Circumcision Pros and Cons: One Mom’s Regret

There has been a tremendous amount in the news lately about the pros and cons of circumcision. In New York City, Orthodox Jewish leaders are vowing not to comply with a new requirement that they get informed consent before a mohel may put his mouth on the infant’s penis (a regulation passed in the wake of the death of an infant from herpes); The American Academy of Pediatrics, while not recommending routine circumcision, now claims the benefits of the procedure outweigh the risks; American health professionals on the frontline of circumcision are actively debating whether it is a necessary procedure; and a new study about the clinical trial of three methods of infant circumcision in Zambia reports that of the 640 circumcisions performed from October 2009 to March 2011 4.1 percent of the infants (26 babies) suffered from moderate to severe complications from the procedure.

Numbers from the CDC of the falling rates of circumcision suggest that public opinion about circumcision is beginning to change; more American parents are choosing not to circumcise (preferring to leave the decision to remove a significant portion of a child’s genitals up to the child himself when he is old enough to make that choice); and activist groups (who call themselves intactivists) are lobbying pediatricians and other health care providers to stop what they call male genital mutilation.

Some parents decide easily about whether or not to circumcise. They reach a conclusion based on the pros and cons of circumcision. But other struggle with the decision. When a couple disagrees about circumcision it can cause tension in the marriage.

Here is one mom’s story in her own words of why she decided to circumcise her son, and why she now regrets that decision:

This is a very very sensitive topic with my hubby and has caused much distress to our marriage.

My husband is Jewish, but not really practicing. We celebrate Hanukkah and Passover and that’s it. He didn’t even have a Bar Mitzvah. So when we found out we were having a son and he insisted on circumcising him, I was pretty surprised.

My hubby is generally pretty alternative when it comes to medical care and procedures. He doesn’t like doctors or prescriptions or the like.

I had read a lot about circumcision and how it’s not necessary and I really didn’t want to do it.

My husband insisted, his reasoning being that he was Jewish, and all the men in his family are circumcised, and all the Jews before him were.

He said he may not be practicing, but he feels like he is ethnically Jewish, and after the Holocaust and the persecution that Jews have dealt with he feels it’s even more important to identify his son as a Jew.

I tried to reason with him, trying everything I had: it’s a cosmetic procedure on a newborn, it’s dangerous, there are a lot of Jews these days who AREN’T circumcising.

I tried it all and he would not budge.

He had read in the Economist awhile back that circumcision in Africa is reducing the rate of HIV and AIDS.

I still haven’t figured out if this is accurate or not, I have found conflicting information.

I tried to tell him that our child isn’t as at risk for HIV as the men in Africa.

He is a very stubborn guy, and we had countless discussions and arguments about this.

Finally I gave up. I just couldn’t fight about it anymore, and it was beginning to feel like if I refused, our marriage would be over. It was that bad. I made him promise to allow my doctor to perform the procedure, since I felt close to her and more comfortable with her. His parents came to the appointment (which was at 8 days old) and said a prayer in Hebrew over the baby after the procedure.

I felt terrible and cried every time I changed his diaper in the days following.

I felt extreme guilt about allowing that to happen to my son. How could I, as his mother, let someone cut off part of his penis?! How terrible!

I think my hubby was pretty shocked at both the procedure itself (he watched) and my reaction afterward.

He didn’t know it would be that bad. And he didn’t know I would be so upset.

For years this was a bone of contention with us. If ever circumcision came up in a conversation he would quickly get defensive. We eventually had to call a truce and stop talking about it.

I made it clear that I felt so much guilt for allowing it to happen, and that I regretted it so much, more than anything in my life.

I still do.

Living in a town where being uncircumcised is the norm, at least among small children, I felt extremely self-conscious when my son would be naked in public (and still do).

I was embarrassed to change his diaper when we were out and about, I didn’t want to be THAT mom who thought it was OK to cut her son.

When around friends I always felt the need to bring it up, to explain myself, and make it clear that I didn’t agree with it.

In fact, I nearly decided not to have a third child because I was so afraid that if it was a boy I would have to go through it all again. I told my husband that if it were a boy he wouldn’t be circumcised. My husband did not agree. He said it would be awful to have one circ’ed and the other not.

Thankfully when we got pregnant again it was a girl, and when we found out I was able to relax for the rest of my pregnancy.

My son is close to four years old and I am still not at peace with this; I don’t think I ever will be.

We are lucky that he has never had any trouble with his circumcision, but he is still missing part of his penis! I can’t believe it.

I am still close to tears when I think about it, and writing this makes my heart beat faster and makes me feel sad. I try and share my story with new moms who are thinking about circumcision with the hopes they will realize that they may really regret it too.

Photo courtesy of Ginny Adkins. All rights reserved.

Related posts
12 reasons why the AAP is right and you should circumcise your son
To circumcise or not to circumcise?
Circumcision debate on BlogHer

If you are the parent of a boy, what did you decide about circumcision? In retrospect, do you think the decision you made was the right one?

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Comments

  1. We knew when I was pregnant that, if it were a boy, we would not do it. If there’s any truth to the reduced risk of STDs, then have boys elect to do it in their teens rather than when they are babies and have no choice. I don’t even understand when parents pierce a baby’s ears, so I’m pretty much in the “don’t mark their body without their consent” camp.
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  2. Becky

    When my son was born I thought it had to be done and so I went along and had it done. But, every since that day he was having problems with it, like adhesions and other problems because it wasn’t done correctly. So, I had to have it redone and now it looks like too much was removed and doesn’t look very good. I kind of wish I never had it done in in the first place.

  3. Sheila

    I had the same issue in my house and my son is now two and I still feel the same guilt. I could really identify with this mother, I shed the same tears when I changed my sons nappy. We recently had a second son and we have not circumcised. It was a big debate with my husband (pro) and in laws(pro) and I discovered no amount of logic was going to change their mind so I gave up trying and just stated that I will not allow it. My father in law wants to discuss it again next year… Some people can not respect your decisions.

  4. Kelly

    My story is so similar. I did NOT want to do this to my baby. My husband insisted. I gave in. I regret it every day and my son is almost 9 years old. His 2 younger brothers are intact thanks to him. I wish more than anything I could go back and change it, but I can’t. I try to remind myself of this quote – There are no mistakes in life, only lessons learned. The lesson I learned was to trust my instinct and listen to my heart.

  5. I agree with Kris that we learn from our parenting mistakes. But at the time we probably made those decisions with the information we had at the time. No need to dwell on guilt.

  6. So much heartache and all so unnecessary! In the developed world outside the USA, there is no decision. Babies male and female are delivered intact and go home intact, circumcision is not asked for and not offered. And it’s not because they don’t know any better: the rest of the English-speaking world tried it, found it did no good, and has all given it up – with no ill-effects. The non-religious circumcision rate is vestigial in New Zealand and the UK, under one in 8 in Australia. A generation has grown up looking different from their fathers, with no problems there either.

  7. We had this same debate before our only child was born. My husband was for it and I was against. He didn’t know much about it, he just felt that he was and so he’d want his son to be. However, the doula who also held the prenatal classes we attended had books on all sorts of subjects, including circumcision. It only took a few minutes of looking at one of those books to change my husband’s mind. For all other mom’s facing this, get your husband some pictures and point out the pain and trauma this procedure causes. There is also evidence that, as with female circumcision, albeit not to the same degree, it does diminish sexual pleasure later. Most husbands don’t realize the potential loss of sensation or how painful this procedure is – indeed, until fairly recently, doctors and other medical professionals insisted that infants didn’t experience pain in the same way, etc. It’s hard to fathom, especially as it was routine for baby boys to cry for hours after the procedure, but humans have a great capacity for denial.

    • Mark

      The problem with comparing male and female circumcision is that, on a purely physical level, no circumcision (among men too) is alike. There are grades of harm done, just as there are different level or grades of female circumcision/mutilation: from a pin prick upwards. I, as a victim, have seen ‘far worse’ cases than mine online – images uploaded by other men needing advice. Just as I have seen cases far ‘better’ too.

      Yet, why it is especially so disgusting for the two forms to be compared is that everything, even a scrape cut, is a complete violation of a child’s dignity, well-being and sexuality. I cannot put into words the hurt of feel. I had not known this kind of anger before, and for so long. I continue to feel betrayed and lied to. It is very difficult for me, now that I am no longer in denial, to have contact with my callous parents. My intact father knew what he was denying me, but both were and are extreme Christian puritans with a sense of responsibility so utterly distorted that it leaves one feeling like property.

      To compare and say one is not as bad as the other is to deny the rights and feelings of another.

      • Mark

        As for my sexual experiences – a disaster. I often struggled to orgasm. There were times when I felt like was looking in through the window at myself and my partner – longing to be a part. To have that intimacy and sensation. I have been single for years and I worry everytime I attempt dating. It’s easier to avoid sex, though I hope my years of restoration will help me to feel more open to it in the future.

        My first real girlfriend (a German) took one long at me and said: “I am sorry they took most of your sensitivity away”. I recently met up with another ex for coffee and asked her directly. She said the moment she first saw me in the nude, she knew I have been traumatised in an extreme way as a baby and that this would be a part of my make up as a person.

        My girlfriends suffered too of course, they just didn’t say so. It only became obvious to me later that the reason for their dryness and inability to have real orgasms – or even gentle sex – was because of my mutilation.

  8. Keith Rutter

    My penis was cut in 1947, at the insistence of an old-fashioned doctor in England. It was only at puberty that I discovered that my sex-life had been impacted, to the point where I was unable to orgasm. After a struggle I did manage to father a son. Did I want him to be mutilated? Of course not, and 30 years later, he is still intact with no penis problems.

  9. concerned cynic

    Tragically. many Jewish, Moslem and American fathers are Adamant Fathers, with deep seated psychosexual and conformist insecurities centering on how the most intimate part of the male body looks. Last century, about 100 million newborn Canadian and American boys were routinely circumcised shortly after birth. Anesthesia was almost never used. During the first half of last century, the doctors performing RICs were usually intact. The nurse restraining the boy had an intact husband. The father of the boy being circumcised was usually intact. Millions and millions of mothers did not notice that the moving foreskin made foreplay easier and PIV less brutal. I conclude that English speaking women sleepwalked through their marital sex lives. A major reason why circumcision is in decline in the USA, despite the fence sitting of the American medical profession, is that women are paying closer attention to how their sex lives work in practice, and are sharing what they have learned via social media.

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