Before I gave birth to our first child 6 years ago, my husband and I discussed parenting our son and the manner in how he would be raised at length. Lying in bed at night my husband would run his hands over the curve of my belly while we talked quietly about everything from the name he would be given to whether he would attend public or private schools. We agreed that our son would be vaccinated, that he would not be baptized, and that motherhood would not be the end of my career.
One question we did not answer until a nurse posed it in the hours after delivery, my newborn baby boy nestled snugly in the bend of my arm, was whether or not our son would be circumcised.
“Absolutely not,” my husband replied without a glance in my direction. While my gut instinct was to agree with him, I was caught off guard by his prompt response and the finality with which it was delivered without my input. My mind flashed back to an experience I had long before he and I met, a former boyfriend who was very self-conscious about his uncut penis. It was the only male insight I had into the subject outside of my husband’s firm declaration, and I waited until the nurse left to broach the topic.
“I think I agree with you about the circumcision, but aren’t you worried he might be embarrassed in the locker room if he’s different from his friends?” I asked. While the circumcision debate in the parenting community has become as hot-button as those about breastfeeding, co-sleeping and the like, my initial objection wasn’t rooted in the ethical nature of the procedure so much as a concern for my son’s future comfort in his own skin.
It was a question that sparked an hour-long debate between the two of us on the pros and cons of possessing a foreskin.
My husband (who, for the record, is intact) strongly disagreed with the belief that being circumcised was cleaner or would lower our son’s risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. I agreed that opting for a surgical procedure in place of a future discussion on soap and water and the proper use of condoms seemed outrageous. As for whether our son would feel ashamed by our decision to leave him uncut, a little research shows that the percentage of parents opting for circumcision is on the decline, meaning he likely won’t be the only intact kid in his peer group.
In the end, we agreed that the risks of modifying our newborn’s body outweighed the perceived benefits, a position with which the American Academy of Pediatrics now disagrees with. New studies, some of which were conducted in Africa, suggest that circumcision reduces the risk that heterosexual men will contract H.I.V.
As a result, the academy recommends that the procedure be covered by insurers, but stops short of endorsing it as medically necessary. A member of the academy and author of the policy, Dr. Douglas S. Diekema, describes the stance as “pro-choice not pro-circumcision.” The last public position the AAP took on circumcision, in 1999, was to state there was insufficient medical evidence to support or negate the claim that the procedure’s benefits outweigh its risks.
Despite this new research, my husband and I remain confident in our decision to forgo the snipping.
Irreversibly altering a part of our son’s body without his consent based on the mercurial opinion of experts was the wrong choice for our family.