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Circumcision Exposed
Rethinking a Medical and
Cultural Tradition

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An Appeal to New Fathers

Rosemary Romberg - Anchorage, AK

Mothers and fathers sometimes painfully disagree over whether
or not to have their new baby boy circumcised.

When our generation was born, many things were different than they are today:

  Mothers were often heavily medicated during labor and birth. Therefore, many of us were born heavily drugged. Today it is known that this is not good for babies. Most mothers today would rather be conscious and aware during birth. Therefore, today most mothers give birth with little or no medication.

  Little regard was given to the family unit during birth. Our fathers probably paced the waiting room while our mothers had only impersonal doctors and nurses present when we were born. Most of us were taken away to a central nursery while our mothers were tended to separately after birth. Today most people believe that it is much better from a human-needs standpoint for birth to be a special, joyous, family-centered event. Most mothers and fathers today want to be together during birth and to hold and be with their babies right away.

  Most of us were bottle-fed. Often doctors and nurses actively discouraged mothers from breastfeeding because they had little understanding of the process. Today it is well established that breastmilk has many nutritional advantages over formula, and that breastfeeding can be a warm, loving, wonderfully special experience for most mothers and their babies.

  Most of us had our tonsils out as children. At that time the medical profession believed that tonsils were the cause of many diseases such as chronic sore throats, colds and ear infections. But over the years the medical profession has slowly learned that normally occurring body structures do have a purpose in the natural health of the body. It is now known that tonsils do serve a purpose in fending off diseases that they were once believed to have caused. Today tonsillectomy is much less common than it was when we were children. most of today's children are growing up with their tonsils.

  People used to think that smoking tobacco was harmless. Today, many well established medical studies have confirmed that smoking tobacco products causes many dangerous health problems. This information is now printed on cigarette packages. Many doctors today actively attempt to discourage their patients from smoking.

  People once thought that eating large amounts of red meat and rich dairy products was healthy. Today it is a well established fact that such foods are high in cholesterol, which can contribute to hardening of the arteries and heart attacks. Today, people are frequently admonished to modify their diets and be cautious about eating cholesterol rich foods.

  The medical profession believed that cutting off the foreskin (circumcision) offered many health benefits such as prevention of cancer, infections, and venereal disease. Today, more recent findings have proven that the earlier studies were wrong, that certain types of conditions such as infections can be easily prevented or treated without surgery, or that risks such as cancer of the penis are too rare to be considered valid arguments for this questionable surgery. We also know now that virtually all of the purported "problems" associated with the foreskin, such as infections under the foreskin or in the urinary tract, or abnormal tightness of the foreskin are totally preventable as long as the baby's and young boy's foreskin is left entirely alone. Today it is also known that the foreskin offers many advantages in protecting the delicate glans of the penis from urine in diapers and outside abrasions from clothing. The foreskin is also a sensitive part of the body that enhances sexual pleasure. Most doctors today will advise that the operation is not medically necessary.

If you were circumcised as an infant or young child, your parents probably believed that they were doing something that was medically necessary and healthy. They probably had very little information about it. The operation may have been done to you when you were separated from your mother in the hospital nursery. Even though you probably have no conscious recollection of the event, you did undergo a painful, traumatic experience which many professionals now believe may have left "forgotten imprints." Undoubtedly, your parents had little or no awareness of what you went through.

When our parents were young, most people did not question medical authority or make choices about such procedures the way we are encouraged to today. Their's was a more naive, trusting way of thinking which has often been difficult for members of our generation to understand.

Our parents did the best for us with what they knew at the time. Our generation has "survived," but we have hardly been peaceful or problem free! Although carefully controlled scientific studies have yet to be carried out, many professionals speculate that some of our generation's greatest problems may be related to how we were treated as infants and young children. For example, our generation's extensive difficulties with drug abuse may have its roots in our heavily drugged beginnings at birth. Many have suggested that our society's abnormal obsession with breasts as sexual objects may stem from our having been deprived of nourishment from our own mothers' breasts during infancy. Our generation's tendency towards alienation from our parents may stem from our initial separation from our parents when we desperately needed them immediately after birth. And many professionals have speculated that some men's sexual difficulties or tendencies toward violence or callousness may have begun when a painful operation was performed on their penises during infancy.

Whether or not any of this is true, most of us as new parents do want much, much better for our own children. So please think about circumcision for your baby in this context:

  Your son is not a carbon copy of you. Right now you are very proud to have a new son. You will have wonderful experiences being his father. But whether he is circumcised or not, he will almost certainly turn out to be very much different from you. He is his own person. He may look different from you. His personality may be different from yours. He may develop very different skills and interests from your own. (Are you exactly like your father? Or would you want to be, as much as you may admire him?)

  Your son will love and respect you as his father. Being a loving, supportive, understanding "Dad" is the most important thing you can ever do for your child. A child is more likely to become alienated and resentful of his parents if he is pushed or forced into patterns based on his parents' ideas that "aren't him." This is true for all facets of his life, not only circumcision. If you leave your son intact and raise him with a healthy attitude about his body, he will easily understand that, although you had that body structure cut off long ago, he did not. He will more than likely grow up to be very happy and proud to have a body "as nature made it." Or he may grow up and decide at that time that he would rather be circumcised. If so, this is fine too as it is his body and he will have made that decision for himself, rather than having had it forced on him.

  Maternal protective instincts are sensitive and powerful! Your wife/partner has carried this baby inside of her body for the past nine months. As he grew larger she felt his every movement. Her entire body has been completely involved in his growth, development and birth. Her life has been filled with plans and dreams for this baby. Now that he is born, she is very much bonded to this tiny, helpless new little being. The natural hormones that are at work in her system right now produce overwhelming maternal protective feelings. She intensely does not want this baby hurt in any way! We are undoubtedly purposely designed this way to insure the survival of the human race.

Perhaps these feelings may be difficult for you to understand right now. Although you are happy to have a new baby, your bond with him may not be as strong right now as it will become in the future, since your body was not as directly physically involved in the actual pregnancy and birth. But as a caring, concerned husband/partner, please make every attempt that you can to respect these powerful, exquisitely sensitive maternal protective feelings that she has.

Before you make a decision about putting your baby through a painful operation, hold him in your arms for awhile. See how tiny, delicate and wonderfully perfect he is right now. Feel in your heart how totally trusting and dependent he is on you for his well-being. Perhaps by doing this you can begin to share the overpowering, deeply ingrained protective feelings that she has for your baby.

Most mothers, if made aware of the facts about circumcision, and if allowed to bond with their babies, will choose against circumcising the baby simply because of these natural, maternal protective feelings. Many mothers will end up agreeing to circumcision, despite their own reservations, if their husbands/partners (or other relatives, doctors, etc.) pressure them into it. But this can result in feelings of guilt, anger, alienation from the baby, and difficulty in relating to her husband/partner if she feels that her maternal protective instincts toward her baby were cruelly violated.

Many fathers too, have feelings of anger, regret and horror following their babies' circumcision. (Possibly beforehand they imagined only a "momentary clipping of a little piece of skin," and never realized or focused on what actually takes place when a baby is strapped down and part of his genitalia is cut away.) But by making every effort to share her feelings toward this baby now, and by respecting her natural, maternal protective feelings, perhaps you and your wife/partner can be spared this inner pain and regret. Increasing numbers of parents of circumcised sons are urging new parents not to make the same mistake that we did.

Although like you, the baby may have no conscious memory of undergoing his circumcision, please seriously consider leaving your son intact for the sake of respecting his mother's natural, maternal protective feelings.

Rosemary Romberg, author of Circumcision: The Painful Dilemma, c. 1985, Bergin & Garvey, S. Hadley, MA.
(Some passages in the above article have been taken directly from the text of Circumcision: The Painful Dilemma.)
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