Thursday, December 9, 2010

Does this make me an intactivist?

Over on Dear Baby, Melissa has found out that she’s expecting a boy, to join her daughter in their little family. First, this is super exciting, because I love love love reading about her adventures in motherhood and although it might be a wild ride, I think two little ones are just going to double the fun!
After posting the news a reader asked her about whether she plans to circumcise her son and a very civil little debate on the issue is going on among her commenters. 
I posted my entirely mommy-based feeling on the subject, which I’ll get to below. But I abstained from sharing my total view because I didn’t want to cause any unnecessary controversy on someone else’s blog. I don’t necessarily want to do that here, but it also happens to be a topic that’s important to me, as the mother of a son, and that was even important to me before, when I was just a person in the world. Even though I am a person without a penis. 
I’m a little nervous to put forth such a strong position on a subject like this, on my blog, knowing that I can’t hide behind anonymity (I knew linking this to my Facebook would eventually bite me in the ass). I know I’m not going to win any friends with this post, and I know that many of my friends have chosen to circumcise their sons, but that doesn’t change the fact that in my gut I feel that it is not OK to remove any part of another person’s body without their permission. I also can’t say that I find there to be a single compelling argument in favor of the practice.
In defending or discussing whether to circumcise our little boys or not, there are five arguments I hear most often:
  1. Some adults need to be circumcised due to infections. Wouldn’t they rather it was done in infancy?
  2. Infants don’t experience pain the way that adults do, and therefore the practice is not as barbaric as it seems.
  3. Removing the foreskin helps to decrease STD transfer rates.
  4. It is a religious rite and so it is acceptable. 
  5. Boys who aren’t circumcised will feel different than other men in their lives. 
None of these arguments hold any water for me, and I’ve really given a lot of thought to why. So indulge me if you will, as I respond to these arguments (that incidentally, no one is making to me, now that my son is nine months old and intact). 
1. The future infection argument.
Certainly there are cases in which the uncircumcised adult male finds himself in need of the procedure. I actually know a few people who’ve had that experience. And I am sure a few of them thought “I wish my parents had done this when I was a baby and couldn’t remember”. But guess what? Lots of body parts need to be removed in adulthood for various failures and ailments. But to argue that we should, for instance, preemptively remove an infant’s appendix in case it one day bursts would be ludacris, wouldn’t it? 
2. The pain factor.
As a mum, this argument, that infants don’t experience pain - or that they don’t remember it and it is therefore irrelevant, is completely stomach turning. You know what else is stomach turning? A few months ago, Ideas on CBC (or White Coat Black Art, I can’t find the original source) ran a piece on the relatively NEW practice of anesthetizing infants during surgery. That’s right, new.
As recently as the 80s, surgeons dosed infants only with muscle relaxants, to paralyze them, for any and all major surgeries they performed. Why? Because “infants don’t feel pain”. The program talked about babies flinching during brain and open heart surgery, and explained that doctors brushed that evidence of pain (duh) aside as simple reflex. Obviously that is insanity, and doctors don’t do that any more. (further info: here and here)
But they do perform circumcision without anesthetic. This does differ from place to place, but in the medical practices I know, sugar water is the accepted practice for helping baby boys through the pain. And the amount of sugar water isn’t standardized. I know of a practice where one of the nurses doesn’t think babies should have sugar, so she barely mixes any into the water she gives. Does any of this seem right to you? 
I’m not saying that in twenty years circumcision will be viewed as as barbaric as open heart surgery without anesthetic. But I’m not saying it won’t. 
3. Lower STD and STI risk.
This is possibly true. But you know what else reduces STD and STI transmission? Education about safer sex. And that doesn’t require cutting off any body parts. 
4. Religious Reasons
This is probably where my feelings on this subject actually get legitimately controversial, as the treatment of religious matters rarely avoids controversy.
Most of the people I know who are not for circumcision for their own children add the caveat that they are “OK with it for religious reasons”. This weak little disclaimer drives me crazy. Many faiths engage in practices in the name of their faith, that the average North American has no problem calling wrong. Child marriage, polygamy, female genital mutilation (also known as.. you guessed it.. female circumcision), all of these are easily condemned by people outside the faith. But take a barbaric practice and wrap it in a protective layer of Judeo-Christian lineage and suddenly it’s acceptable, or at the most “not for me”. 
5. “His penis won’t match”
 I find this argument most absurd. MAYBE there are boys and men out there who really study the penises (peni?) of their friends and family. But assuming there are (and I don’t believe there are many), they’re also going to notice that Daddy’s penis has hair around it and their’s doesn’t yet, and then they’ll get older and they’re going to notice differences in size, shape, colour. Because guess what? People are different. And yeah, that can be uncomfortable and even painful for kids.. but penises are just the tip of the iceberg (there’s an immature joke in there).
I wouldn’t let my future daughter get breast implants because her other teenage friends have bigger breasts. I’m not going to modify my son’s penis on the chance that it won’t look like the other penises around him. 
I didn’t realize I was so passionate on this subject, and it seems I could actually go on and on with more arguments against circumcision (as well as arguments for an intact penis), but this is already a super long post.
And if you’re still with me, and you’re a mum who circumcised her son, I really want to say that although I’m clearly pretty adamantly opposed to circumcision, I also get that right now it is a personal choice in a family, made for a lot of reasons that are really important to that family, and that loving, caring and amazing mums circumcise their sons.
Every decision we make as mothers comes under scrutiny at one point or another, and that is so exhausting, and I don’t want to alienate any fellow mums with my views. 
And with all of my long thought out reasons for skipping the snip, I have one more, purely irrational, momma instinct reason that trumped them all when it came time to make the choice in real life. Because Ollie had to spend his first days in the NICU, he had the unfortunate experience of starting his time on earth with tubes and needles and all manner of miserable intervention, and so did all of the babies around him. Feeling so worried and afraid for my little boy, and then so relieved and blessed, if someone had tried to cut off a piece of his body for any reason other than to save his life, I would have found a way to reciprocate…. if you know what I mean!

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