Thursday, February 21, 2008

To Cut or Not to Cut....

For years, it was routine practice for American mothers to circumcise their sons at birth or for Jewish parents to do so on the eighth day. It was considered healthier, more sanitary and just the way it was done.

In fact, circumcision was once so routine that many people are not even aware of what the foreskin looks like (unless they have spent time on European nude beaches). In recent years, this trend has started to slip. Severely. In some parts of the country, it is still routine, but in others, it has fallen (deeply) out of favor. I am in the latter part of the country. Mentioning that we are considering circumcising our son-to-be in mixed company is somewhat akin to announcing that Huckabee is the candidate for us. There is much jaw dropping and whispering and a sort of pity for our old-fashioned, backward values.

But we are thinking about it.

We are considering it for the health reasons. It does reduce the risk of spreading AIDS and of developing Penile Cancer (although the latter is a very rare form of cancer). But for me, the main reason I am considering it is tradition. I am not a terribly religious person, but it is important to me that my children be raised with a Jewish identity and to not perform a Brit Milah (Bris) is a big deal. There are also some modern Jewish families who have been doing the "Bris" without the snip part. We may consider that.

But it is important to my father (who is completely Agnostic, I might add) because of tradition. I think the idea of having an uncircumcised grandson may be too much for my culturally Jewish father to handle. Since it means enough to him to say something (an infrequent occurrence with much of anything), I am giving his feeling a lot of weight in the decision process. I may also note that my husband, the baby's father, is about 80 percent sure that he does NOT want to circumcise. So what is a semi-Jewish, modern thinking liberal mommy to do?

My problems with circumcision are varied. I am not comfortable with the idea of hurting my child. If we did do it, it would have to be with pain relief of some sort. But there are other reasons, too. A child is born perfect and lovely. Why should we feel that we have the right to alter that in any way? Wasn't he born the way nature intended? The practice is archaic and in many parts of the country, so routine that some parents recently had to sue a hospital after they performed a circumcision without even consulting the parents. I am not fond of doing anything "routine" without putting a lot of thought into it.

I worry that my son might not want to be circumcised and that 20 years later, he will be angry with us for choosing for him. No joke, there are support groups for this issue (read: "Men who now regret their circumcision") Yeah. I don't want my son in one of those. Further, it is entirely possible that sexual pleasure would be reduced. The problem is, no man I know can answer this as no man I know has been on both sides. The last thing I want is to hurt my son's future sex life (or maybe I do--just kidding).

Whatever we choose, I am going to have done extensive research. I refuse to do it just because "it is the way it done" or to not do it because many of my liberal, upper middle class friends will think it declasse. I am going to do the right thing for our family. Now I just need to figure out what that may be.


Lis Garrett said...

Not that my opinion should influence your decision one bit because, honestly, I was relieved that our third child, who was thought to be a boy, turned out to be a girl. But . . .

I worked on the L&D floor while I was in nursing school and witnessed many snips. While I can say that they were always done with topical pain relief (some of the babes even slept through the VERY quick procedure), the thought of cutting away skin still gives me the heebie jeebies.

As far as your son growing up and resenting you for making the decision for him - I once dated a guy who, up until he was 16, was not circumcised. According to him, he faced constant torment and teasing in the locker room because he was "different." It took him a lot of courage to approach his parents about wanting to be circumcised and, even though the procedure didn't hurt physically, he said it was emotionally uncomfortable. Guys can be weenies (no pun intended) about their parts.

I am not Jewish, so I can't offer my opinion in that respect. Ultimately, I think you have to do what you feel is right for your family.

Kristi said...

I have no experience with this whatsoever, but I think you deserve a lot of kudos for putting so much careful thought into something most people do "just because everyone else is."

Joel said...

i know this goes against jewish culture, but in order for him to really have "freedom of religion"... shouldn't the choice to be circumcised for jewish reasons be up to him?

i don't see how religion has anything to do with a parents decision to permanently alter their infants privates.

perhaps you could explain to me WHY jewish people focus so much on this aspect of their culture, when there are other rules in the bible that they often completely ignore.

i am definitely of the opinion that you should leave him the way he was born. the idea that circumcision reduces the chance of contracting AIDS is STILL very much in question, previous studies have shown opposite results, and if if the recent studies do apply, they really only apply to AFRICA, not here in more developed parts of the world.

besides, a condom completely covers the foreskin, which means a circumcision wouldn't make a difference if you were already wearing protection. hopefully you would teach your kid to wear a condom before sleeping with people... people who have HIV!

did you know that the foreskin has thousands upon thousands of nerve endings? in fact the foreskin is jam-packed with fine-touch nerve endings which aren't really found anywhere else in the penis. its an entire type of sensation that circumcised penises barely experience.

is the time you really want to be dealing with an open-wound on the privates, the same time when your son is going to be wearing dirty diapers? urine and feces doesn't seem like a very good thing to be getting into an open wound! taking care of an infant is enough trouble without worrying about that.

...and besides (even though he will almost guaranteed never want to)... he COULD go get circumcised any time he wants, when he's older... at least he could be put under for it if he chose, and then load up with Tylenol 3s as he healed.

babies DO feel pain!

halloweenlover said...

I went through a similar thought process and ultimately did the bris because of tradition, even though having Gabe circumcised killed me. In the end, it wasn't as big of a deal as I'd anticipated it being and Gabe was fine.

We should chat about pain relief if you decide to have the bris because our mohel was an OB also, meaning that he does both hospital and home circumcisions all the time. According to him, the hospital circumcisions are far far far more painful than doing a bris at home. I can explain more if you're interested, but he said it takes longer and that applying the local anesthetic takes forever and is more painful than doing the 10 second bris. I can definitely say that Gabe cried more for diaper changes than he did for the actual bris.

Regardless, it is a hard decision and I totally understand stressing about it. Good luck!