LETTERS FROM PARENTS OF INTACT SONS
“Lots of boys aren’t being circumcised these days. I think children are growing up with a healthy attitude about their bodies and it probably doesn’t matter to them.”
My son was born at home in Fairfax, California. The doctors that I saw for prenatal care were very open concerning the issue of circumcision. They saw no medical need for the operation. This concurred with my intuitive feeling on the subject. I feel that “nature” created us perfectly and it seemed bizarre to me that such a radical alteration was necessary. It made sense to me that the foreskin served in a protective capacity. That this should be removed because a small percentage of males had trouble with uncleanliness was analogous to dentists pushing tooth extraction and plates so that the maintenance problem be handled.
My main objection to circumcision, however, is that it is such a painful experience. I’ve come to recognize that much of the fabric out of which we operate consists of “forgotten” imprints. A trauma occurs and from this painful experience the child gets feedback from his/her environment… “I am not safe here! Life is painful!” The child has no framework to modify the imprint such as “This procedure is for your future well‑being.” He receives a painful experience for which he has no means to assimilate except in the direct experience of hurt. People continually reconstruct reality as “unsafe,” “detrimental” and with the feeling that other people can have power over their lives because of long forgotten (to the conscious mind) events.
My son is now 15 months old. I recently took him to a local doctor for an examination. The doctor was looking at him and explaining some things to me when he suddenly reached down and yanked my son’s foreskin back! It was horrible! After months of dealing with conscientious doctors in California who developed a warm and respectful relationship with my son, I was filled with sorrow not only because of the pain he felt but because of the imprint that doctors and their environments aren’t safe. He said my son definitely needed a circumcision and I set up a date which I later cancelled.
I still did not feel that circumcision was necessary even after another doctor examined him and said it was. This doctor’s response to my questions and wanting to be with my son up to the time the anesthesia would be given and immediately afterwards while awakening, was “What’s your hang‑up?!” He figured that when the child cried out enough that signaled that he would be awake enough to be carried out to his parents…. I found the “professionals” to be totally insensitive to the human factors involved. They had no awareness of a child’s needs or of the psychological implications of their actions.
I called my doctor in California. I related to him the whole situation and he told me that he recommends that nothing be done to the penis until the child reaches two years of age. At that time he said to begin gently retracting the foreskin. By the time the child is three the foreskin will be completely loosened and the child will be able to learn how to clean himself.
Around here it seems that most people consider not being circumcised “unheard of.”
The Mothering issue with Sylvia Topp’s article arrived three days after my experience with the doctor. I learned of acquired phimosis and was really crushed until I was reassured by the California doctor that one instance would not create scar tissue.
(The following is this mother’s letter to the doctor who forcefully retracted her son’s foreskin:)
I am writing to express my concern over the recent experience my son Aleph and I had in your office.
You gave no indication to my child or to me that you were going to proceed so abruptly in your examination of his penis. With the knowledge that his foreskin was tight you yanked it back aggressively. You never acknowledged the child as a person, said anything to him, or touched him in a kindly way before doing something which you knew would be intensely painful for him.
A child is extremely impressionable. Until his experience with you, every visit he had ever made to a doctor’s office was one in which he was treated with care and respect. He enjoyed going to the doctor’s office and had no fear of examination.
You were appraising his condition and expressed the need for circumcision based on the fact that his skin tone had become leathery and tight, when you suddenly retracted it! I don’t feel that you had to make your point by further illustration, especially when your action aggravated an existing condition, causing bleeding and severe pain which still persists. Last night he awakened repeatedly, crying, and now gives indication that he feels discomfort in this area.
I feel strongly that a requisite to the healing that a physician performs is an attitude of respect and compassion toward the people who are his patients. Human beings are more than their bodies and when this is overlooked the harm done to a person’s psyche can be equal to or greater than the physical repair. This is even more important when dealing with children who have not yet evolved a framework in which to understand the “whys” of certain actions and interchanges.
Please cancel all the arrangements we made for circumcision. I will take my son to a physician whose qualifications include sensitivity and compassion as well as adeptness in surgical procedure.
Esther Frances Schrank, Bridgeton, N.J.
My first son was born when I was 18. I was naive about pregnancy and birth and had never read anything that was informative about circumcision. I had Solomon in a hospital and didn’t have him circumcised because I felt it wasn’t natural. When my dad noticed he wasn’t, he expressed his disapproval saying it wasn’t clean and that he should have it done right away.
I lived with my mother after the baby was born. (My boyfriend whom I had been living with shortly before Solomon’s birth was out of the country and we planned on getting back together when he returned.) My mother and I had a talk about the baby’s not being circumcised. She disapproved also, saying it wasn’t clean. Not having any support, I gave in and had it done at a doctor’s office. It was a very traumatic experience. We were separated and it took us a long time to get over it. I very much regret having had Solomon circumcised.
I knew I wasn’t going to have my second son circumcised. At the time I had Silver, the first edition of Spiritual Midwifery was out. They recommended retraction of the foreskin for keeping it clean. I couldn’t pull Silver’s skin back so I took him to a woman doctor who did it. She wasn’t nice and sent me out of the room while she did it. It was very painful also and I regret having let her send me out.
When I was pregnant for the third time I went to the Wisconsin Farm. (Sister Farm of the one in Tennessee where Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin is published.) I read the revised edition of Spiritual Midwifery and it said retraction of the foreskin is not necessary. The Farm midwives neither encourage nor discourage circumcision. They circumcise boys if the parents wish and they do it in a religious manner, showing the baby and mother utmost respect and keeping the vibes holy.
The midwife who delivered my third son, Brook, circumcised her own baby and said she held him a lot afterwards. She, and also another woman there who had her son circumcised by Ina May, said if they had another boy they wouldn’t have it done. Their reasons for circumcision were cleanliness but they felt the natural way was cool too. I didn’t have Brook circumcised, but if I had wanted him to be I feel it would have been okay.
I don’t think it matters about boys being embarrassed because they “look different.” Lots of boys aren’t being circumcised these days. I think children are growing up with a healthy attitude about their bodies and it probably doesn’t matter to them. I had thought Solomon should look like his dad who was circumcised. My husband doesn’t think it’s an important factor for someone making this decision. The father can explain in an informative way why his penis is different. It’s no big deal. I explained it to Solomon who is five now. He understood it and that was it. My other two are too young for explanations but I’m sure there won’t be any problems just because they look different from daddy.
Most of the ladies I’ve met with boys have had their first boy circumcised and not their second son or any boys after that. This is because they weren’t informed while pregnant with their first sons.
Linda Kehoe, Ball Club, MN.
“Choosing not to circumcise our son was not an easy decision. We anguished for months about it.”
We chose not to circumcise our son, but it was not an easy decision. I did not want it done because I believe it to be a trauma. We had our son at home to provide the most pleasant birth experience for all of us.
My husband, who is of Jewish heritage, though not a practicing Jew, was more inclined toward having it done. He was less skeptical of the medical reasons. He also felt our son would wonder why he was different from the other boys and his father.
We anguished for months and he finally decided that I was correct or at least could have my way. He came to the conclusion that it was unnecessary surgery.
Aaron, our son, is 18 months old now and we are both glad we did not have him circumcised. We have never pushed his foreskin back. I’m sure it would not go back easily as it is very tight. He has had an infection once‑after a doctor’s visit during which the doctor pushed it back. It was red for a day and we put a cornstarch solution on it. Now we always state that we don’t want his foreskin pushed back to any physician before we remove his diaper.
Maxine and Armand Altman,
I split with Seagan’s father when I was six months pregnant. We had never discussed circumcision. A few years before Seagan’s conception I lived with a couple who had an intact child. Until recently we lived in Venice (Calif.). Many of the boys there are intact. Before Seagan was born I always thought intact penises were very “odd” looking until I would occasionally see a “naked” penis (one bare of foreskin). It always had a raw, “uncovered” look to it. Adult penises always seemed like “adult penises” to me, but though looking a bit mutilated, don’t seem as odd as a young child circumcised.
It also seemed, though we lived in a community where naked children are accepted as natural, that circumcised males chose to remain covered more often than intact ones. This could go in hand with parental hang‑ups over “private” areas and cleanliness to these parts.
Seagan was born at a hospital with my mother at my side. I told my mother often (as I knew my belly was full of boy child) I would not have my son circumcised. After Seagan’s birth I lay on this bed in the hallway with my still‑nursing son an hour out of my womb. People were singing “Happy Birthday” and sipping orange juice. The pediatrician was asking if I wanted Seagan circumcised. I was saying “No,” and my mom, seemingly shocked, was saying “Yes.” Then she asks for the doctor’s advice and that of his wife. They say they’re biased to a mother’s choice about her own child. My mother was frantically talking about cleanliness and what not….
And Seagan, so young and sweet, nursing … lying warm and naked next to my body … trusting me to do the best I can for him … with this argument/discussion about his penis … such a small, tiny penis … as new as he was.
In my mind I see picket lines of tormented males with signs saying “Save the Foreskin!” How odd, and what a fantasy!!*
I am not often around relatives other than my immediate family, so I haven’t had any pressure from my Jewish background other than my mother who to this day remarks how “funny” Seagan’s penis looks.
For a short while I had an intact, very Italian, stepfather who couldn’t relate to circumcision at all. He often said American men must have little penises because they were “half chopped off as a baby!”
Male friends with any sensitivity would react towards the idea of circumcision similarly to the way a nursing mother reacts to the thought of a cracked nipple. They reach for their penis or cross their legs and look very wounded.
In the past I have had three intact “intimate” friends. Two were more into “hiding” their penises and cleaning up after intercourse, making love in the dark or under the covers. The third was a wonderful man who felt most fortunate for having his foreskin intact. It is, amongst other things, an added attraction.
* Not such an “odd” fantasy any more. Take a look at our “Blood-Stained Men” protests going on! – R.R.
Laurie Levites , Los Angeles, CA.
I chose not to have my sons circumcised so they would remain whole and unmaimed. The foreskin acts as a shield that protects the end of the penis from desensitization from contact with underclothing and also functions as a flexible folding‑unfolding sleeve during sexual intercourse for the increased pleasure of both partners.
Our first son was born in 1964. Prior to his birth we discussed circumcision with our family physician who recommended it for general hygiene. Other friends gave varying reasons -‑ reduces masturbation, would be more painful later, or other boys in the locker room would tease. Since these ideas seemed vague at best, I made some cursory research and learned that circumcision was rarely necessary. The only substantial reason that I have found favoring it is for religious grounds.
When we were expecting our second child, my wife told our doctor that I did not want a male child circumcised and asked that I visit him to discuss it. His penile and cervical cancer scare did little good because I knew more about circumcision than he did.
In 1974 we found ourselves expecting another baby. By this time I was a virtual anti‑circumcision fanatic. I suspect that circumcision can be related to homosexuality and high divorce rates. When my anti‑circumcision stand was mentioned to the doctor he suggested that we make an appointment with him to discuss it. This physician said “Circumcision was so common that the hospital might as well do all male babies as routine.” He did admit that many doctors did not find circumcision necessary. After I sent our doctor and the hospital a certified letter refusing permission for circumcision, our doctor threatened to drop my wife as a patient, but did not and never mentioned circumcision again. After our son was born his bassinet was marked with 4 inch letters “NO CIR.”
(Name Withheld by Request)
“If new mothers can be taught to clean their newborn daughters’ genitals, then why not their sons’? If little girls can be taught to clean the myriad folds that we’re blessed with, then why not little boys? I must agree with my husband who says, ‘What kind of a way is that to start your life, getting the end of your penis cut off?’ “
My husband, Larry, has a very good friend. This man had always been an analytical type‑if you couldn’t explain it mathematically, it couldn’t be true. Several years ago he started to change and see things more “spiritually.”
One afternoon he was working in his garden and suddenly felt very bad -‑ so terrible that he didn’t want to stay out there. He went inside to work out his problem. He had been practicing yoga, so he went into a meditative state. He began feeling extreme anger, humiliation, and frustration and realized that these feelings “reminded” him of his circumcision as an infant. A subconscious realization is very hard to describe to someone else, but Larry’s impression was that his friend had no doubt that he had, indeed, recalled the operation and was feeling the same sensations and emotions he felt as a newborn.
Over the last few years I began to doubt the practice, but figured it must be very difficult to deal with an intact foreskin and perhaps it was best to remove it. However, I’ve come to realize how brainwashed I’ve been. If new mothers can be taught to clean their newborn daughters’ genitals, then why not their sons’? If little girls can be taught to clean the myriad folds that we’re blessed with, why not little boys?
My feelings toward circumcision are the same as my feelings about the entire birth experience. Everything that happens, from the onset of labor, if not before, is “remembered” by the subconscious. Everything changes us toward higher or lower potential as adults. Any intervention with the natural birth and mothering process, must be detrimental to the physical and emotional well‑being of the newborn. Believing this, I must agree with my husband who says, “What kind of a way is that to start your life, getting the end of your penis cut off ?”
Debi Miller, Camarillo, CA.
(Debi was pregnant when she wrote this. Their son, Bartholomew, was born at home, June 1978.)
When I was pregnant with my first son, Terence, we found a wonderful doctor who would assist us with a home delivery. I asked him, “When do people have their babies circumcised?” thinking most people did this. I had never seen an intact penis. I am Jewish and my husband is Catholic. He had been circumcised and so had all the other males I had known.
The doctor said “Did you know circumcision is not necessary?” With all my knowledge about birth and pregnancy, I had to answer “No.” No book that I had read was informative on the subject. We discussed the matter. He gave us some literature to read and said that if we chose to have it done he would do it three weeks after the birth. He felt that birth was traumatic enough and one should wait to circumcise.
We then researched the subject so we would make a responsible decision. We talked with male friends, some circumcised, others not. I wondered whether uncircumcised men had any difficulties. One friend had chosen to be circumcised when he found intercourse painful. It was an individual situation though. When he and the woman he lives with gave birth to their son, they chose not to circumcise even though the father had experienced a problem. What was most influential to my own decision not to have Terry circumcised was my husband’s saying, “When I found out my foreskin had been cut off without my permission, I felt angry and cheated!” We decided we wanted it to be Terry’s decision.
My mother was terribly upset and had one of my stepfather’s colleagues write me a detailed letter about Terry’s future as an uncircumcised male. My stepfather is a doctor. For a month my mother and I didn’t speak. This was mostly my choice, for each conversation would come around to the horrors of non‑circumcision. She would cut out clippings from medical journals that described phimosis and other such things. My dear grandfather said “We should have him circumcised because God wanted it that way.” I couldn’t get too angry at him because he’s Orthodox Jewish. But I did reassure him that God really didn’t make a mistake when he put the foreskin on.
When Terry was a little older I took him to a different doctor. The doctor saw that Terry’s penis was not retractable (which I now know, was totally okay!). So he pulled it back, Terry cried, and he said to pull it back regularly so that the foreskin doesn’t adhere to the head of the penis and the smegma is removed frequently. He was gentle about it. I did this. As Terry got older occasionally I did find a little smegma. Later he learned to clean himself. I explained to him how it is important to keep his penis clean along with all the other parts of his body. I talked to him about being uncircumcised and showed him pictures. We talked about his friends since occasionally it was noticed that he was “different.” He has said he would like one like Peter (his Daddy). Peter and Terry talked together. Now Terry says, “Daddy wishes he had a cover on his penis like me.”
Our second son, Kian, was born at home also. There was no question as to whether or not we’d circumcise him. When Kian was about four months old he became quite ill with a cold. My doctor was on vacation, so I saw the doctor who was on call. He examined him, removed his diaper, and exclaimed in a loud, disapproving voice, “You should have had this baby circumcised! His foreskin doesn’t retract!” He then proceeded to pull it back and make it bleed…. Here was this very sick baby and the doctor was worrying about his foreskin not retracting!! My regular doctor had seen the same penis many times and nothing was said or done. On Sunday Kian was worse but I didn’t want to see that doctor again. By Monday, Kian was in bad shape. I waited at my doctor’s doorstep, was his first patient, and told him of my experience. He said “I’m sorry this happened, Julie. You’re going to have to put Kian in the hospital. He’s got pneumonia pretty bad. He’s full of mucus and dehydrated.” I asked, “What else can I do?” He knows I am an intelligent, responsible person and gave me an option to take Kian home, get four humidifiers, a breast pump, and push fluids. I was to call him every hour to let him know Kian’s progress. Kian had become too weak to nurse so I was feeding him with an eyedropper, pumping my breasts, and suctioning out tons of mucus. If he hadn’t looked better the following day the doctor would have admitted him to the hospital.
Thank God he progressed. I saw the doctor every day for two weeks. It was a horrible experience for our whole family. It took Kian three months to fully recover.
Then began my attempts to educate others, by giving articles to childbirth educators, doctors, ministers, etc., and by sharing my experience of having two healthy, happy boys who are intact and are having no problems.
I am not attempting to retract Kian’s foreskin. I have friends in France and in Denmark. They have said that it is practically unheard of [in Europe] to mess about things like that. Everyone there seems to know that by age three or so the foreskin loosens naturally.
Julie Freitas, North Hollywood, CA.
I have two boys, one born in 1966 and one in 1976. We also had three girls in between. My oldest son’s birth was a typical uninformed first birth -‑ induced labor, drugs, forceps. I didn’t question any of that, and did not question the routine circumcision.
My birth experiences with each of the three girls got a little better. The oldest girl’s birth was somewhat “prepared” with only a little medication, but my husband wasn’t there. The next girl’s birth was my husband’s first time present at a birth. He got to stand in the delivery room doorway -‑ a big concession for that hospital in 1970. The last girl’s birth was a good hospital experience and we went home the next day.
With my fifth baby we planned a home birth. During this pregnancy we talked to other home birth couples about the unnecessary things done in hospitals. Nobody had any good reason why a boy child should be circumcised. I didn’t want to subject my baby to it at all, but my husband felt strongly that if the baby was a boy he should be circumcised so that all the males in the family would “match!” Reluctantly I agreed.
When our second son was born in 1976, (a beautiful home birth!), my husband immediately started trying to arrange the circumcision. We are members of a group health plan, so he called the hospital and got started on the “merry‑go‑round!” Pediatrics wouldn’t perform an outpatient circumcision because they didn’t have the “equipment.” Urology wouldn’t perform a circumcision on a child under a year of age. The Health Plan office wouldn’t pay for a circumcision performed by an “outside” doctor. He called a local synagogue (we are not Jewish) to see if they could recommend someone, but they couldn’t. He called the Social Services Office at the hospital. The social worker called back the next day to report that Urology had told them that they didn’t have to do it because the child wasn’t born there! Finally my husband called the Chief of Staff obstetrician. The Chief of Staff said he’d do the circumcision himself.
I had to take Trent to the doctor myself as Paul couldn’t get off work. I dreaded it and took a friend with me for support! When we arrived a nurse took the baby to get him ready while I signed a form stating that “I understood there is no medical reason for this procedure, but I wanted it done….” My mothering instincts and common sense were fighting the whole thing, but I knew it meant a lot to my husband. So, against my better judgment, I went ahead.
I started into the examining room where they had taken Trent. I could hear him crying. It was the first time he had ever been away from me! The nurse tried to stop me, (my friend said it looked like she was going to slam the door in my face!) but I pushed on through. I found my poor little boy naked, strapped to a horrible contoured board with room for his legs, arms, head, etc. each in a compartment! He was painted with an orange antiseptic from the waist down. As soon as the nurse left I crawled up on the table next to Trent and by half‑lying, half‑standing I nursed him and tried to get across to him that I loved him and hated what I had to do to him. I think he got the message. He stopped crying and was peacefully nursing (as much as possible in that contraption!) when the doctor came in. He told me to leave. (I think he didn’t want me to see such a personal “male” procedure!) I refused. He said that either I left or he would. Again, common sense was overcome by what I felt was “duty” to my husband, so I left and stood right outside the door.
A couple of minutes later the door opened. We had an “eleventh hour reprieve!!” Trent had a rash and he didn’t feel he should do surgery without having someone look at it. The Chief of Pediatrics was called. I unstrapped Trent and held him. The pediatrician concurred that it was inadvisable to do a circumcision at that time because with the rash there was a good chance that the open wound would get infected.
Thankfully I took my uncircumcised baby home, determined not to put him through THAT again! When I described the procedure to my husband and said, “If you want him circumcised, YOU get him circumcised!” he agreed that he didn’t want his son to go through all that, even if it did mean they didn’t “match!”
Paul isn’t a cruel or unreasonable man. I’m sure if he had known what was involved he wouldn’t have been so insistent on the procedure. Needless to say, if we ever have another son, we will also not have him circumcised.
My friend who accompanied me to the doctor’s office had had a similar experience with her baby who was born six weeks before Trent, also at home. Her husband was in the military and she called four large military hospitals before she could find someone to do it. She also said, “Never again!” and tried to help me talk Paul out of it.
The pediatrician who examined Trent said that if we did decide to have it done after the rash had cleared, he would recommend using a general anesthetic!
Trent is seventeen months old now. We have never had any problems with the care of his penis. The foreskin retracts quite easily and although we aren’t fanatical about cleaning it, he’s never had any infections.
(Dee is also a La Leche League leader.)
Dee Le Clair, Vallejo, CA.
http://ccdimager.net/familypracticesource/… Boy’s Foreskin Care pdf
http://cdc.intactivist.net/#157 (CDC comments)
http://www.circinfo.org/alternatives.html (foreskin care)
https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152925459483693&set=p.10152925459483693&type=1&theater (foreskin facts)