Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My Intact Journey

A couple of weeks ago, I got a call from a friend who was asking about breastfeeding during pregnancy. It wasn't the first such call I've received; this happens surprisingly often. As the conversation continued, my newly pregnant friend asked me about circumcision. Her first child was a girl, so she had never given thought to it, but with the possibility that this new baby could be a boy, it was now on her radar.

I started, "We probably won't...." then I stopped and changed gears, "We will not circumcise Isaac."

Later I thought about my nervousness in being bold about this issue. You all know my penchant for avoiding hot topics on my blog! I've considered blogging about circumcision before, but because Margaret was a girl, I didn't feel like I could do it. But now I have a boy. A beautiful intact, whole little boy.

Before I was pregnant with Margaret, I knew nothing about circumcision. Circumcision was something everyone did; I didn't know any intact men or boys. I did know that early Christians were told not to circumcise because Christ's atonement fulfilled the law, but because I didn't know any intact men or boys, I assumed that either 1) it was counsel specific to that time, like how women were supposed to wear head coverings or 2) there must be significant evidence to show a benefit to circumcision. I mean, a doctor wouldn't recommend something that was harmful, right?

Then I got pregnant and I started questioning that line of thinking. I also started trying to find people who wouldn't keel over when I mentioned "unassisted" and "childbirth" in the same sentence. And guess what? I found those people. And those people had intact sons. And they were passionate about keeping their boys intact. They were intactivists.

I went to playgroups with those intactivists. Alisa was one of the biggest intactivists and through her rants and her blog, I was led to look further into the research. Point number 2 was debunked. I couldn't find any evidence that circumcision would be beneficial. In my quest to do "only that which I knew was good for my baby," I couldn't say circumcision would be good. In fact, one friend pointed out that while the chance of a baby dying from loss of blood in a circumcision is very small, it's still higher than the chance of a baby dying from staying intact.

There was a sexual aspect, too. The closest analogous structure to the foreskin for me is the clitoral hood. That's an important sexual part of my body. I couldn't take that away from my sons. That's just cruel.

There was also the practical aspect: I was planning a peaceful, intervention-free birth at home. One of the reasons I wanted such a birth was so that I could ease into motherhood and bond with my baby with as little interruption as possible. So it didn't make sense to pick everybody up and head to a doctor to remove a son's foreskin. That whole scenario Did Not Compute.

But what about point number 1? The woman who led the UCAN meetings I attended made up a pamphlet about circumcision and Latter-day Saint teachings (first one under "circumcision pamphlets" on the left sidebar. It quoted modern LDS scripture about circumcision. The part that struck me most was, "that the tradition might be done away." Reading that, it sounded clear to me that God doesn't want us to circumcise our babies. He wants the whole ordeal to be "done away" with or in simpler terms, "Hey everybody! Stop circumcising your boys! I don't want you to do that!" For me, that was the clincher. If I were to circumcise my sons, I would be directly going against God's counsel and I couldn't do that.

Isaac is one month old today and I am already glad we've made the decision to keep him intact. With the thrush came an awful thrush diaper rash. I can't imagine fighting thrush in his diaper along with trying to heal an open wound. I'm sure that would have made his already miserable diaper changes worse. I've been in tears over how I inadvertently caused his thrush and making his early life full of pain; I can't imagine the blubbery mess I'd be if I were to willfully cause pain with a circumcision. That just goes against my mama sense.

Along with the links above, check these out:
Doctors Opposing Circumcision
Intact America
The Case Against Circumcision

This post was about how I decided to keep my sons intact; I'll also be doing a post about a few more social and cultural aspects of circumcision.


  1. I completely agree with you! If I ever have a son, he is definitely not being circumcised. It should be their choice, it's their penis anyway.

  2. My DH and i had a long discussion about this when were were expecting our son. He is circ'd & we ultimately decided against circ'ing our child. It is his decision. My DH doesnt have any issues with his circ but we were watching a doc a few years earlier following a man who was trying to get his foreskin back after being circ'd as a child. broke our hearts.

    If our son wants to get it done when he is 18yrs + at least it will be HIS informed decision. Who are we to make a non-medical decision for our children that alters their body at such a young age?

  3. If only my husband could believe that the evidence does not show a benefit to circumcision. That's the only reason he still insists on it. If you could recommend a resource that in 2-3 pages covers the whole of the topic, what would it be?

  4. My husband was the one who led me to intact research. (Or, perhaps, it was actually his parents?) And our son is intact. Now that I know more about circumcision, I honestly could not imagine willingly doing that to one of my sons. It boggles my mind that it is so commonly practiced in our culture.

  5. @Jenne, I wonder if your husband is using health benefits as an excuse. There are lots of resources that clearly debunk all the health benefits. See, for example, http://www.CircInfo.org

    Many circumcised men have trouble dealing with the fact that their favorite body part is missing something. See The Vulnerability of Men. Some men seek to validate their body image by having their son be like them.

  6. My husband and his brothers are intact, and so he was also a big proponent of keeping our son(s) that way too. I agree with everything you've said here!

  7. I understand about being hesitent, with my first baby my husband and I did the research and decided to leave our sons intact, and then I held my breath, praying the baby was a girl so I wouldn't have to bring up the issue with anyone, especially his family. As it turns out, it was a girl! Hopefully by the time we have a boy I'll be braver.

  8. I find it astonishing that circumcision is so widespread in the US, here in the UK and in Ireland where I'm from it's just not routinely done. My husband and son are intact as is my brother. I don't think I've ever seen a circumcised penis.

  9. I didn't really have an opinon about it but I was surprised my husband felt so passionately about keeping our son intact. Then after reading those scriptures in D&C I was blown away. I couldn't understand how LDS or Christian people could still routinely do circumcision. To do it is to really deny the atonement. I've been trying to get enough "guts" to do a post on my women in the scriptures blog about it because it is really astounding when you start studying circumcision in the scriptures how linked it is to the mosaic law and the atonement.

    For example, almost every single time it is brought up in the Bible it is linked to baptizing infants. We know that children don't need to be baptized because to do so would be to deny the atonement. Circumcision is the same sort of thing. I really wouldn't be surprised if sometime in the near future, with the church getting more world-wide, that the church comes out with something against circumcision on doctrinal grounds.

    Also it has only been in the last 100 years that men who weren't Jewish have been circumcised. Our modern medicine sure does some strange things.

  10. Not circumcising my son was an easy choice because my husband is not circumcised. He was born in South America and it's just not done there. Circumcision is only regularly done in the US and Israel (I think). I get nauseated just taking my kids to get a couple of shots. I would have been really traumatized by circumcising a BABY and then caring for the wound -- so glad it was not a huge issue for us.

  11. We decided to keep our son intact, and I was really surprised about how much joy I felt changing his diaper, and seeing his perfect little intact body, and knowing that he is just perfect the way he was created in my womb, and I didn't need to change anything about it.

    It took my husband a while to come around to leaving our son intact while I was pregnant, but once he was born, my husband has been so glad that we didn't cause an unnecessary pain to our son.

  12. I've had strong feelings against circumcision since I was about 15. I've written a couple papers on it and even when I searched for pro-circumcision studies I really couldn't find much--outside of the AIDS argument which is easily debunked by the website mentioned earlier.

    What strikes me is that a lot of parents who do research it come to the conclusion that it's a "personal choice" and think that for whatever reason it's THEIR (the parent's) personal choice even though it's someone else's body.

    You can make choices about childrearing, about how to feed your child, about what clothes he wears and even maybe who he spends time with, etc... but you should not get to decide if he loses a body part for cosmetic reasons.

  13. That part of that scriptural verse was the clincher for me as well. It's too bad I read it 20 months too late.

    Even if people want to circumcision for purely cultural reasons, why do it to a newborn? It's just going to interrupt bonding and possibly cause problems with breastfeeding. I mean, if people really feel like they have to do it, why not wait? At least it would give people more time to think about it...

  14. My husband took a while to come around to the idea of keeping our future sons intact, but a video was what really did it. He watched the whole vid of a real circ and couldn't believe that THAT is what circumcision consisted of. As I told him more about it he became more and more against it. He now tells all his friends how horrible it is and is a proud intactivist. From a guy who originally refused to even discuss it with me!

  15. I hope nobody here thinks of me as the "bad" mother who actually had her son circumcised, since everyone else on there (it seems) chose not to. Our pediatrician said it wasn't necessary, when he came into the hospital room to ask us if we wanted it done.

    We hadn't really done research, but what we had read mostly said it's a matter of choice, that there weren't any outstanding health benefits either way.

    Personally, neither my husband or I had had any experience or connection to any males who hadn't been circumcised (to our knowledge anyway), so it seemed like just what we should do so that daddy and son "matched" and all that. Plus, when I mentioned to my mom that we weren't sure about whether or not to have Stephen circ'd, she said, "Oh you have to! It's so much cleaner!" And, of course, I trust my mom, though she did apologize later for her outburst and said that it is our choice really, though she did recommend circs.

    However, after hearing our baby cry for almost 3 hours straight after he was circ'd, we wished we could go back and have it not done. That, and the worrying about him bleeding too much or getting the gauze and vaseline on right after every diaper change. It was quite the process.

    Some things can't be undone. I do, however, impress upon Stephen every day how special his body is---how it is a miracle. I don't think circing or not circing has anything to do with our eternal salvation (anciently it was part of a ceremonial rite, and those rites are no longer necessary because of Christ), but has everything to do with what we feel is best for our family.

    I don't know what we'll decide to do if we have another boy someday down the road.

  16. P.S. I didn't post that comment to cause a fuss or anything. Just wanted to share our experience.

    I probably should have researched more and talked to more people in order to really make an informed decision that we felt confident about. As it was, we were still unsure in the hospital, but didn't even think about taking time at home to really consider the options.

    Being a first time parent is definitely full of decisions you don't think you'd have to make!

  17. It was the Apostle Paul that made those statements on circumcision in Corinthians and being explained in the D&C. The whole reason it says he was making them was because of the contention that had arisen in the ancient church on the topic. Those who were circumcised were believing that they were more holy or better than the gentile members of the church because they were circumcised.

    We need to make sure that the pendulum does not make the full swing with those who now are uncircumcised believing they are better or more holy than those who are circumcised. I think a big lesson to take from those scriptures is to remember not to propogate contention among God's children.

  18. I agree. I trust that in Old Testament times, God had a reason for requiring circumcision, but I also believe the New Testament makes it very clear that it is no longer necessary. I don't think it's "wrong to circumcise, just not the better choice.
    1 Cor 10:23 says:
    "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"—but not everything is constructive.

    Mothering Magazine (mothering.com) has great resources about leaving boys intact, including a reprint of circumcision articles that you can order on their site.

  19. I decided against circing in high school, before ever becoming crunchy, because of a book I came across that was against it.

    Bryan was harder to convert. I finally read him a graphic description of the procedure while we were in the car and he had to where to run. Now he is soundly against it!

  20. Happy Blogiversary! I'm finally getting a chance to read more of your blog and archives. You are an amazing example.

    We chose against circumcision as well for the reasons you list, and I am SO glad we did. My husband was hesitant, but is happy with how it turned out.

    I cannot imagine doing that to my baby, and I think that once enough of us stop doing it and start sharing our reasons, it will become less normal and routine and people will think twice before mutilating their children.


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