Boston Association for Childbirth Education Newsletter

April-June 1985 – BOOK REVIEW

Circumcision: The Painful Dilemma by Rosemary Romberg
Published by Bergin and Garvey, 1985, 454 pages

When my daughters were born six and three years ago I was relieved not to have to face the circumcision decision. Although I had reservations about the procedure, I was not sure enough to withstand the pressures to have a son circumcised.It was with great interest then that I received Rosemary Romberg’s book while pregnant with my third child.

Rosemary Romberg is a childbirth educator who, after having her own three sons circumcised, decided to research the subject and write a book presenting the facts about circumcision. What she found was overwhelming evidence that circumcision is an unnecessary practice which became advocated as a medical procedure late in the 1800’s because it was thought to cure or prevent masturbation. Routine circumcision of infants became increasingly common in the early1900’s as more births were occurring in hospitals. For too many years the procedure has been accepted as a routine by uninformed parents. One by one the author debunks the arguments surrounding the “benefits” of circumcision and “dangers ” of non-circumcision. She has thoroughly investigated her subject and presents the reader with much, if not all, of the research which has been done on the subject. While not all readers will want to read through them, the studies are painstakingly summarized for those who are interested. If Ms. Romberg’s book has one fault it is that its length may seem too imposing to some readers. However, the book is organized in such a way that it is easy to pick and choose the chapters that one wants lo read in depth and skim through the others.

The fact of the matter is that most of us, particularly women, know very little about the anatomy of the penis and how circumcision is done. For years mothers automatically signed consent forms thinking that circumcision was a natural and necessary procedure which was not painful to the newborn. Even though the American Academy of Pediatrics stated as early as 1971 that routine circumcision of all boys was not medically warranted, parents have continued to have the procedure done so that their sons will not be “different.”

Ms. Romberg has included many illustrations and photographs in her book. We see the medical instruments used in circumcision, babies undergoing the procedure, and intact boys. There is a chapter on the care of the intact penis–which is actually very simple. In fact, it is pointed out that many of the health problems which have been associated with non-circumcision are the result of parents being instructed to force the foreskin back in order to wash under it. By the time a boy is about three years old, the foreskin will have separated naturally from the glans so that retraction need not be forced. (Sometimes normal separation of the foreskin from the glans can take longer than this, even into adolescence for some. – R.R.) In addition to all of the information the author has compiled she has included personal accounts both from parents who had their sons circumcised and those who did not.

When I finished reading Circumcision: The Painful Dilemma, I felt that there was no way to justify circumcising my unborn baby should it turn out to be a son. Obviously one can argue that the book is biased–in fact even the title makes it clear where the author stands. However, I believe Ms. Romberg when she states that she did not undertake her exhaustive work with conclusions drawn beforehand. In the absence of any clear medical benefit from circumcision, it is hard to dispute the author’s powerful statement that, “Immediate circumcision is unquestioningly totally disregarding of the infants feeling in his introduction into this world. lt constitutes the absolute antithesis on non-violent birth. However, welcoming the baby into the world with non-violent birthing techniques, only to subject him to circumcision a few days later is nothing but hypocritical!” For too long those of us who have espoused natural, gentle childbirth have failed to see this contradiction.

William was born on August 7, 1985. Hours later we brought our son home–intact. Thank you, Rosemary Romberg.

Carole Kavanagh

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