I was seventeen when I found out I was pregnant for the first time. I didn’t have much support locally but thought I understood enough of the basics of how to birth and care for a child. I knew it would be challenging and confusing at times but I also knew I loved the small human growing inside of me, with all my heart; I figured reading a ton of books and trusting my mama instincts would bring me along the rest of the way. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware that a lot of what I would read in books were half-truths or simply misinformation, even the stuff my OBGYN would back up as fact. I didn’t yet understand that I had not been raised to trust my instincts either, so turning inward as a parent was going to be harder than I could have anticipated.
After a long and frightening hospital birth, exhausted and bruised from forced pushing, I allowed a nurse to take my perfect little boy to another part of the hospital to be circumcised. I had hardly spent a half an hour with him so when the nurse brought him back I thought nothing of his deep sleep. She told me he was tired and would be fine; the procedure went smoothly. I had read that circumcision would prevent infection; my doctor told me it was painless and totally safe. Most of the children born in my family during my generation were female, but everyone I talked to seemed to feel the surgery was a good idea. My little one recovered and his wound healed; I didn’t think much more about it till years later.
Shortly after my first born turned seven, I gave birth to another beautiful baby boy. This time I chose a birthing center, midwife and a doula. I had a water birth with limited intervention; the difference between my first experience and this one was life changing. I felt more informed and empowered. I thought I had learned from my first birth experience what I didn’t want, and made better choices for myself and my baby because of it. When the question about circumcision came up, it seemed natural to choose the same path again, that way they would look alike. I still believed it was harmless and last time my insurance covered the procedure. Things were different though, I had to pay out of pocket for the operation and the birthing center didn’t perform circumcision, so I would need to schedule it at a hospital weeks later.
I wasn’t able to listen to my gut for some reason; looking back, I think it was because addressing my concerns would have meant I made a mistake the first time – it would have meant that “medical professionals” may have lied or mislead me. I don’t think I was ready for that realization.
The day I sat in the waiting room, holding my healthy child, I felt sick. I felt like crying or leaving. I kept telling myself that the surgery was quick and painless, that soon we would be home and everything would be fine. The nurse took my child and disappeared down a long hallway without telling me anything about what was going to happen to my little one. It seemed like I waited forever.
When I finally got my baby back he was NOT okay. He was non-responsive and completely out of it. I couldn’t get him to make eye contact or latch onto my breast, his eyes were unfocused and glazed over; I know now he was in shock. I went up to the window where the nurses were and told them something was wrong with my baby, they said he was fine but tired and instructed me to sit down until the hour of recovery time was over, then we could go home. I sat down and tried again to wake my son from his strange disconnected state, but he would not come around. I was panicking at this point. I unwrapped him from his blanket to look over his little body and realized he was bleeding out; on the front of his freshly changed diaper was a blood spot that was quickly growing in size. I ran up to the nurse and yelled that he was bleeding out; she took my son and practically ran down the hall. I followed her to a door where she told me to go back and sit down. At this point I was hysterical and angry. I refused to leave; she said I could stand in the hallway and wait then. I stood there listening to my child scream at the top of his lungs over and over again, not knowing what they were doing to him. It was one of the most terrifying, heart-breaking and most powerless moments of my entire life.
It took a couple days for my son to act like himself again; his penis was grossly swollen and discolored. I was certain I must have ruined his penis. Thankfully it did eventually heal up and everything seemed to be normal (for a circumcised penis).
It took me several months before I was able to address what had happened to my son. As soon as I started researching, it became clear to me that I had been lied to. I cried for days. The emotional pain and regret I felt was so overwhelming I had to stop reading about circumcision for awhile. I turned to friends I knew had chosen not to circumcise for support. My sadness and regret eventually turned into motivation to share what I had uncovered; I continued to inform myself and became active in online parenting groups so that I could learn more and also help make the truth about circumcision accessible to people who wanted it.
I learned that around 100 babies die every year in the United States from this cosmetic procedure, that no medical organization in the world recommends routine infant circumcision, and that my son could have very easily died from what had been done to him. This truth helped me to finally begin to deeply trust my instincts as a mother. I started to more clearly understand that it is my responsibility to question and investigate anything that could potentially harm my child emotionally or physically.
I have already apologized to my oldest son and informed him about what was done to him. I also let him know about foreskin restoration, even though it won’t give him back all the nerve endings he lost, restoration can help him get some of the sensitivity and natural function of his penis back.
Since becoming aware of the misinformation about circumcision, I have learned about other important issues that impact the well-being of our children and are widely misunderstood in our society. Things that I had somehow overlooked but now seem so frustratingly obvious, like the risks of using commercial formula because of all the toxic ingredients, the negative effects of detached or mainstream parenting because connection fosters security, and how interventions in birth lead to unnecessary complications for mother and baby.
I am so thankful I was able to open up to the truth, even though it was painful. When you know better you can do better. My husband and I are planning to try and conceive another baby this year; if we have a son, we will absolutely keep him intact. I hope that through sharing my story, I might be able to help other mothers decide to say no to routine infant circumcision.