitoris, and this is totally normal. But if you can expose it, your clitoral hood works a lot like the male foreskin. Women of America, every time you masturbate, you are getting pleasure from pink bits that are analogous to those circ discards.

Circumcision alters, to a degree that varies over individuals and over time, how a man experiences and gives sexual pleasure. Do we want this?

Chante @ My Natural Motherhood Journey said...

I'm kinda late with the comments, but this is really a wonderful post because you were so transparent. We all appreciate you keepin' it real!

James Loewen said...

What a beautiful story. I hope many people grappling with the issue of circumcision read this. I wish my parents had.

'Becca said...

Great story!! Here's what my man says on the subject. My friend who was pregnant at the same time also wanted to keep her baby intact, but her husband was doing the "If it's good enough for me..." thing, and she was having trouble standing up to him. Then their baby boy was born, and when her husband held him for the first time, he looked up with tears in his eyes and said, "He's perfect. I can't let anybody cut him." Whew!

Hugh said...

My guess why he budged: he saw his beautiful, perfect, intact son and fell in love with him, just as he was.

Mark said...

Good for you! Everyone should be able to decide for themselves whether or not they want parts of their genitals cut off.

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