(An old pic but one I love by Emily Rumsey Photography)

Oh do I dare even type that word out? I know everyone (almost everyone?) has passionate feelings about circumcision. But if you’d asked me when I was pregnant with our oldest (8 years ago) if we were going to circumcise him, I would have shrugged and said, yeah, probably, ask my husband? I mean, it sounds like it hurts but I’m sure they give the baby medicine and it’s for sanitary reasons or something?

Clearly I had done a lot of research. Gulp.

A few people in our lives mentioned that maybe researching it and the recommendations (AAP said not!) at the time were of value. After all, this is the same pregnant woman who thought she was going to waltz into a maternity ward PUSH PUSH PUSH and have a baby in an hour or so. I really hadn’t known anyone who was pregnant (well) and really hadn’t read much about it (at all) and spent the first many months throwing up so I had little energy to do anything other than complain to my mom.

All this to say, two women I know and very much respect who are both media producers and certified nurse midwives are working on a documentary. It’s about making informed decisions on circumcision. I urge you to visit the site and watch the trailer. It’s a very medical approach, acknowledges some determining factors and debunks a lot of myths.

Whether you’ve already chosen circumcision for your son or not (maybe you’d do it differently for future boys! I know families who have!), it’s informative and well-crafted.

Also, AA and I are in it! So watch the trailer here, get talking about this, and come back and tell me in the combox what you think. (See if you recognize any of the backgrounds . . . .)

Love,

Nell

*prepares for very strong opinions by securing chocolate brownies and a tall glass of cold milk*

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41 Responses to Tackling a tough topic: circumcision

  1. Jenny says:

    I’m sure you’ll get some strooooong opinions on this one, and good for you for not being afraid of that!

    We have circumcised 3 boys so far, but we do it as an outpatient procedure with our GP about a week or two postpartum, because like the trailer states, it’s kind of an intense time for the little guys right when they’re born, lol. One of our boys ended up having a congenital birth defect that was discovered at the time of circumcision (a variant of hypospadias called megameatus) which actually meant a medically-necessary circumcision at 6 months old and involved a bit of reconstructive business utilizing the “extra” tissue removed from the foreskin, so that made for an interesting twist.

    Aside from the medical piece for that particular kid, I think the most compelling reason each time we made the decision was “well, dad and %% of his friends/cousins/classmates are circumcised, so we didn’t want to burden him with feeling ‘other’ by not doing it.” Not super scientific, I’ll concur, but it seems a less barbaric procedure now than in biblical times, from what I’ve observed as the nervous, hovering mother.

    • Natural Mama Nell says:

      Love hearing people’s takes. We had initially had the “won’t match” question but increasing numbers of non-circ + adult & baby privates looking different helped sway us into the “not” category.

  2. Jen says:

    We have chosen not to circumcise our two boys. Husband is circumcised. Since child penises look different from adult penises, they certainly haven’t felt different from daddy. We are 100 percent happy with our decision to leave everything there that they were born with and have experienced zero problems with hygiene, infections, or anything else in their 8 and 6 years of life. I am glad that I am free to make the choice that I want to make for my children and my family and hope others feel the same way. However, I do like to offer our example that not circumcising can be a normal and healthy choice if you want to choose it.

  3. Jenna says:

    As a nurse, I have dealt with many more adult males than I have little boys (only two in my home so far). For me, the question to circumcise my boys was influenced by issues with cleanliness that I have seen in my non-circumcized patients over the last decade. Especially when urinary catheters are in place, having the foreskin always seems to increase the risk for colonization or deficient peri care. Also, I have seen more than a few emergent circumcisions in adult males which are always more difficult a procedure and recovery than infant males. Of course, had I not seen these things first hand in my work experience, I may have weighed other risks/benefits differently.
    Thank you for the dialogue!

  4. Erika says:

    I’m a physician and have seen numerous complications in children and adults from not being circumcised (balanoposthitis, phimosis, paraphimosis) as well as complications (painful adhesions, wound infections, etc) in children and older adults who had to undergo late circumcision for medical necessity. I understand both sides of the argument and believe that parents should be able to make their own decision, but it should be an informed one.

    • Natural Mama Nell says:

      Informed is so important! No scare tactics on either side are helpful!

    • C.C. says:

      Agreed! My husband is a provider and the amount of serious health issues from non circ patients and the painful procedure and recovery that is quite often medically nevesssry after having it done as adults – not sure it’s worth waiting to see if it will be needed later in life. I personally think it’s more of a current fad/trend to not do it at the moment. Just my humble opinion.

    • Marissa says:

      In all fairness, as a health care provider you’re mainly going to be seeing someone when there is a problem. Think of all the intact men who have never had a reason to see you and have never had any issues.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I wouldn’t say that the AAP *doesn’t* recommend infant circumcision. Their 2012 statement says: “After a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence, the American Academy of Pediatrics found the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks, but the benefits are not great enough to recommend universal newborn circumcision.”

  6. Anonymous says:

    You are brave for posting this Nell!!!

    We did not circumcise our son. I find the “won’t match dad” argument to be pretty odd. We aren’t the type of family who walks around naked and we tend to protect our privacy, so by the time my son was old enough to notice a difference with his dad, he would be too old to actually see his dad naked.

    None of the “medical” reasons to have it done seems compelling enough to remove a body part because it “may” need to be removed in the future. It just doesn’t make to sense to remove the foreskin on every single boy, just because a small percentage of those boys may need a more difficult and painful procedure done later.

  7. Amelia says:

    You are brave Nell!

    We did not circumcise our son. The “won’t match dad” argument is silly to me. We don’t walk around naked and tend to guard our privacy (even at home) so by the time my son was old enough to actually notice a difference with dad, he was too old to see his dad naked.

    None of the medical reasons I have read seemed compelling enough to me. I don’t feel comfortable removing a body part at birth, just because there is a * small chance* that body part may need to be removed in the future.

  8. Michaela says:

    I felt really bullied by loved ones to do it for my boys. I cried in the office for both of them. I felt like I had mutilated their perfect little penises for no reason I could understand. Had I not come from Germany, where it’s illegal to do to a baby who can’t consent, I probably wouldn’t have questioned it because all the males on both sides are. But then I started learning and questioning. And man, was I met with a lot of ANGER from people.

    The first thing I noticed tho when my new baby was born is his 6 year old brother never once said “why does his penis look different?” Until after when he wanted to know what happened!

    Maybe it’s because I’m not a boy, I don’t know what goes on in locker rooms in school, but I don’t get the rational that others will see him and tease him. Do teen boys this day in age really still see each other naked? Or, the girls will think it’s weird argument. As a mom, I think, “good! Keep them off it!” Hah!

    As a former ICU nurse Now CNM, I have seen issues between men and women related to an uncircumcised partner, so I have seen the medical side as well, but I find it interesting how other countries don’t have the same feelings about the medical issues as America does.

    Such a weighted topic. I understand why some people are comfortable choosing it, but I’m excited to see this documentary because the real reasons and the myths are so misunderstood I don’t feel everyone is provided the opportunity to make a truly informed choice. And no one should feel bullied…. Either way.

  9. Anna K says:

    I’m glad there’s just plain kind conversation going on. For us, I had no strong opinions either way. My husband (maybe against trend?) is very very happy he was circumcised (lol?) and he felt the strongest about the issue, so we chose that route. I let him have the final say as a male. People can choose whatever they want for their kids – there are risks and benefits to both choices. Glad you are being courteous about this (we’ve been called child abusers for our choice to curcumcise). Ack.

    • Natural Mama Nell says:

      If we can’t be polite, we cannot dialogue! Thank you for sharing your perspective!

    • Kellie says:

      Same here! I let my husband decide and he thought he should be. So I said if he’s getting it done, then you have to be in there with him and he was. I still don’t have a strong opinion either way. If we have any more boys, I’m sure I will let my husband decide again.

  10. Liz says:

    Love it. I didn’t research the first time around and didn’t research the second time around, so I’m looking forward to seeing this doc. I did it differently with each boy and I constantly feel like I made the wrong choice on both of them! Moms can’t win. :)

  11. Annabelle says:

    Why the gentle touch about the topic? Call it what it is. Circumcision is genital mutilation.

    My son’s genitalia are his business and if he wants to be circumcised, HE make that decision. If/when it comes up and he lives in my home then I will offer to assist in coordinating and/or paying for it. Alternatively, if he is an adult he can manage that with his doctor. Meanwhile, teaching good personal hygiene is pretty basic, just like brushing one’s teeth.

    Ask yourself if, upon your daughters’ birth, you would pry open her legs and commit her to a permanent procedure to match her genitalia to yours? Of course you wouldn’t. The idea is actual disturbing. Why must you do that to your sons?

    Are some cases medically necessary? Yes. But in the developed world this is an elective practice, predominantly cosmetic, with ongoing willful ignorance on the topic.

    • Anna K says:

      I hope you realize that once you call people like my family “genital mutilators” we completely shut you out. Just a friendly recommendation.

    • Anna K says:

      Also, the comparison between male circumcision and female genital mutilation is just not apples to apples in any way.

      • Annabelle says:

        My suggestion was, in fact, that you would not take a newborn baby girl and elect surgical intervention on matters of her genitalia (and there are many parts there) in order to “match” or “look like” yours.

        In my opinion, the basic comparison is fair – taking a part of the body someone is born with and cutting it off without their will.

        I do not think you are a child abuser, but the topic is well worth informing ourselves, husbands, and sons.

    • Natural Mama Nell says:

      Hi friend. I handle it with a gentle touch because I’ve found little traction in the intactivist movement and few converts through it. The film takes an informed, medically sound approach but does it in an inviting way for people who are on the fence. Most American parents don’t even know to question the practice–although increasingly as insurance doesn’t always cover it and Medicaid doesn’t, I’m hoping the conversation will arise more.

  12. Casey says:

    I find the hygiene argument weak. My brother is 29 years old, uncircumcised, and never had any issue. He’s also mentally handicapped so it’s not due to any great amount of hygienic practices on his part either. We were planning on circumcising our son but he had to stay in the NICU for a bit and then they wanted to do it right after he was released. He’d had so many pokes and prods that we just couldn’t bring ourselves to subject him to more pain. I hope he isn’t mad at us later! I really don’t get the point of it, other than as a cultural practice. If he’s worried what his future wife will think, I’ll recommend he not marry a girl who would care about such a silly thing.

  13. Tamar says:

    My husband is from New Zealand and is not circumcised. My previous partner was Swedish and was not circumcised. When I lived in Europe I was a nanny to 4 Chinese-Irish boys under 4 years of age and none of them were circumcised My sons are not circumcised. Not once did I observe any of the “hygiene issues” that supposedly happen when a foreskin is left intact. When researching circumcision before the birth of my first son, my husband found that 96% of the men in his home country of New Zealand have their foreskin and only 4% have been circumcised. There is a strong cultural bias toward circumcision in the United States that really is not rooted in science, otherwise European and other developed nations with high-quality medical care on par with US medical care would be advocating for circumcision and they are not. In fact, some nations have made the practice illegal. We live in an area of the country with a high immigrant population so I am not worried about the locker room. In addition, my OB-GYN at Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago told me that state health insurance didn’t cover circumcision because it was not considered medically necessary.

    • AVaz says:

      American cultural pressure for circumcision is so strong. My husband is from Puerto Rico and there wasn’t even a question- it would’ve been “abnormal” if we HAD circumcised our son.

  14. Liz says:

    I waltzed into circumcision like you with my first because doesn’t everyone do it? And then all of a sudden after the surgery (!!!For what other thing do we decide to have unnecessary surgeries?) his blood sugar dropped and he wasn’t gaining weight and and he bled so much and gosh, if I could take it back I would. So when number two came around we did the research and discovered a) no one in Europe does this b) babies’ blood doesn’t clot well until the 8th day (Jewish customs are so smart) so it’s really a stupid idea to do it right after birth. We thought about having a rabbi do it. We vacillated so much thinking, it’ll be so weird if one bro is and the other isn’t. In the end my husband just said, all penises are different. And nobody in the locker room goes around inspecting so just don’t make it a big deal. We also agreed that surgery is unnecessary and our ped shared the AAP recommendation of whatever and we didn’t do it. Best decision ever. Wouldn’t do it again. Boys have never noticed. They’re 5, 3.

  15. Jann Elaine says:

    Glad you brought this topic up! It is time American (especially Catholics ) started talking about it. As an American who married someone from (one of the other few) circumcision friendly nations, we were both shocked to find that the country we live now (United Kingdom) doesn’t even offer circumcision unless it’s an extremely special circumstance. We asked our pediatrician for information on circumcision after our son was born she looked at us perplexed and said “we don’t do that here. Needless to say, we were forced to do our research instead of just relying on cultural norms.
    I highly recommend the medical and informative presentation on the subject called Elephant in the Hospital, it wasn’t EXTREMELY helpful to watch (for free on YouTube) with my husband, and it’s not too long anyway.

    And can I just add that as a catholic I am appalled now when parents use the approach of “its my child I do what I think is best” which normally works for almost all situations but it is also very similar sounding to pro-choice opinions…

  16. Michaela says:

    My husband pulled the “I’m the man, you don’t know, I make the decision” argument with me. He felt so strongly for it. And I ultimately caved. But there is that truth that it’s a decision you can’t take back, and in the end if a boy wanted/needed it later that’s a statistically small IF, whereas if you might regret it like I do (maybe more than my boys will since it’s seems there’s an attitude of being totally happy/fine they were circumcised amongst the men of our family), then don’t do it until you know how you feel and agree between parents. And ask ask ask. One thing as a provider I’ve learned is it is hard to maintain my own neutrality in a discussion that is so weighted and so culturally and socially driven. As much as I understand there is a professional organization statement that evaluates evidence either way, I do somewhat identify with the term gential mutilation even as its compared to females. The other part is the perpetuation of something that was done to a person’s self by someone else, and not for medical or evidence based educated reasons, so therefore do it to their offspring because that’s what was done to them. That bothers me. I think there is some beneficial evidence I can take comfort in since I did make that choice for my sons, but that’s about all I have to quench my guilt. if those around me had been more neutral or more open, I never would have done it. It still makes me so sad.

  17. Maria says:

    I have 4 sons, my oldest is circumcised and the other 3 are not. I always find the argument that it is incredibly painful to be circumcised as an adult to be odd. How do we know that it isn’t equally painful for babies, they just have no way of communicating that pain? I certainly respect all parent’s thoughtful decisions on this topic, but the US is the only country that I am aware of that performs routine circumcision for non-religious reasons.

  18. Annabelle says:

    I am so sorry you feel so much guilt and sadness, Michaela. I mean that wholeheartedly.

    I wish grown men would stop perpetuating circumcision under the guise of some sort of familial right.

  19. I can’t agree more and thanks for sharing this post. It’s very helpful and insightful, you have now provided the ultimate guide.

  20. AnneMarie says:

    Nell, this trailer is awesome, thanks for sharing!!! I am ALL ABOUT informed decisions. When I was pregnant with my son, we wound up e-mailing one of my husband’s college biology professors who gave us the statistics on different diseases and whatnot, and I found it so helpful so that we could make our own decision as parents going off of that. I can’t stand how a lot of literature that’s either for or against circumcision isn’t logical, but instead dives into different fallacious arguments and makes me want to rip my hair out. This movie looks awesome!

  21. Stefanie says:

    Nell, did you say you had one of your boys circumcised and the other not? We have 2 boys, both circumcised. The first was very traumatic I think for both us and my son. Despite that, we went forward with procedure on our second boy because of feeling the pressure of “looking different” although we stressed majorly about it. After reading a little about people who have done different choices within a family, I am feeling confidence about not circumcising our 3rd boy who will be born in a few months. I just am looking for more reassurance of how it goes in your home as the boys are growing up?

    • Natural Mama Nell says:

      hey girl! Ours are both intact, but I really know lots of people who don’t circ after circ’ing other boys. The brothers often don’t even notice!! By the age where they’d be noticing, they’re probably not naked in front of each other as much. I know families where brothers were different and then grew up not knowing which of them was circ’d and which wasn’t. I’d listen to your heart on this one.

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