Sunday, February 6, 2011

How I Became An Intactivist

Get your intactivist gear here.

I am very proudly an intactivist. My son is the first in our family to remain perfect. Whole. Intact. The violence of male genital mutilation ends with my husband. But it hasn't always been my opinion. Here's how it happened.

My twins were born 10 weeks early (at 30 weeks and 2 days gestation) due to PPROM, and spent 8 1/2 weeks in the NICU in London, Ontario. They were born at 3 lbs., 14 oz., and 2 lbs., 12 oz. My son was born first, and though he was breathing when he came out, had severe apnea for the first 7 weeks of his life. My daughter was born 5 minutes later, and was not breathing when she came out. After my son was born, their placentas (they'd fused) came out behind him. My daughter was inside of me for five minutes with no oxygen. As soon as my son was born, the nurses started forcing me to use the laughing, looking back on it, I know that it was an attempt to keep me calm when they told me she had died. But she didn't die! She lived!!! She had to have a breathing tube through her nose and into her lungs for 3 days, and then was able to breathe on her own. They gave her a shot of surfactant to keep her immature lungs from sticking together, and my husband refers to that shot as "a shot of perfect". After her breathing tube came out, my daughter only had minor health issues along the way, the most major being her slow growth.

But my son, he was another story. Even though he weighed over a pound more than his sister, he was by far the weaker twin. He not only had apnea, but also bradycardias, and at 8 days old he ended up getting sepsis caused by his "long line" IV. I got a call at 4am telling me that we needed to get there as soon as we could, to be with him. They never expected him to live, but never ever uttered those words. I had never seen anything like that in my life. He was grey, and his skin was literally hanging off of him. Some of it would lay on the little pad he was laying on. He would not respond to my voice, as he'd always done before. He wouldn't move when I touched him. I sat next to his incubator and I prayed. I have NEVER prayed so hard or so fast in all my life. I just prayed that God would give us a chance to be that little boy's parents. I promised that if he lived that I would protect him, and love him more than anyone had ever loved another person. Ever. For two or three days, it was touch and go. At any point the infection in his blood could have killed him. He was given a lumbar puncture to drain some of the spinal fluid so they could test it for meningitis. They only told me that if he did in fact have meningitis, it would "not be good". They pumped him full of every kind of antibiotic that he could take...and they gave him the highest dose they could possibly give him for his weight. I never cried in front of him. I wanted him to think that I knew he would be okay. I wanted him to see me be strong so that he would be strong too. I didn't want him to ever think for a second that things wouldn't work out. They HAD TO.

On the fourth day, I knew he was getting better the second I saw him. He opened his eyes, and he smiled at me. I know. I know what everyone says, they can't smile when they're that young. It is gas. But it wasn't gas. My boy looked at me and he smiled. And I had to almost chew my bottom lip off not to cry. I thanked God out loud that day. Thank you for my boy. Thank you for letting us keep him!!!

The 8 1/2 weeks with the twins were the longest and hardest weeks I've ever had to live through. To see my babies fighting to live, to see them so weak and small that they couldn't even drink out of a special preemie nipple on a bottle until they were 7 weeks old...that was rough. (I'll tell you more about it in another post.) We drove to London every single day so I could spend time with them, and even when my husband couldn't stay there with me me, I would have someone else drive me there and drop me off, or my husband would drop me off and someone else would pick me up. One day I spent 16 straight hours there with them because that's just how it worked out. It was my favorite day I had ever spent there. The kids were stable and I got to do almost all of their care. It made me start really feeling like their momma.

When they were there for 6 weeks, I got a call that I had been chosen to live in the hospital's "Care By Parent" unit of the NICU. It is what it sounds like. Instead of them having "care by nurse", I did all of their care. I moved into the hospital with them for the last 16 days. I slept for 3 hours a day because of my paranoia about my son's apnea monitor going off. About a week in, I was crazy from lack of sleep, but I'd do it all over again! I loved that my babies were with me, even if we had to be there.

During that time in the CBP Unit, other moms came in and out with their babies. Most stayed only one or two nights. (They were all born to moms that had diabetes, and needed to be stabilized before going home.) Sadly, every single little boy that entered that unit whole and perfect, left with the end of his penis mutilated. And because the rooms there only had a sheet in place of doors, we could all hear everything that happened in every one of the other rooms. Especially when babies cried. And the sound that those little boys made after being circumcised was HEART WRENCHING. I remember sitting on my bed bawling because I could hear the horrible screams those boys made every single time their diapers were changed. Not once did I not cry.

We had always planned on having our son circumcised. From the start. We even had the $300. put away to have it done. Until I had to hear those screams...

My husband was working shift work while I lived with the kids in the hospital. He would come up and see us every-other night, and would sleep there on the weekends. During one of his visits I told him to bring me the book he was given by the place that checked our car seats...the book had information in it about circumcisions. Before he came back, I found some information (pamphlets) on it in the maternal/child ward. After he brought me the book, and I had time to sit down and look at all the information, I wrote out the pros and cons listed. In the end, it was completely equal. For every pro there was a con, and for every con there was a pro. So it came down to choice. I had to sit with that for a couple of days, because I didn't know if I could CHOOSE to allow someone to hurt my son when there were no real benefits to it. I had promised that I would protect my son and love him more than anyone had ever loved their child if I was allowed to keep him. And the whole thing kept me up. Exhaustion wasn't enough to make me fall asleep when my son's well-being was on the line. It was like my brain was on fire. I had never had to make a decision like this in my life, and my husband still wanted it done.

I prayed about it and went to sleep. When I got up I had to change the kids and feed them, and as I sit there looking at my children, I knew what I had to do. I had to protect them, no matter what. Even if my husband disagreed with me, my job was to be their mother. My job was to put their well-being over everything else. So when the nurse came in to check on us, I asked her about the whole thing. I told her what I had read, and what my opinion was, and even about how the sound of those baby boys crying would make me cry. And she told me that she HATED when people circumcised their sons. She told me that she had done it with her son, and that if she had it to do over again, she wouldn't do it. She told me that at the time, mothers were told that it was the best thing to would prevent infection and that it wasn't even really a choice. She said that after 30+ years of seeing boys go through the NICU, she had learned more than she cared to know about circumcision. As a nurse, it was her job to help these mothers learn to care for their raw penis, and she had spent that entire time listening to the screams of the babies. She said that in her opinion, it was unnecessary, and that if I didn't want it done to my son, she would stand with me when I told my husband. *tear* She saved my son. That nurse left and came back into my room with three more nurses. All four of them told me that they would support my choice not to allow my son to be circumcised. They were all present when I told my husband that our son would be circumcised over my dead body, and that if he touched him in an attempt to do it without my consent, the dead body in the room would be HIS. The nurses stood by and told him the risks involved. They told him how circumcision can make a baby stop eating, and that if he had an apnea on the table, he would have to stay in the hospital for another 7 days without having one. They told him that there would be ZERO chance that it wouldn't happen, because if he held his breath, the monitor would go off, and we'd be staying longer. They said that if he stopped eating, he would stay longer. They told him that because he was premature, his penis was just new, and because we were being discharged before they were even due, we would have up to 4 months to change our minds before it got dangerous. They told him that we could go home and research it further and decide later. With that, he agreed, and we took our son home intact. (I want to say that even though I did not care for those nurses, when it came down to needing their support, they stepped up and did more for me in that last day then anyone had ever done for me in my life. They not only saved me from allowing my son to have his body altered forever against his consent, they also gave me back something I had lost when my children were born way too soon. My power.)

After we went home and time passed, my husband stopped caring that our son was "different" than he was. After a month he told me that he "didn't even notice anymore" that our son was whole. Can you imagine how I would feel right now if we had done that to our son, all because for ONE MONTH my husband was uncomfortable with it?! When my husband stopped caring about it, the topic just went stopped even being an issue.

The overwhelming need to protect my son was the reason I did not allow him to be circumcised. But when I realized that people were doing this to their sons for reasons like wanting him to "look like his father", or because it "will prevent infection" mommy instincts kicked into overdrive and my "you won't circumcise MY boy" opinion became "don't you dare circumcise ANY boys!" The more I learned, the more I felt this way. And after seeing a circumcision video, I became an intactivist. I knew it was bad, but I had no idea it could be that bad.

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