If you have an opinion on how I’m raising my kids, get in line. Even though I’m lucky enough to have a great group of mom friends who support one another and avoid judgment, because we’re smart enough to know that tearing each other down is a sure way to perpetuate the patriarchy, I can’t avoid life’s haters. So I fully expect to get flak for choosing to circumcise my son and not apologizing about it. Like, I’m not even #sorrynotsorry about it.
The decision to circumcise our 1-day-old son did not come easily. My partner and I were informed, so we knew what we were asking the doctor to do to him. The hospital where he was born dictated that we were not allowed to be present for the procedure, which freaked me out. My baby was going to have skin snipped off of him and I couldn’t be there to comfort him? That, admittedly, is a difficult pill to swallow. And when he was brought back to me in my recovery room, he looked stunned. “What have we done?” I wailed to my husband, scooping the baby up and pressing his little body into me.
Then my son nursed, fell asleep, and woke up like any other typical newborn, completely incapable of holding a grudge about what his parents chose to do to his genitals.
I will never feel great about deciding to circumcise my tiny baby boy, but it’s a decision my partner and I made with clarity and reason. I can’t have regrets. If, in the end, it turns out to have been a mistake and he’s furious with us for having that done to him, I will need to deal with it.
But there is no way I’m apologizing to anyone else for making this personal parenting decision, and here’s why:
I’m Jewish, and circumcision has been a practice my Jewish family has always followed. While we didn’t host a bris and make a thing of it, it just felt “right” to have my son circumcised, as he is the son of a Jewish mother.
My husband is not Jewish, but it was the practice in his family to circumcise boy babies, too. Thinking about the act, it really is terribly cruel. We’re cutting skin off a baby’s genitals and the reason is because we’ve always done that. I certainly wouldn’t defend the practice of corporal punishment just because my husband and I were raised at a time when physically punishing children was considered typical. But with circumcision, it felt like a testament to what our families have been doing, to no ill effect, for years and years. And not circumcising our son would feel like we were making ourselves outliers in our supportive family.
My partner and I don’t always agree, but there are certain things we knew we had to be in agreement on if we were going to raise kids together. One of them was circumcision. It was something he felt fine doing (since it was done to him), so there wasn’t any debate about it between us.
The doctors in my obstetrics practice were older, and I think were just accustomed to circumcision as being part of the childbirth process. In hindsight it seems odd that a pediatrician wouldn’t perform the procedure, and that it was the doctors who oversaw my pregnancy and baby’s birth who would be the ones coming to the hospital to do it. Nevertheless, they didn’t even blink when they asked if that was something we wanted for our son.
“Wanted’ may be too strong a word, I realize. But it was something we planned to have done and the doctors respected our wishes without remark.
While circumcised newborn penises needed extra care during diaper changes, there weren’t any negative side effects to having it done, as long as we kept the area clean and protected. It did prolong the amount of time my newborn son was exposed when I was changing him, which increased the risk of him peeing on me, but luckily that didn’t happen more than a couple of times.
Without giving my “number,” suffice it to say I had seen many penises in intimate situations. But not one of them were uncircumcised. I had definitely encountered uncut genitalia, but had no “hands-on” experience with it. So, I decided to stay in the zone of familiarity when considering the procedure for our son.
Since circumcision was all my husband and I knew about baby boy’s genitals, we thought it was the right move. Seven years later, there has been absolutely no fall-out from having the procedure done. I have to believe it was the best choice we made on the matter, at the time.
When it comes to making choices for our kids, my husband and I truly act in the best interest of our family. Not other families. Not different families. Not even your family, dear reader. Just ours. While we realize our decisions reach beyond the walls of our apartment, when it comes to our behavior and how we vote, and how diligently we recycle (very), there are some decisions that are personal and affect only us. I am not beholden to the public when it comes to how I manage certain aspects of my children’s wellbeing.
I know there are people reading this who disagree wholeheartedly with our decision to circumcise our son. But this is not up for debate. Some family values are just that: family values. And while I would never condone any violence or mistreatment of children, circumcision is a safe practice that didn't jeopardize our son’s health.
He may grow up and hate us for this decision. He will be justified in being angry that we made a decision about his body for him. I am anticipating this possibility. The choice should have been his… but having it done as a newborn was a lot less risky than if he had opted for the procedure as a grown man.
As angry as he may get at us for doing it, he will never feel unloved. Parents mess up, and we’re not immune from making mistakes. My children will see us be fallible, but they will never know us not to act out of pure love for them.
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