Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Mother’s Tale Of Regret; Educates Pregnant Friend

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Dear friend,
I have started to write this to you several times but I have always deleted it and pushed it aside from my thoughts because I am so torn on whether or not to speak out to you. I am torn because I don’t ever want anyone to feel like I am telling them how to raise their children or what they ‘should’ do, but on the other hand I never want another mother to live through what I have lived through or carry the guilt that I do. I know you are expecting a beautiful and healthy, precious baby boy. Along with welcoming this new human being to the world, you and your partner hold the decision of whether you will circumcise him or leave him intact (un-circumcised). I do apologize that this will be lengthy, but when it comes to a decision that will affect your child for the rest of his life taking a little time to do some research is not a lot to ask. I wish someone had told me to just do my OWN research before making a decision.

As you know, I have two boys. They are both circumcised. Is this something I regret? Yes, it is. Mason was born healthy and happy, one week early at a whopping 8lbs and 4oz. He nursed wonderfully! He took to it right out of the womb and I was so happy to see him being nourished from my body. Day two of his life came and it was time to have him cut. I didn’t really give it a second thought, my husband is circumcised and so are several other men that I know and they’ve never had an issue with it. So to me it was not that big of a deal. However, something within me rose up and I began to sob and yearn to hold my baby boy tight and kick anyone’s ass that came near him. It’s amazing how fast your protective motherly instincts kick in and also depressing at how quickly we are told to ignore them. “Don’t cry, it’s not a big deal. He will be fine” These are the reassuring words that my nurse left me with as she carried off my perfect son.
I cried so hard that I passed a massive clot and had to be evaluated by the nurse. Still, I allowed him to be taken and he was brought back to me asleep and wrapped in a little blanket. “He is so tired” I thought to myself “poor little guy must be worn out.”
We packed up our things, loaded the car down with stuffed animals and gifts from our family and friends and headed towards the house at an exhilarating speed of approximately 20 miles per hour—you know how new parents with a brand new baby drive. We got to the house and I tried to rouse my sleeping infant to nurse because he hadn’t eaten in almost 3 hours but he was having none of it. He did whimper a little as I tried to get him in any position that he would nurse in, but he was just too sleepy. I didn’t know at the time, but circumcision is a huge stress on a baby’s body and they go into a deep sleep after the procedure to help them try to recover.

I was beginning to worry because he hadn’t eaten in a while and I remembered the lactation consultant saying to change his diaper to wake him up a little so he would eat. So, I was off to his perfectly placed and prepared nursery to do his very first diaper change at home. When I pulled the diaper back, I was in shock. There was the head of his penis, bloody and raw with some Vaseline gauze stuck to the diaper and a small portion still stuck to his surgical site. I very gingerly pulled at the gauze and succeeded in trying to “wake him up a little.” He screamed…boy did he scream. I applied the Vaseline to his penis like I had been instructed and quickly re-diapered him. I pressed him against my chest and began to sing to him and walk around and bounce him. He calmed down and was finally alert, so I attempted to breastfeed him. As I was trying to position him and handle both his floppy head and my engorged boob (which takes some practice at first, so don’t get frustrated) he began to scream again and he would not nurse AT ALL.

What had happened to my perfectly nursing infant that I had held in my arms that very morning? I didn’t know at the time, but circumcision has long been known to interfere with successful initiation of breastfeeding. Often the babies are too tired to nurse and the pain they feel when held in most breastfeeding positions keeps them from wanting to nurse. No one told me that. Not a single person ever mentioned any risk to circumcision actually. I know you want to breastfeed, so I thought that was something you should be aware of.
I eventually gave up trying to get him to nurse and pumped and fed him from a bottle because I was a worried new mom and was terrified he was starving to death. This was a slippery slope to him refusing the breast at all and only wanting pumped milk from a bottle which eventually led to me supplementing with formula and then fully putting him on formula. Could a lactation consultant have helped me through this? I’m sure she could have, but I didn’t know they were available for consultation outside of the hospital.

For 12 days, I applied Vaseline at each diaper change and had to wash his but in the sink with each bowel movement — which is A LOT of times when they’re newborns– to keep feces off his wound. His penis healed nicely and he’s not had any issues with being cut. What I mean by “no issues” is that he has luckily escaped many of the all too common complications that come with circumcision. Complications that are swept under the rug and rarely discussed when consent is being retrieved for it to be done.
His younger brother, my sweet Carter, was not quite as fortunate.

When Carter was born, my experience with Mason had put me ‘on the fence’ about the issue of circumcision but I was still (unfortunately) not 100% sold on either side of the issue. My biggest fear was that he would resent me if I left him intact because he would look different from his brother and father—an issues I will address later. Plus, my whole family was pushing these ideas in my head and making me believe it was the right choice. I chose to not have him circumcised in the hospital because, while I had not really done any research into it, I knew in my heart that something about Mason’s circumcision caused us to have so many difficulties with breastfeeding. I waited instead for him to be at least 2 weeks old so our breastfeeding relationship would be better established.

When he was 16 days old, I took Carter to the pediatrician to be circumcised. I had seen 3 circumcisions performed in nursing school (all with anesthetic) but never really close up because nursing students are always shoved into the background as “shadowing observers.” In 2 of them, the babies slept for most of the procedure or sucked on a nurse’s gloved finger. The 3rd one I saw, the baby screamed the whole time. The doctor’s hands were shaking and both I and my friend Jennifer had to leave the room. We had to leave because they made us and because we couldn’t handle hearing the baby scream any more. God, typing that is heart wrenching. I saw this incident and STILL allowed it to be done to my child against my better judgment and instincts. I can’t help but wrestle the thought in my head “what kind of monster am I?”

I signed Carter in at the desk, and the nurse came from the back to get him. I asked to go back with him and after much arguing, I was allowed to go with him. I had to sit in a chair in the corner incase I passed out. The doctor talked to me throughout the procedure and explained everything as he worked. First Carter was laid in a circumstraint where his arms and legs were tightly restrained and he was rendered immobile. This did not please my newly born baby who was accustomed to being cradled in a manner that resembled my womb and made him feel safe, so he started to cry. The nurse donned a clean glove and dipped her finger into some glucose water and he seemed pleased to suck on her sugary finger.

Next, the doctor set up his sterile field, applied his sterile gloves, and draped Carter’s penis. The doctor cleansed the whole area with a betadine solution and then said “okay let’s get started.” He drew up a local anesthetic into a syringe and explained where he was injecting it and how it made the whole foreskin and the head of the penis numb. When he injected the shot, Carter winced and let out a small cry but the nurse offered more sugar water and he returned to sucking on her finger. After several minutes and more injections, the doctor assured me that Carter was fully numb. In newborns, the foreskin is fused to the head of the penis. It retracts on its own as the child ages and hormones change. The fusion of the foreskin is actually a very protective mechanism in an infant; it keeps feces and bacteria from entering the urethra and causing infections during the diaper period of a baby’s life. However, this fusion of the foreskin presents quite an issue when the foreskin is cut off, so it has to be separated from the head of the penis before circumcision can be performed. So, the doctor shoved a pair of forceps between the foreskin and head of Carter’s penis and began opening them over and over, effectively ripping the foreskin off the head of the penis.

Next, he used a clamp to make a deep indent in the top part of the foreskin; he removed the clamp and then took a pair of surgical scissors and cut along the line he had just made with the clamp. After this, he asked the nurse what size Gomco clamp she thought my baby would need and he held it up to him and they both agreed it was a good size. The doctor put the clamp on Carter’s penis which covered the head and protected it from accidental amputation which is a risk with other devices used during circumcision—yes, partial or total amputation of the head of the penis is a risk and has happened. Then the doctor pulled the foreskin through the device and clamped it down. He then used a scalpel to make a cut all the way around the penis and this removed the foreskin completely. The clamp was left on for several minutes to help prevent any ‘excessive bleeding’. The clamp was then removed and Vaseline gauze was applied. Carter was diapered and we were sent home.

I took him home and he nursed but very lazily; he just wanted to sleep. So, we slept for a good 2.5 hours before he woke crying like he had never cried before. I realized from the blue line “wetness indicator” on his diaper that he had just peed and my heart sank. He was crying because it stung so badly. Imagine peeing on a deep cut on your thigh, it would hurt–and I knew that’s what he was feeling. I changed his diaper and again had the same sick feeling in my stomach that I had when I had seen Mason’s newly circumcised penis. I followed all the instructions for after-care to the T. I heaped on Vaseline and washed his penis and bottom when he had a bowel movement until the open wound had healed.
However, something just didn’t look quite “right” to me. His penis would draw into his body and almost be hidden. I was worried about this, but I could push the skin back and it would pop right back out like a little turtle head. I went to the pediatrician and he assured me this was normal and it was happening because he was so chubby and as he aged and slimmed out, his penis wouldn’t be able to retract into his chubby ‘fat pad.’ During his exam, he had also noticed that Carter had a slight adhesion. Meaning that even though, I had done everything correctly, he still had a circumcision complication.
The skin had re-attached to the head of his penis in a spot it shouldn’t have re-attached to and it had to be “manually separated.” This entailed Carter’s pediatrician using his fingers to rip apart the two pieces of skin that shouldn’t be together. I’ll never, until the day I die, forget what my poor baby’s face looked like. A look of shock, terror, and immense pain all rolled across one tiny, innocent face. He opened his mouth to scream and nothing would come, he gasped for air until he found his breath and wailed uncontrollably—I will take those screams to my grave. I again had to go through many days of Vaseline and bottom washing to prevent infection and keep the adhesion from re-attaching.

Carter’s now a blossoming 14 month old toddler but his penis is still somewhat buried in appearance from time to time. Usually I take his diaper off and it’s not buried, but he still has part of his foreskin. When he was about 7 months, a nurse practitioner examined him and told me he has an “incomplete circumcision.” Meaning only part of his foreskin was removed. So, essentially he went through A LOT of pain for a penis that’s still not “circumcised” and for a penis that doesn’t match his brother or his father. All three of them look different. Just like there’s not a set of women out there with matching vaginas, a son’s penis will never ‘look like his fathers’ whether he is circumcised or not. Everyone’s genitals are different, just like our hair, face, eyes, and body shape and we should embrace our bodies and our differences.

In conclusion to a very long story that was very painful for me to share, the message I am trying to spread to you is do your research. Watch some videos of infant circumcision on youtube, google “circumcision risks”, talk to men who are intact if you know any, google “functions of the foreskin”, just DON’T do like I did and make a decision based on someone else’s feelings. I’m going to attach several links to some sites that I wish so badly that I had seen before my boys were born. I will warn you that some are gruesome to look at, but if you can’t stand to look at it, think about how it would feel to endure it. I am also going to list some “myths and thoughts” on circumcision to give you some things to consider when you make your decision. No medical organization in the world recommends routine infant circumcision and there are no proven medical benefits to having it done. It is a cosmetic procedure done for purely aesthetic purposes. This is why Medicaid will no longer cover the procedure in most states, because it is not medically necessary.

If you want to talk to me more, I will gladly discuss anything with you in an open and un-judging manner. Like I said in the beginning, I’m not trying to tell anyone what to do, I’m just asking you to do something I never did and RESEARCH the issue and then make your decision. I’ll never forgive myself for what I have done and it’s a guilt I will always carry with me.

Myths and misguided thoughts on Circumcision”

1. “It’s just a piece of skin”
-Actually it’s not ‘just a piece of skin.’ The foreskin acts in a protective manner much the way our eyelids protect our eyeballs. It covers the glans (head) of the penis keeps it lubricated and moist. In a circumcised penis, the glans is always exposed and rubs against clothing and underwear all of the man’s life-it becomes dried out and loses some sensation.
-Also, the foreskin contains 20,000 yes TWENTY THOUSAND nerve endings that are responsible for sensation and sexual pleasure. All of these are lost in circumcision. Can a circumcised man still enjoy sex? Of course he can still enjoy it, but not as fully and as intensely as he was designed by nature to experience it.
-The foreskin represents at least a third of the penile skin. It protects the glans from abrasion and contact with clothes. The foreskin also increases sexual pleasure by sliding up and down on the shaft, stimulating the glans (head) by alternately covering and exposing it. This can occur during masturbation or intercourse. Friction is minimized, and supplementary lubrication is not needed. Without the foreskin, the glans skin, which is normally a moist mucous membrane, becomes dry and thickens considerably in response to continued exposure. This change reduces its sensitivity.

2. “He’ll be made fun of in the locker room”
- Thanks to the internet and other resources, parents are finding out more and more that circumcision is not necessary and the practice is declining. In the 1980’s the U.S. circumcision rate prior to leaving the hospital was at 83%. In 2005, the number had reduced to 56% and continues to decline. Also, with the increase in the Hispanic population (a culture that does not routinely cut their boys) the number will continue to fall. So, no fear on this one, he won’t be alone. Plus I don’t know any group of young men that stand around and look at each others penises. I asked my husband “During the entire time you were in football, did you or anyone else stand around and look at each other’s penis or compare them?” His response: “That’s the gayest thing I’ve ever heard. No, most of us went home and took showers after practice anyway.” So, what he said was not the most politically correct statement but you get the point…

3. “It’s for hygienic reasons”
-Numerous medical studies have shown that simply rinsing the foreskin with water is enough to clean it and keep the man healthy. Women’s genitals have many more “nooks and crannies” than an intact penis does and we don’t routinely cut off parts of our little girls (side note: Female circumcision was LEGAL in the United States until 1995). We also teach girls to wipe front to back to prevent infections, so why can’t we just teach our boys to wash? Circumcision is also very uncommon in many parts of the world—Worldwide, 80% of men are intact. If it is such a health issue to be intact, than 80% of the world’s men must actually be doing perfectly fine or they are hiding their problems well.

4. “I don’t have a penis, so I am letting my husband/partner make the decision because he knows more about it.”
- No, you do not have a penis. However, this baby is just as much your child as he is your partner’s and circumcision is a life-long choice that needs to be discussed together and a decision made together.

5. “It’s much better to have it done when he’s a baby. He won’t feel it or remember it.”
- True, he won’t be able to remember the procedure, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have affects from it that will last his lifetime. Most circumcisions are performed with a local anesthetic but that does not mean that they are pain free.
The only way to know if a local anesthetic is working is to pinch the skin in that area with forceps or some other tool and ask the person “can you feel that?” If they can, you know you need to give more anesthetic or go to something else for pain control. So, to say the baby can not feel anything because they’re “numb” is ridiculous. Yes, they ‘could’ just be crying because they’re being forcibly held down but it’s also very feasible that they are still feeling some or all of the pain and that’s why they are screaming. Like I said, there’s no way to ask an infant “can you feel that?”
The only way to 100% guarantee a painless circumcision is to use general anesthesia and no hospital in their right mind is going to use that on an infant because it’s far too dangerous. They will use it if the baby needs emergency heart surgery or something of that sort but they will not do it for a cosmetic procedure, which they all agree that circumcision ‘is’ a cosmetic procedure.
So, the argument that it’s better to get it done when they’re small is just nonsense. It’s better to leave it alone and let the man choose. A grown man who chooses the procedure is afforded the option of general anesthesia, he gets narcotics when he goes home, and he doesn’t have to pee or poop on an open wound. A baby goes home with no pain medicine and then has to urinate and defecate multiple times on an open wound.

6. “It’s just a simple snip and it’s done”
- Circumcision is a surgery with real risks and complications including the possibility of death. There is nothing “simple” about it.

7. “It’s so much easier to clean”
- Like I explained earlier, the foreskin is fused to the penis at birth and separates over time. As an infant, the care of an intact penis is easy. Just wipe it off like a finger. As the boy ages and the foreskin is retractable, just pull it back, rinse and put it back. Easy enough.

8. “It looks prettier”
- Really? I don’t know how someone can use that as an excuse to do something painful to a baby. Plus, he may no think it looks “prettier” when he gets older and realizes all the benefits he has lost from being cut.

9. “His future partners won’t like it or will be grossed out”
- If my child meets someone who judges him based on how his penis looks than he/she is obviously not ‘the one’ for my child. We’re all different and it’s an important part of life to teach our kids not to insult or make fun of others for their differences. Plus, if my sons meet a woman of European descent, I doubt she will think it looks “better” since being intact is their norm.

10. “He will be glad I had it done when he was a baby”
- You don’t know that for sure. In fact, just the opposite could happen. There are numerous stories of men who have had botched or even “successful” circumcisions who grow up resentful of their parents choice. They feel like something was taken from them without their consent-which is true. Leaving your baby intact gives him the freedom to make choices about HIS body.


Make sure this video starts at the beginning; I have to fix it almost every time I watch it:
A story of infection in a circumcision wound-
A video of a circumcision showing the circumstraint and the procedure
Another mother’s tale of regret:
Circumcision and its effect on breastfeeding:
Complications from circumcisions-including partial amputation of the glans (head)
The ultimate risk of circumcision:
CDC Rates of circumcision

1 comment:

  1. I have two sons. One circ'd, one not. 7 years apart. I didn't really make the choice with my oldest. I was out so my exhusband signed the paper. With my youngest I was adamant that I didn't want him circ'd tho I really didn't know why I felt so strongly about it, and my husband was fine with that. I was able to keep my emotions out of it. Just to me, it didn't seem right, but reading this... I completely lost it, especially at the part where the baby couldn't even catch his breath to cry. My son was crying like that just last night (he has tons of digestive issues, and reflux, and it just causes some serious pain.) and I cannot imagine the guilt that momma felt seeing him cry like that and knowing it was her decision that was causing it. You want to do everything you can to protect your children, but we're told that circumcising is ok! :/