Apparently recently a cloth diaper retailer had an influx of intactivists (people who are highly vocal when speaking out against routine infant circumcision) unleash their fury because the store was giving advice on circumcision care when using cloth diapers. Not all intactivists are the same. Today I’m going to admit something. I’m a closet intactivist. I’m not a good one, because I’m quiet, and I’ve never managed to save a baby, despite my best efforts. I’m so relieved when I find out someone is having a baby girl, because I don’t feel that internal struggle of do I mention it? Do I leave it alone? Am I going to offend her? Will I lose her as a friend? What if I don’t say something, and she later has regret? I am incredibly nervous about this post and I’m trying to write from my heart and be genuine, but not offensive. If you are offended, please know it wasn’t intentional.
I did an interview about 2 years ago for Ivanohoe broadcast news that has been on several news spots but I am generally not vocal unless asked. It made me cringe when my testimony was mashed with a Jewish mother in one spot since I both work with people who are very religious, and have acquaintances who are married to a non-practicing Jew but feel that it’s not an option to skip the circumcision. The last thing I want it to be seen as an anti-semite, but there is a movement to ceremonies that don’t include cutting.
So, my story. My daughter was born in 2005. While I was expecting her, the extent of my circumcision research was all the bits & pieces I’d read saying that circumcision reduced the risk of HIV & HPV, it was “just a snip” and “a useless piece of skin.” Like most boys in our area, my husband was circumcised at birth, didn’t know any different and basically shrugged his shoulders when asked. It seemed like a pretty simple decision. Since our daughter’s gender was a surprise, we were asked about circumcision when I was sent to the hospital for a scare at 36 weeks and again when I gave birth at 40 weeks. The extent of the “informed consent” was the nurse saying “if it’s a boy, do you want him circumcised” and us saying “yeah, I guess so.” When I read Dirty Diaper Laundry’s circumcision story, it read very much like my own. With one exception.
My first child was born a girl, and since 1997, girls have been protected under the law from all forms of female circumcision, including a ritual pin prick. Over the next 3 years, the circumcision debate came up over and over again in online parenting forums, and each time I sighed and rolled my eyes at the women comparing it to female genital mutilation. After all, it was “just a snip” of skin that served absolutely no purpose (or so I thought.)
For some reason in 2008, I saw yet another argument on Cafemom, but a mom’s words resonated with me, and I clicked her links. It had been more than a year that we’d been trying to conceive our second child and it would be another 6 months before we did. More than a year after that, I would be searching through my Cafemom history so I could send her a thank you note.
I almost passed out when I watched a video of a circumcision. I didn’t realize that the EMLA cream often used wasn’t approved for use in newborns, nor that it took far more time to take effect than was given before a circumcision began. I didn’t know that a dorsal nerve block wasn’t totally effective, or that babies who appear to be sleeping are often in shock. I didn’t know that even with the plastibell method, the tightly fused foreskin had to be torn from the glans and slit. I didn’t know about the very real complications, including loss of the penis, and death. I didn’t know what the bloody wound would look like, and I had never imagined how painful it would be to have such a wound in a diaper filled with urine and feces. I didn’t know that many of the “pro-circumcision” articles you read are written or ghost written by a “circumfetishist.”
Speaking of complications, I had no idea that the glans keratinization, scarring, pitting and skin bridges that American women consider “normal” were actually circumcision complications. I didn’t know that the foreskin contained tens of thousands of nerve endings, and served a very real purpose in intercourse. I didn’t know about Sex as Nature Intended It (NSFW obviously) or what an intact penis actually looked like.
I was horrified and furious at myself for not researching this, and incredibly grateful that my first child was a girl. How in the world could I have considered doing this when I refused to pierce her ears until she was old enough to ask? I researched strollers more than I researched circumcision!
By the time I was expecting our second (we didn’t know the gender again), my husband and I were firm in our decision to leave a baby boy intact. We’d been seeing the same pediatrician for years, and respected him immensely. He supported all 3 of our “not on the growth charts” children and our son’s F.P.I.E.S. We went to whatever office we needed in order to see him, and were delighted to follow him when he started his own practice – to get the personal one on one care missing from the big conglomerate. We asked him an open ended question about his stance on circumcision. Nothing he could have said would have changed our minds, but we wanted to be sure he wouldn’t push us into circumcision, and that he knew how to care for an intact baby. Imagine our shock and surprise to hear that despite 95% of his male patients being circumcised, he was anti-routine infant circumcision. In fact, his own (adult) son was intact, which was highly unheard of in our area, particularly at that time. I totally get why he didn’t share his opinion until asked, but that’s a big reason why I grew the cojones to write this post. Without that brave mom repeating herself over & over in that Cafemom group, my eyes wouldn’t have been opened. If people remain silent, circumcision will continue to be a cultural norm. When I initially wrote my “glitter is for girls” post, I had a remark about circumcision in the last paragraph, but I lost my nerve and deleted it before posting.
Believe it or not, there are a lot of men who are angry about what was taken from them. If my sons are angry that I didn’t circumcise them as infants, they can be circumcised as adults and receive adequate anesthesia and post operative care. Above all, it would be their choice. The majority of the civilized world doesn’t circumcise, and they don’t have all the medical problems Americans claim come with intact penises. Even as far as UTIs so, they are so rare in general that a hundred baby boys would have to be circumcised to prevent one UTI. I’ve had a UTI and they gave me antibiotics, they didn’t circumcise me. Elderly women have far more folds to clean, and we don’t advocate removing baby girls’ labia to make cleaning them in a nursing home easier.
Everyone seems to have a horror story about someone who “had to” be circumcised later in life. Much of this seems to be based on ignorance of the proper care of an intact penis as well as its normal development. A penis should just be wiped like a finger (“clean what is seen”) and the foreskin should never be retracted by anyone but its owner. It’s not uncommon for a foreskin to not retract until puberty. When it does, the boy can retract, swish with water, then replace. Just as you wouldn’t recommend a girl wash inside her vagina with soap, a boy shouldn’t wash under his foreskin with soap. The foreskin serves as a mucous membrane, much like the eyelid, keeping the glans moist & supple.
If you want to read more about the functions of the foreskin, circumcision and intact care, Dr. Momma has great information.
As I said in the beginning, I’ve tried to very gently share my story, links and info about circumcision, but I’ve never been pushy and I’ve never been rude. Honestly, I can’t post on circumcision threads, because I am angry. I am so angry about the misinformation that is repeated over and over, I’m angry at the women who think that a man in his natural state is “gross” or “disgusting.” There’s a joke in the intactivist world that foreskin is “bimbo repellent.” If a woman doesn’t want to be with one of my boys because he is intact, she sure doesn’t deserve him. I’m furious that a man who is upset about his circumcision is told to “shut up” or “man up” and is demeaned and belittled.
At the same time, I understand that people will continue to circumcise because they simply don’t know any better, as I didn’t 9 years ago. My heart breaks for the women who circumcise one boy, then have regret, and perhaps face the decision of whether or not they should circumcise another to “make them match.” Some intactivists point to the 14th amendment to show that technically, male circumcision is illegal. Both sexes are entitled to equal treatment under the law, yet even the most mild form of female circumcision, the ritual pin prick, is illegal.
I cringe every time someone asks about cloth diapers and circumcision care. If it’s already done, there’s no sense in making a mom feel guilty about it. If mom is still expecting, I try to plant a seed and offer to provide links if she hasn’t entirely made up her mind yet. I want everyone to feel welcome here, whether they use cloth full time, use some disposables, have planned c-sections, have unassisted childbirths, breastfeed, formula feed, vaccinate, don’t vaccinate, homeschool, public school, un-school or anything in between. I’m not judging anyone for any decisions (short of beating their children.)
As much as I’ve tried to make this post about me, I’m sure someone will be angry with me and will boycott the blog. If this post causes just one mother to reconsider circumcision, it’s worth it.
If there is no swaying you, or if you are caring for a circumcision wound now, try using a cosmetic round to protect your cloth diapers from ointments. If you haven’t decided yet, I’m happy to answer any questions you may have, or direct you to good resources.