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11.21.2010

Hot Topic: Circumcision

I'm going to try to present this as impartially as I possibly can. But first perhaps it will help if I explain what we chose to do when our own son was born, and why, then you can understand any bias that I unintentionally show.

During my second pregnancy, when I found out I was having a boy, I was bummed. I know that sounds terrible, but I have to be honest- I was disappointed. I had a few reasons; my husband and I had a number of girl names picked out, but no boy names we agreed on. I had a TON of cute baby girl clothes I wanted to use again (and admit it- baby boy clothes don't really compare in cuteness to baby girl clothes). Boys tend to develop skills slower than girls, and I was afraid I would compare him unfairly with my daughter (turns out that was completely unf0unded, he is just as much of a genius as she is!). Most of my anxiety was stupid and vain and the result only went to show me that in the scheme of things we don't really know what we want- I can't imagine life now without my adorable, energetic, precocious, funny, loving little boy. But the thing that bothered me the most was boy parts. I didn't want to deal with the thought of circumcision. But I had to, so I did some research, I talked to my midwife, and I talked to other moms. Eventually I ended up with the decision I knew I would go with all along- no circ. But I was worried (stupidly and vainly) that his uncircumcised penis would be ugly. I know. Since his birth I haven't thought about it at all (well, other than to write this post). It was probably the most contentious parenting conversation my husband and I have had to date, though. And of course my husband's argument was that he is cut, so what if our son asked why their penises look different? Thankfully, that's an easy thing to counter- there are a lot of ways we look different, and that's just another one. Still, he didn't want to budge. What it came down to was, well, my stubbornness. We gave birth at a birth center, so circ. wasn't available on site. So had we done it we would have had to take him to the doctor or hospital. Guess who does these things- Me. So I told him if he wanted it done so badly he could take our baby to the doctor and listen to his screams (immature and melodramatic? Yes. Effective? Of course.). But you want to know what my one deciding factor was? Personally I think it's ridiculous to perform a painful procedure in order to make it just a tad less likely he will get a UTI (which he never has had, BTW), an STD (which he'll also be less likely to get if he uses condoms and isn't a man-whore... and I can't believe I just said that about my son. But my point is I'll try to teach him to do those things instead of cutting his penis), or Penile cancer (which is a really rare disease, circed or not, and many other factors can cause it besides the state of the penis). But I also think that (take a breath and try not to throw big flaming balls of hate at me for this).... it's not that big of a deal. There are some issues that I think people get entirely too up-in-arms about, and this is one of them. Yes, I understand why people get personal about someone harming or mutilating their child (and that is exactly what colored my decision). And I do think the implication that many doctors make that babies "don't feel it" (which results in them not using any anesthetic) is ludacris. If they couldn't feel it they wouldn't cry. But I don't think that it will make a huge difference in your son's life one way or the other- you're not going to completely ruin his life whichever way you decide. I think that the claims of the video below (which I included because it does include interesting info on the topic) that it causes men to become emotionally stunted is a bit ridiculous. Perhaps it contributes to it, but a number of other factors would have to exist as well. My husband is not at all emotionally stunted for starters, and he was cut. And (not that I know this for certain, but growing up in the Midwest where about 80% of men are cut, AND having been born in the 80's, when circ. rates were at the highest since the 50's, it's likely that most of the men I know in my peer group were cut) most of the men I know are not emotionally stunted (I say most, because I definately know some who are... but in most cases I can list the factors that resulted in this stunting).

So that's my stance. But for the sake of balance I did some research. I do have to say that there is more info on the net about why to NOT circ than there is on reasons to do it. That's probably because the anti-circ camp is more vocal. And frankly, most people who do choose to circ do it just because they think "everyone is doing it" and fail to research exactly why it is done. So they are a less vocal group, for the most part.

So here are the stats that I know: 65% of boys in the U.S. now are NOT circed, with rates varying widely by region (around 20% in the midwest and 80% in the southwest, for example).

Reasons cited to circ: decreased incidence of UTI's, STD's, and penile cancer (as I said above), conformity to what others look like ("so it will look like dad's/brother's/etc").

Reasons cited not to circ: It's unnecessary, the benefits are minor and don't justify the pain, it's unnatural.

My interpretation of what I read during my research (both scientific and analogy): the argument to do it isn't completely ridiculous. Although the difference is small, the studies have shown that circing does make a difference in the incidence of the above maladies. However, I think there are better ways to prevent them, as I already stated, than causing my son pain. And you will find as many men out there saying "my parents didn't circ me at birth, and I wish they would have" as you will find "I resent my parents for circing me" testimonials. Basically, I say power to you whichever decision you make, because if you're reading this post you're thinking about it and doing your research, not simply doing what you think is the social norm. If you are still researching here are some links to start you on your way:

Baby Talk Article: Should We Circumcise Our Son?- A somewhat balance, possibly slightly pro-circ article that pretty clearly outlines the available research and, in my opinion, at least presents them accurately.

The Truth About Circumcision- The other end of the spectrum. Claims that all the medical benefits claimed for circumcision are fabricated and gives a very interesting history on circumcision in Western culture.

A Public Apology to my Circumcised Son- This is an emotional source, but I believe this is an emotional decision and reading the retrospective of a mother who had her son circumcised may help to give you some perspective.

Should tradition trump reason?- From one of my favorite blogs, PHD in Parenting, she not only links to many helpful articles, but as usual eloquently discredits most arguments for circumcision.

Also, and there are a number of them out there so I didn't want to link to any particular one, but I would suggest watching a video that shows a baby being circumcised.

Don't limit yourself to these few resources, though. You're going to be the most comfortable with your decision if you research thoroughly, discuss the issue with your partner, and bring it up with your health professional (don't completely defer to his/her opinion, though- your doctor is not your baby's parent and you should not let him/her make decisions for you).

Yes, I know, I hardly present a balanced argument, with two against and one for. But honestly, I couldn't find another link that supported circumcision. The American Academy of Pediatrics isn't even pro (their stance is really non-committal, actually). As with any parenting decision, only you can make this one in the end.

2 comments:

Mandi said...

Thank you again for linking to my article. It was therapeutic to get that out there. Just FYI, the part of your post is linked to youtube rather than my blog. ;)

Brandislee said...

Sorry Mandi! I fixed it, I think.

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