THE CIRCUMCISION OF A THREE-YEAR-OLD
Chris Thomas, Port Hueneme, CA.
(Mrs. Thomas is the mother of Sonny who was circumcised shortly after his third birthday. She has a stepson, Christopher, also age three at the time of this interview. Mrs. Thomas was expecting another baby when this interview took place.)
I conducted this interview when my research on circumcision was just beginning, so unfortunately did not have the knowledge to advise Mrs. Thomas about her son’s unfortunate situation. I have since conferred with informed medical sources about Sonny Thomas’ condition. This experience should not be viewed as an argument in favor of immediate infant circumcision. His condition developed due to incorrect care of his foreskin during infancy and early childhood. The condition could have been corrected without surgery.
It is normal for a baby’s foreskin to be tight and adhered to the glans. If left alone it will gradually loosen of its own accord and become fully retractable. This can take several months, or sometimes years. The infant’s foreskin should be left entirely alone. Frequent, over vigorous retraction of the child’s foreskin is what caused Sonny’s condition. When an infant’s foreskin is forced back when it is still naturally adhered to the glans, this breaks the natural adhesions. When the foreskin is replaced, these adhesions heal back together. Sonny’s condition in which his foreskin “grew back to the head of the penis” is known as “acquired phimosis.” Unfortunately many parents are given incorrect advice about the care of an intact baby. Had Mrs. Thomas left her son’s foreskin alone his condition would not have developed.
Rosemary: Why did you choose not to have Sonny circumcised when he was born?
Chris: The baby’s father was not circumcised. Before that I had always felt that if God had meant for man to be circumcised, he would be born that way. There’s a reason for the foreskin to be there and it was to be left alone! If I had a boy it was just not going to be done. Then when Sonny was a year and a half old, he started having problems with it. He was having difficulty urinating. He would get two streams coming from the end of his penis.
R: How did you care for his foreskin when he was an infant?
C: It was drawn all the way back over the head. It took time to work it back all the way because it was naturally sealed up. But by the time he was two months old I could get it completely drawn back. I would wash it with soapy water with every bath. It was also cleaned every time his diapers were changed. Then when he was about a year and a half old it started growing back to the head of the penis. So the doctor decided it would have to be surgically removed. It was almost completely growing shut and he could barely even urinate through it.
R: Was it painful for him?
C: During the last three months before he had the surgery he started complaining of pain. But most of the time it was just annoying. So I took him to the hospital and they did the surgery. I didn’t see the operation and I’m not sure how they went about it. They put him out completely. The doctor said he used a scalpel to surgically remove the foreskin. It was like coring an apple. Then the skin was drawn back and cut off. He had 14 stitches. He still (5 months later) hasn’t completely healed from it. After a bath when he is being dried off with a towel it hurts. The surgery was a very traumatic experience for him.
R: Even though he was put out for the operation?
C: Yes. He still talks about it. He talks about the knife that the doctor used to cut him and how the doctor fixed it, but it hurt when he fixed it. He was at the age where he was old enough to understand what was happening, but not old enough to be able to fully understand why it had to be done.
R: Was he potty trained?
C: He was trained, but still having accidents. Now after they completed the surgery, the doctor wrapped the incision with gauze and told me that when Sonny started urinating it would be very painful for him. The first potty afterwards didn’t bother him at all. They took the wrapping off the next day and that’s when urination started being painful. What I learned with Sonny going through this kind of surgery … my new baby, if it’s a boy, he will be circumcised immediately. I won’t take any chances of having my child go through something like that again.
R: It’s a big trauma for a newborn too. They heal very fast, but with a newborn they don’t use anesthesia. Could you imagine, with your son, if they had just strapped him down and started cutting on him without anesthesia?
C: No. I couldn’t imagine that!
R: But that’s how it’s done for a newborn. And the feelings in a new baby are just as strong.
C: It really is hard to make a decision. Now when Sonny was taken in for surgery the doctor told me that it would be a couple of hours before the baby would be back in the recovery room. The doctor said that Sonny would probably want to sleep for the rest of the day and wouldn’t want to eat. But when they brought him back into his room, I couldn’t believe it! He was standing up in his crib jumping up and down as they were bringing him down the hallway! He was screaming, “I want breakfast!! I’m hungry!!” The nurse suggested starting him out with a little bit of ice water, and Sonny didn’t want to hear about the ice water. He wanted food! When they brought him his food he ate a complete breakfast!
R: Did you take him home that day?
C: No, we spent another three days in the hospital, so the doctor could watch him. I stayed with Sonny from the time he was admitted until the time he was released. I never left his side except for when they were doing the surgery.
R: Do you wish that you had had him circumcised as a newborn, so you wouldn’t have gone through that?
C: I don’t know. I really don’t know which is worse … circumcision for a newborn or for a child Sonny’s age. It’s a hard thing to decide. But it’s something that I feel definitely has to be done at one time or another.
R: How common is a problem like Sonny’s … the foreskin growing back to the head of the penis?
C: As far as I know, it’s not very common at all.
R: Did Sonny have an infection with it?
C: No. It was just his skin closing up. I guess it’s just a freak thing.
R: You also have a stepson.
C: Right. My husband has a child from a previous marriage and we are raising him. Sonny is from my previous marriage. And the one that I am expecting now is ours together.
R: And your stepson was circumcised at birth.
C: Yes. I have no idea what the reasons were or how it went.
R: Since you are raising the two boys together do you feel that it is just as well that they are both circumcised?
C: I really haven’t thought about it. But I have overheard the boys’ conversations when they’re in the bathtub together. Shortly after Sonny’s operation when the boys were taking a bath, Christopher made a comment about it. “Oh, it’s different now!” and Sonny said, “Yeah, the doctor fixed it. It’s just like yours now! They work just alike now!” I’m not sure what was going through their little minds but they knew that there was a big change made.
R: They had not understood the difference before Sonny was circumcised?
C: Right. Now they know that Sonny’s penis has been “fixed” and the doctor made it better.
R: Was Sonny really frightened about the operation?
C: No, because we had talked about the operation with him. He basically understood what was happening.
R: So it may or may not have been as traumatic as having a newborn circumcised.
C: I’m sure it must be a terrible experience for a newborn to go through without any medication to kill the pain at the time that it’s done. But with Sonny, it was almost six weeks before the stitches were gone. With a newborn baby I don’t believe that there are any stitches.
R: Not normally. Not unless there’s a problem.
C: I didn’t think that there was. Sonny had 14 stitches and it took six weeks for them to go away.
R: Did the stitches bother him?
C: Yes, they really did. They’d start drying out and get itchy.
R: Couldn’t you have just pulled them out?
C: No. They were self-dissolving stitches. If I pulled any of them out it could cause it to break back open again and lead to infection. They gave me a prescription for some cream to use on it and we used it several times a day. But the stitches would get dry and break in between where the actual knot was made. They’d scratch and stick out and snag on his underwear and it would pull. Sometimes it pulled just enough to draw a little bit of blood and then his underwear would get stuck to that spot and when he’d pull them down to go to the bathroom it would break at that point. He was having a pretty difficult time with it. He didn’t do that much complaining. At three years old they try to be pretty tough! But I know it was a lot harder for him than he wanted Mommy to think. I really think, if this baby is a boy, we’ll have it done right away. I just want to get it over with and not have to worry about it. I’m glad Sonny’s problem doesn’t happen that often. I’d hate to know of other children having to go through something like that. It’s a horrible thing. It’s got to be the most sensitive part of the male body and to have it cut on….
“I’m glad Sonny’s problem doesn’t happen that often. I’d hate to know of other children having to go through something like that. It’s a horrible thing. It’s got to be the most sensitive part of the male body and to have it cut on….”
R: Why are you planning to have this baby at home?
C: I had a horrible hospital experience when Sonny was born. I was 18 years old and knew nothing about having babies. I didn’t do any reading on the subject and didn’t take any classes. I accepted everything that the hospital did. I got an enema and I was shaved. If anybody tries to give me an enema with this baby they’re going to have a fight on their hands! The enema caused my contractions to become much harder and I panicked. I was sitting on the commode and all I could think of was “My God, what if I had my baby right here!” I didn’t like being shaved because of the irritation when the hair started growing back.
When I was in the labor bed I gave birth to the baby’s head. Then they moved me over onto a gurney with the baby’s head out. They took me into the delivery room and put me on the delivery table and strapped my legs up into the stirrups. Now the only thing left was to let the rest of my baby’s body come out. They were telling me to hold it, not to let the baby come out, and I did what they were telling me to do. Then the doctor came into the delivery room. When he saw that the baby’s head had been born, he said, “Somebody put her up in the stirrups too soon.” So they took me out of the stirrups, rolled me over on my side, gave me a spinal, rolled me back over onto my back, and put my legs back up in the stirrups. Then he gave me an episiotomy… after the baby’s head had been born!! I didn’t know anything!! I thought that was the way it was supposed to be!! Then he delivered the rest of the baby’s body with forceps. The baby was six weeks old before the bruises went away!
R: Were his shoulders stuck?
C: No. That was just the only way that the doctor knew how to deliver a baby. If I had just been allowed to relax and let go, the baby would have come right out!!
R: He just figured he had to give you all the standard equipment.
C: I don’t want to go through that with this baby. When Sonny was born, the doctor asked me what we wanted. I said “A boy.” And he said, “Well, you have it!” He held him up for a few seconds and then handed the baby to the nurse and then he was gone. The baby was born at 9:44 a.m. and it was about 7 p.m. when they first brought him to me. I didn’t get to nurse on the delivery table or even touch him. By the time they brought him to me, the baby was very unconcerned. He was totally uninterested in me.
R: I went through the same thing with my first baby.
C: After the nurse left, Sonny passed his first stool. I didn’t want my baby lying in that! So I proceeded to unwrap him and take off his dirty diaper and was ready to clean him up. The nurse came back and saw me with this unwrapped baby, and she read me a riot act! You’d think I had committed first degree murder! She told me that I had absolutely no right to unwrap MY baby! And change MY baby’s pants!! I said “If I’m not supposed to do it, then who is?” And she said, “You’re supposed to ring for a nurse to come in and take the baby back to the nursery, change him, and then he will be brought back to you.” I thought, “That’s crazy! Who has a better right to change her own child than the mother herself?”
R: They worry about germs and infection.
C: I understand the hospital is the best place to get an infection. I’m really looking forward to having this baby at home. It’s going to be perfect!
Chris’ new baby was a girl, so fortunately the question of circumcision did not arise. She had a hospital birth due to prolonged rupture of the membranes, but had a positive birth experience in the hospital.