I wrote this response to a man who emailed me telling me that he and his wife were thinking about circumcising their soon-to-be-born son. I have strong beliefs about how important it is NOT to know the gender of the baby before it was born, but as they had already found out, this was beyond the point. I share my response to him here:
This baby is not mine, he is yours. You get to make the decisions about your son and his care. I will do my best to give facts and supply information whenever it seems appropriate or whenever you ask. I will be honest with you at all times as to where I stand. It makes sense that you know who your midwife is ahead of time, in case we aren't the right fit all the way around. To that end, it seems important for you to know that I do everything I can to educate couples about the violence inherent in cutting babies. I hope that you will stay open to keeping your son intact.
Routine, non-therapeutic circumcision is painful, violent, medically unnecessary, presents ill long-term health effects, and is surrounded by cultural misinformation and bias. I have facts, LOTS of them. You can start with the Circumcision Resource Center here in Boston. I can also give you several DVDs, one of which is by, of all people, Penn and Teller, about the subject (which is also available online - you can find it simply by searching “Penn and Teller circumcision”). There is another one entitled "Whose Body, Whose Rights" and an older one by a group of nurses who bonded together and decided they would no longer assist at circumcisions, began educating their pregnant couples, and changed the policy at their hospital to a 100 % "Circumcisions Not Performed Here" policy within just a few months - there had been an almost 100 percent circumcision rate before they began.
I have a family who had their first four boys circumcised. After that, as they put it, "they got smart" and left their last two (they have six!) full-bodied. One of my friends had her first two sons cut. She left her third intact. When he was six, he asked her why his penis looked different than his brothers. She explained to him that she had learned about the value of the foreskin and had left his just as it had been when he was born. He ran over to her, put his arms around her and said, " Oh, Mommy, THANK YOU!"
I do everything I can to help insure that the woman with whom I am working have the best chance NOT to have to be stitched after their babies are born. They pay attention to their nutrition and they do not do any perineal massage, which I find breaks down the tissue and makes tearing more likely. I do my best at the actual delivery to either keep my hands off - or - when appropriate - to provide good perineal support, sometimes with warm, wet cloths. I mean, after all, what woman wants to have stitches in that area of her body?? I ask the partner/husband if he would like me to do my best to take care that there is no tearing, the answer is always, of course, "Yes."
But then, if that same woman whose perineum I have just treated with utmost respect is going to cut off a part of her own baby's genitalia, I wonder why I am spending so much time protecting HER body? When you do the research, you will find that the foreskin was not a mistake. The foreskin PROTECTS the penis - cutting it off would be like taking the eyelid and removing it from the eye. God/Goddess/Nature/The Universe/Spirit designed this covering for good reason. Are fingernails superfluous? What about the enamel on our teeth? There are good reasons for foreskins! I remember a bumper sticker that said that if a man is circumcised, he is not dealing with a full dick.
The daddies who come here are almost all circumcised themselves, but, bless them, they do their research and say "no more of this." They become the guardians of their boys from that point on. They realize that their own cutting was violent - removing skin that is THAT sensitive without even anesthesia- and that they have to eliminate this barbaric practice. The doctors who do the cutting are all circumcised themselves - and proudly announce that THEIR penises work just fine, thank you very much. If they only knew. The daddies who allow it, or push it, want their sons to look like them. Or they want their sons to suck it up and be a man. Hey, what's a little cutting?
Are they kidding?
A little boy doesn't look like his father, body-wise, for at least fifteen years or more. For quite some time, there is no hair on his chest, no pubic hair. The little one has no teeth to begin with and no facial hair. By the time the child looks like his dad, if ever he does, he is old enough to be informed as to why the foreskin is so important and why the decision was made not to surgically remove it ( just because there is no anesthesia does not mean it is not a surgical operation). One woman said she has five daughters and not one of them looks the same when they are getting dressed. One has dark pubic hair, one light. Two have large breasts, the others are small-busted. One of my mentor midwives used to ask the dads, "If you had a cleft lip, would you destroy your son's palate so that it would look like yours?"
The "little" "snip" that they think is done when a circumcision is performed is not little and not just a snip. We learn from NoCirc that eliminating the foreskin removes the most sensitive parts of the penis and diminishes sexual feelings for both the male and female and that complications from this surgery are frequent and under reported. The penis of a newborn is - even if the dad is, um, well hung - very, very small and there are oftentimes very serious, long-term and even life-long consequences of circumcising. Female genital mutilation has been outlawed in the United States, but, as NoCirc reminds us, this law is unconstitutional because it denies equal protection to males.
I had my son cut - I was so uninformed at that time! I have apologized to him and explained what I have come to know, and, on each anniversary of the circumcision, I apologize to him in my heart. I thought it was medically necessary and that an uncut penis looked, well, weird. I have come to understand that we have had indoctrinated into our very beings long-held misconceptions and half-truths. Now, when I see a little boy who has been cut, I am so sad. The circumcised penis looks.... wrong, exposed. I can still hear my son's cry in the next room as he was being cut. "Where is my mother? Why is this happening to me?" The little ones are strapped down and cannot move. If they don't cry it is not because it didn't hurt - it is because they have gone into shock.
And where was my maternal instinct to protect my son?? Is there another mammal who would sit by - or sanction - the cutting off of their baby's body part? In the bookBonobo Handshake, we hear about the fingers of the little bonobo monkeys being cut, one at a time, to put into soup. Their mothers have been killed in the name of science, otherwise, trust me, they would have been doing whatever they could to prevent such things from happening to their little ones. Foreskins are used for a variety of "interesting" "projects" also....
Thank goodness that some of our cultural mores are changing. A few years ago the circumcision rate shifted so that more boys are left whole than those who are cut - hooray! At some point in our lifetime, boys will no longer be maimed! I think of the little newborns who have to spend their first weeks with a sore, red, sometimes infected penis - with diapers that chafe the area and rub against the raw tissue... and the urine that stings every time he pees. This is no way for a baby to have to spend his first weeks on this earth. There is a book written a while back entitled " Sex As Nature Intended It" -- I think it's too painful (pun intended) for many cut men to read it... but if they did, they would make sure their little boys penises never came close to a knife. And for the women who read it or one of many other books written to educate the public, they will wish that they had had the information before they allowed their babies to become sacrificial lambs. All the information about circumcision being "safer" and preventing cancer - check this out with Ron Goldman of the CRC or Laurie Evans or Miriam Pollack or Marilyn Milos - people who have spent many years researching the subject. There are many organizations now dedicated to information about not-circumcising, and their cumulative voices are being heard.
Babies arrive here dependent, vulnerable and trusting. To pick them up one day, then put them down and cut off a part of their bodies -- how can they ever trust again? How will they know that the next time you pick them up you won't maim them again? Jodi McLauglin, editor of The Compleat Mother, states that when the cutting of the little boys stops, many of the wars among men may cease as well. Violence begets violence. A peaceful life begins, in part, at birth. A gentle birth lasts a lifetime.
We will be discussing fear and birth and boys and babies and family pressure and retraction of the foreskin (don't!) and all kinds of other subjects in our appointments to come. The prenatal visits become more frequent and as you know, they are all at least an hour long - there is so much to talk abut and we don't rush through anything. I want you both to leave here feeling heard, understood, and respected. I want to educate/inform people as best I can, to have them check out what I say on their own and to see where they fall in terms of their own choices. If I continue to be the right midwife for you, I will do everything I can to help this be a healthy pregnancy and smooth, safe birth. If I am not the right midwife for a particular couple, due to my strong views, ("I am opinionated because I am educated" as the saying goes!,) then we can agree to disagree and you can select someone who finds it easier to work with couples who remove the foreskin of their babies.
To begin your thinking about circumcision, please also read the information on the following websites:
If you still have any doubt, please find a few videos of the procedure on YouTube. If you feel you must subject your son to the procedure, you should at least see what you are about to do. I am sorry that I cannot provide a link for you myself, but I just cannot stomach watching it happen when I know that it is violent, systemically shocking to the infant, overwhelmingly painful, and entirely unnecessary.
You knew when you chose me that this would be my response - we talked about this from the beginning. And so, I offer no apologies, but I do offer, as you also know, much caring and warmth!