There has been a lot of “water under the bridge” since my book was first published in 1985. Many events have been positive and rewarding. Others have been heartbreaking and discouraging.
My personal life met much tragedy and triumph. When my fourth child and first daughter, Lisa was born in 1981, we had thought our family complete. Then in 1983, with my book by now virtually finished, but me still struggling to get it printed and published, I found that I was again pregnant. I was excited to welcome a fifth child into our family AND bring my book into fruition. Sadly, the pregnancy ended in miscarriage at 19 weeks. My world seemed shattered, my maternal emotions at rock bottom, I feared that my long gestated book too would become aborted. (As any writer knows, a book is another type of “child” to the author.)
By this time my book had become typeset, this work generously donated at cost by a supportive activist and paid for with the many desperately needed and appreciated monetary contributions from others. Now I slaved away, in my pre-personal computer technology world of the early 80’s, with my X-acto knife, waxer, light box, and bottle of White-Out, shaping my long rolls of typeset manuscript and photographic prints into pages, one by one, bit by bit. Hope for my book still soared within me, but every image of an infant – some so peaceful, others in pain – tore at my heart. My own baby had left me.
Then in 1984 I became pregnant again, this time deliberately out of the hope to again have a soft, sweet bundle in my arms, and my life gloriously back together. Tragically, this baby was also miscarried at 19 weeks, in a manner very much similar to the last. Fibroid tumors had compromised my uterus. By this time I was 37 years old. The possibility of my ever having the ability to carry another baby to term again seemed doubtful. ME!!?? For whom babies and birthing had always meant so much!!
The interim that followed found me tossing aside much of the flaky, confusing, “New-Agey” philosophies that until then had tempted me with illusive pathways of fervent hope and disillusionment, and reconnecting with the Christian beliefs of my upbringing.
During this time I had also contacted Bergin & Garvey, a successful publisher of many books in the childbirth and infant care arena. The monetary advantage of taking on an already typeset, pasted up manuscript gave them the incentive to take over the future of my book. I had already pre-sold several hundred copies, so part of the agreement was that they would supply me with these books at cost.
Early in 1985, 7 ½ grueling years after the inception of this book, I drove home from an evening errand to find my garage filled with stacks of exciting boxes. Here, finally, were the hundreds of long promised books, now brought to completion. A “birth” at last, after an unbelievably long “transition” and “pushing” stage!! Not unlike a new mother examining and dressing her newborn, with relief and gratitude I packaged and prepared each book to go out to the world.
Meanwhile, a new life, a new hope for the future was again growing in my womb. I had recently learned that I was pregnant again. I faced this pregnancy with much worry and trepidation, refusing to make plans until the 19th week joyously passed, with my uterus continuing to grow and blossom.
I had other suspicions as well. With my three sons I had experienced only mild nausea in early pregnancy. But with Lisa and the two miscarriages (which had both been girls), I had been severely nauseated. With this pregnancy I was again experiencing only mild nausea, characteristic of how I had always felt when carrying my boys.
“Because of your history of fibroid tumors, I want you to have an ultrasound,” my midwife advised me. At 23 weeks I watched with fascination the image on the ultrasound screen as the tiny promise of a being materialized before me.
“Do you want to know your baby’s sex?” the technician asked me.
I said yes, as I thought to myself, “Is that little sticky-outy thing I see there what I think it is?”
“Okay, you have a little boy,” she confirmed.
I was not surprised, but had to grapple with the weird feeling of knowing the baby’s sex already rather than having the surprise at the moment of birth as it had been with my first four babies.
But even for ME, of all people, there was some uneasiness. “The baby is a boy! He will be born with a penis! He will have a foreskin! – Panic!! Good grief, I wrote the book!! I shouldn’t be feeling scared!! I’ve been everyone’s resource for circumcision information. There’s no way I’ll ever put another son through that torture!! I’d be the biggest hypocrite of the century!! But this one will be the one who is different!! I’ll have to face the relatives!! Theory will now become practice.”
In October of 1985 our fifth child and fourth son, Kevin, entered the world. He was born in a hospital birthing room. (Kevin’s birth is another detailed story. The account of his birth is also related in my web site.
Hospital After Home.
This time, with me by now an experienced “veteran” mom, my baby remained by my side with only the minimum of intervention. Everyone present either knew me for my ground work in opposing infant circumcision, or was unconcerned. Nothing was ever mentioned about circumcising the baby. We went home a few hours after birth.
Kevin’s birth was immensely healing for me in many ways. After having lost two other babies over the previous two years, there was tremendous healing to finally have another little, snuggly body again to hold and nurse. Kevin also looked a lot like his older brother Ryan at birth. I had another blonde, round-headed, “peach-fuzz” haired baby boy. 8 ½ years earlier Ryan’s beautiful home birth, and subsequent traumatic genital mutilation had torn me apart emotionally, but had been the impetus for my research and activism. This new baby passed his 8th day on earth peacefully sleeping and eating. Then he was 9 days old and nothing bad happened to him. Life would be okay.
Even I, with all the intensive research I had done over the years, was surprised to learn what a “no brainer” an intact baby truly is. The matter is so simple that most of the time the condition of the child’s penis bears virtually no thought or action at all. While, of course, many people in my community knew me for my activism on the subject, the vast majority of people are simply oblivious to whether anybody else is circumcised or not. It’s like not cutting off the baby’s finger’s or toes. Why did anything so ridiculously simple ever become something so intrinsically complicated and worrisome?
In 1988 we moved from Bellingham, Washington to Anchorage, Alaska. In 1989, yet another miracle, our daughter Melissa entered our lives, born blissfully at home in our large bathtub. (The details of her birth are also related on my web site. Birth of Melissa .)
Our family was complete (6 children, each a joyful blessing, was truly more than we had ever anticipated!) But the hoped for success of my book was less than I had anticipated.
Bergin & Garvey had printed around 4,000 softcover editions and 1,000 hardcover editions of my book – far fewer than I had wanted for the initial run. I had eagerly anticipated a second printing soon to follow, but that was not to be. By 1988 they had informed me that they would not be reprinting my book. I soon learned that they were experiencing severe financial problems and were going out of business. By early 1989 I had run out of my own supply of books to send out to purchasers. (There is a “Bergin & Garvey publishers today, which bought out the original operation, but they are not the same organization and have not taken an interest in my book.)
My book did receive a number of favorable reviews (most of which are included at the end of this updated edition.) I have only been aware of two negative, unfavorable reviews. I also received many positive, heartwarming letters from colleagues and other readers who had been benefited or inspired by my book. Today I know of many new activists whose energies were originally inspired when they read my book.
The early 90’s found me in a state of mental and emotional exhaustion of the subject. (How long can one person be expected to remain fixated on foreskins or the lack of them and all the intricacies surrounding this issue?) Once I was ablaze with passion and anger. Now it was a struggle to answer my mail. I felt discouraged, defeated, and burned out.
Despite the praise and encouragement my book has engendered, discouragement can happen when reality does not meet expectations.
When I originally set out to write this I had envisioned that Circumcision: The Painful Dilemma would have an impact on the routine circumcision industry akin to that of Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle’s impact on the meat-packing industry of the early 1900’s. I had assumed that clear cut outlaying of the facts, the purpose of the foreskin, the irrelevancy of all the purported “medical” arguments for circumcision and the visual imagery of infants strapped down to Circumstraint boards, screaming in pain would be enough to lead this country to outrage and abolishment of the practice. Infant circumcision persisted because it had been such a “behind the scenes” event in hospital birth. Once exposed, I had believed that natural maternal and paternal protective instincts, simple horror, and pure common sense would quickly intervene, putting the practice to an end. Certainly no one could possibly be that calloused as to see and know all of this and still agree to put their helpless infant through such trauma and deprivation.
Perhaps our society is too jaded. When The Jungle was written, the general public was more sheltered and naïve hence more easily reached and inspired to activism over wrongdoing. Today, media constantly bombards us with continual warnings of the latest headline making, purported “evils.” Additives are in our food, pollutants in our water and air, radiation from our computer screens, cell phones, and electric blankets. Who can know what to believe or care about? Most people alive today have grown up with the very real threat of nuclear annihilation. “Ho-hum, so what’s the latest scare this week?” As a social concern, perhaps there’s too much competition.
Whatever the reasons, I have learned that the concept of circumcision has held a far greater stranglehold on the American public than I had ever realized. Medical arrogance, refusal to listen to lay people (no matter how thorough or valid our research may be), and media distortion of scare stories have left the general public confused over the matter. Some people, desperate to find any kind of rationalization for circumcision as the old medical myths have been debunked, have grabbed at whatever possibility of new “reasons” crop up to put in their place. But the biggest heartbreak is that I have had a few people who were otherwise close to me who have been given (and in some instances requested) my information, and then, upon giving birth to boys have chosen to circumcise anyway. I have, of course grieved for the babies involved and for the parents’ seeming lack of compassion for their children. But these instances have also felt like a personal slap in the face to all of my intensive research and energies.
Meanwhile, I have found myself filled with an overwhelming desire to pursue other avenues and interests. I have become a professional craftsperson. (Confession: I would rather crochet or sew than continue to struggle over foreskins and infants rights.) There is true joy and healing in following the creative, non-verbal aspect of ones talents. I have also studied the Russian language, endured some body-altering surgery of my own (Eventually I will write about this experience.), created elegant hand-decorated cakes, including one for my oldest son and his lovely Russian bride. (I’m a mother-in-law now, but no, not a Grandma yet. None of my other kids seem to have any immediate interest in marrying and/or producing offspring.) I’ve also watched my children grow up. My four oldest have “left the nest” now. (I didn’t know it would all happen so fast!)
My intact son, Kevin is now 15. None of the purported “social” problem of having a son who “doesn’t match” have materialized for our family, or in the eyes of “the world.” The vast majority of the general public seems to have scarce awareness or interest in the matter and could care less whether anybody else’s child is circumcised or not. Those who are focused in on the matter, in my case at least, know about my extensive research and activism and either are in agreement or are not about to tangle with me about it.
Kevin has had an issue of “looking different” because of his need to wear glasses. Big brothers can be relentless teases and have had a great time calling him names like “four-eyes”. But there has never been any mention about his foreskin, or his brothers’ and Daddy’s lack of same. It has been a total non-issue.
When Kevin was seven years old, I decided that it was time for me to sit down with Kevin and explain to him why his penis looked one way and his Daddy’s and brothers’ penises (and those of at least some of his friends) looked different. As dedicated as I have been to the ideal of leaving children unmutilated, I had vowed to myself, after giving birth to Kevin and leaving him intact, that if he ever should wish to have his penis look like those of his older brothers or his father, I would agree to have him circumcised. So I calmly explained to him that all baby boys are born the way he is, with the foreskin covering the end of their penises like that, but that sometimes the doctor cuts part of that skin off, usually shortly after the baby is born. I explained how this hurts a baby and that I had been upset when that had been done to his brothers and that was why I had decided that when he was born I would not have that part of him cut off. I continued with the offer that now that he was old enough to decide, if he felt that he would rather have his penis look like his brothers’ or his Daddy’s, we could take him to a doctor and he could have that done as well.
Then I took a good look at Kevin. His hands were cupped protectively over his genital area and his eyes seemingly as big as saucers as he shouted emphatically, “That is NEVER going to happen to ME!!!” Kevin was very upset and horrified over what he had just learned.