In our series The Debate, our community of real moms tackle the pros and cons around common parenting choices. The truth is, like so many decisions around child rearing, there is no right or wrong answer. At HATCH, our job is to give voice to both sides of any debate, peppering real mom wisdom with the necessary facts so that you can make the best decision for you and your family.
Circumcision…..oof. Now here’s a toughie. To many parents, removing their infant boy’s foreskin feels like a pretty standard cultural practice that one just “does.” Religion aside, even those who don’t find particular meaning in the idea of foreskin (or lack thereof), are apt to have a doctor perform the snip at the hospital. Whether it’s a beneficial practice healthwise is also up for debate.
However, a growing number of parents are foregoing the practice. The New York Times writes that circumcision is far more common in the United States than it is in most industrialized countries, but rates have declined since the 1970’s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2013 C.D.C. report that analyzed decades of hospital data found that the national rate of newborn circumcision dropped from about 65 percent to about 58 percent between 1979 and 2010.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks and that the procedure’s benefits justify access to this procedure for families who choose it. Specific benefits identified included prevention of urinary tract infections, penile cancer, and transmission of some sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.” Though, if you dig deeper into the actual studies, any health risks cited in leaving foreskin on are incredibly low and skewed based on healthcare access, geographic region and socioeconomic standing. Also, while low, there are risks in performing a circumcision. Complications of newborn circumcision occur in between 0.2% to 2% of cases – the most frequent being minor bleeding and local infection, both of which can be treated by your doctor.
Whatever you decide is totally your call. After all, your son’s privates are just that – private. But if you’re looking to hear from both sides of the coin – like mamas who recently had to make this very decision – read on.
No Snip, No Way
Ellis, 9 months
“We found out the sex and initially I figured we would do it. I’m Jewish and I also worked in international public health for a decade. While it wasn’t a hardline either way, I initially leaned toward doing it just because of those two reasons. In international public health, we were working on reducing HIV / AIDS transmission, and some of the information cited male circumcision as a way to reduce the spread. Plus, again, culturally, I felt more inclined. But when my husband and I sat down to discuss it, he was strongly opposed to it. He was circumcised as a kid and felt strongly that it was unnecessary surgery, pain and essentially removing a part of the body you’re born with. It felt akin to mutilating my son’s penis he felt strongly that to do so without asking permission, without a child consenting to something, felt really wrong to him.
I took a moment and said, OK let me think more about it. I did more research and really looked into disease prevention. That’s more of where I was coming at it from, plus culturally, but really more around public health. I discovered that rates of HIV / AIDS and STD transmission in developed countries where men were uncircumsized were actually not higher at all. In developing countries where disease was widespread, it was helpful, but throughout Europe and Scandinavian countries, it’s not an issue. Most of the world doesn’t actually do it, so I felt better about it.
Once my son was born, it started to break my heart thinking about taking a knife to his penis and causing unnecessary pain. In terms of public health, it wasn’t needed and in terms of my cultural background, well we are Jews culturally but we’re not extremely religious in any way so even if this was considered part of our culture, it started during such ancient times. Especially as an interfaith family, it was time for us to reinvent our own cultural identity. It made sense for this decision to be a piece of that. I read that there were some Jewish faith leaders who do alternative bris ceremonies at home. I looked into it but didn’t end up doing it. But I did find that there’s a community of Jews celebrating the birth of their son and giving the Hebrew name without cutting their penis. It made me feel like there are Jews not doing it now.
Once my son was born, it started to break my heart thinking about taking a knife to his penis and causing unnecessary pain.
When my son was born, I did feel like, oh cleaning his privates is a little different, and it’s 100 percent fine. And, in my community of friends and people, it’s pretty rare to do it. Among all my friends and family I know with boys, circumcision is definitely the minority now. A few mom friends said their husbands wanted it and they regret it. It’s not that they live with that daily feeling, just post-procedure, like OMG I just did this and I’m not sure why. In terms of appearance, it doesn;’t feel abnormal in any way. Cleaning it is totally fine. I taught them how to clean it himself just by rolling it back and washing. It’s totally normal and not some weird big deal so I totally don’t regret it. I’m happy, he’s happy. A lot of men will say they want their son to look like them. My husband said, “How many times did I stand in front of the mirror with my dad?” It’s so ridiculous. My son doesn’t care. I explained it to him, that it used to be something everything one did and now it’s not. No one cares.”
Full Time Mama
Liam, 6 months
“To be totally honest I don’t even think I’ve seen an uncircumcised penis. I literally have no idea what one looks like. Maybe I’m not worldly enough but all the men in my past relationships, my brother, my father (sorry, gross I know) have all been circumcised, so it barely even registered that we wouldn’t not do it. It’s not something I’d be proud to show off or invite people to come watch, and since we aren’t Jewish we didn’t really need to think about that. It was just something we knew going in that we’d do.
My ob-gyn first brought it up in one of my appointments as something to flag when we were in the hospital. The day after I gave birth, we were still there and a nurse took him out to have the procedure done. I remember feeling stressed while he was gone, but I was also so stressed about a thousand other things – ie my milk coming in, bringing home a new life, becoming a mother – that it didn’t register so high, it just was on the list. When they brought him back, I did feel a little bummed about how his penis looked, but they gave me specific instructions in terms of how to care for it and that it would heal very quickly.
I don’t even think I’ve seen an uncircumcised penis.
I remember the wound was pretty legit and we had to change the dressing everyday for a few days. Afterwards we would put a little vaseline around it for about five days and I think by about 10 days following it looked maybe a little red and swollen but for the most part normal. As for whether I’m glad I did it, again I didn’t really even entertain the idea of not doing it, so while it was a bummer that he might have been in pain for a split second, I think it was worth for us.”