Circumcision Decision…The Debate Lives On

I was reading Lisa Belkin’s NY Times blog, the Motherlode, which recently covered the ongoing circumcision debate in this country.   Not surprisingly, there are some strong feelings on this subject on both sides of the issue, and I guess I can understand, although I must admit, I draw the line in equating what we do in this country to newborn boys and what happens in other countries to young women and it’s reasons. They are not equivalent in anyway. But that is a different, and more horrifying post. I just had to say that, because certain groups have tried to group the two things together to lend weight to their argument against.

The circumcision decision came for me over 10 years ago. And it was influenced by everything but personal preference. In our household, we have 4 boys and, well, we swing both ways (couldn’t resist the pun. It won’t be the last either, so consider yourself warned). Like so many of our destinations, the journey we mapped was anything but straightforward.

Can I start by saying that I had always just assumed that, if I had boys, they would be cut.  That was the cultural norm to me. I remembered my brother was and I was of a generation where all my personal experience took place in a heavily circumcised society.  Well, I did indeed become a first-time mother to sons. They are sons who are, how to say it…Uncut. Intact. In their natural state. In their original packaging.

This is not due to any driving need to make a political statement. It was largely a matter of circumstance and until recently, still a bit foreign to me. It has certainly led to a couple of interesting moments for us as we’ve negotiated basic bodily care, and I fully expect that there will be one or two more delicate moments before the privacy door closes on me permanently, as I expect it to during their teenage years. Physically, being the mother of sons who seek an owner’s manual to their body has been a bit of a journey into uncharted territory for me. But I bravely shouldered my Mom backpack and walked into the land of male parts.

So if it wasn’t my intention, then just how did it happen, you ask?  Preemies, that’s how.  Triplets and a high-risk pregnancy that led to my boys and their sister being born at just after 29 weeks and less than 3 pounds each.  Due to their medical issues, the very first of them came home after 6 harrowing weeks in the NICU (my other son was not stable until several weeks after that). The choice to circumcise them was not even raised until then, and in the end, my answer was no.

The reasons for my refusal are visible ones. If you ever look closely at the arms and legs of my oldest children, they still bare the faint scars of countless I.V.’s , cut-downs and several other invasive procedures that were required at a time when their lives were on the line and their successes were measured in mere grams of weight gain. When the moment came that they were medically stable enough to be circumcised, I simply couldn’t bring myself to put them through one more single, unnecessary procedure. They had already struggled through so much discomfort and risk that I said no and took my intact little males home with me.  And I rested with the decision in an uncomfortable way; even knowing I wouldn’t have done it any differently for the next few years, until gradually it became normal to me. Meaning, I looked at my sons’ physical state long enough that my own cultural norm started to change.

And then, 3 years later, I had another son. Born to a different father. A father and a whole other family to whom circumcision was the cultural norm.  And when this son was born. I said no again, and I said no in the face of, dare I say, stiff opposition (you were warned). I said no against my own personal preference. I said no because of an already existing hypersensitivity to the fact that my sons would not completely share the same DNA and in the face of that, I wanted them to share as much as possible otherwise, most especially in this most personal of appearances. I said no.

As time has rolled on, there is no doubt that several family members would rather they looked different than they do, but I believe these concerns are likely more about the fear that they would stand out somehow, be too different than their peers in the locker room perhaps. I too have worried about the reception their respective male parts would receive from future peers and girlfriends. But I’m happy to note the statistics seem to indicate that they won’t be greeted into future beds and gyms like John Merrick or Quasimodo. According to sources quoted in Belkin’s article the procedure is “on the decline in the United States (down to 56 percent, from 80 percent in the 1960s), Jewish families excepted. And I pacify myself too with the knowledge that if any of them that are so traumatized by the state of their Johnson, they can sign up for plastic surgery of the Wang.

I suppose that is the source of this discomfort.  We really fear that one day, they will look down at this universal source of male pride and feel inadequate.  But I’ve been given reason to believe that they see something entirely natural when they look down there.  You see we had one more son after this. He, unlike his brothers, is cut. His birth mother made the circumcision decision soon after he was born decidedly in favor of.  I wondered, when he joined our family if this would mark him as too different. But by then I was piecing together a family from so many different sources that all pretense of sameness had to be abandoned.  That worry soon passed anyway when I saw how loved and accepted he was by his siblings. They would be brothers irrespective of physical differences.

An incident during a diaper change was what made me relax completely about it.  One of my older sons noticed finally that he was different. It took awhile, 9 year old boys not traditionally being interested in diaper changes, but when I say noticed, I mean he pointed at the baby’s little circumcised specialness and said with great giggles and hilarity, “He’s naked! There’s nothing on his. He has no foreskin” I smiled too, amazed at this inside view of the male mind, however young, and how he viewed the issue. “Is that how you think of yours,” I asked,  “as clothes for the penis. Like a little jacket?”  Giggling with boyish delight at getting any chance to hear the word “penis,” he said, “Well, yeah.”  So obvious I guess when that’s what you’ve always known. Boys live in a very different world. It’s been interesting to walk through some of it with them.


I was thinking about belly buttons this morning. I swear to you that I do not spend excessive amounts of time in contemplation of my navel. A couple of my kids do however. They are overly concerned with their belly buttons in my opinion.

One son has questioned me repeatedly and intensely about why they they look the way they do. He does not care for his and he wants some answers! I have gently suggested that when he is older he could get himself a little belly button plastic surgery and no one would be any the wiser. In saying this, I have NO idea if they offer such a thing, but by then it will be the problem of him and his therapist and I’ll be home free.

His brother exhibits the same dissatisfaction with his little baby button (our name for the device). But one day when he was asking me once again why his looked the way it does, I was a little whacked out in my mental state (it’s a pretty common occurrence).

“Mom, why does it have this line around it?”
“Oh, that’s the line from the stitches where they reattached it.”
“Yours came off once.”
“What?! When?!”
Oh, don’t worry. You were still in the NICU at the time. It was loose and it just popped right off one day. All the nurses and doctors ran in there. They found it and sewed it back on. It was Emergency, Life-Saving Belly Button Reattachment Surgery. You’re ok now.”
Child is kind of clutching his stomach in a paranoid way now and moaning.
“What’s the matter?
Child is now kind of huddled close to me and shedding nervousness.

It’s wrong to do this to my kids I’m sure. But in my defense, they do a lot of things to me that are wrong too. And as I pointed out to my mother when she objected, being raised by me has bent them in exactly the same way, so they’ll be ok.


This Hat…

I live in this hat. Everyday, or almost.  It represents a lot of things. Like how I don’t have the time or the energy to care for 8 people full time, and how I choose them over the time it would take to take better care of my appearance, and how a huge portion of my life has been dominated in one form or another by appearance, though you’d never know it by looking at me now.

It also represents that I no longer believe that my only value lay in my appearance. Now I have all this other value, but no kind of appearance at all. That’s called “Irony”.  I bathe in irony. It is my life’s blood

It’s probably a crime of some kind here in Southern California, but it also hides the fact that I missed my biannual haircut. Again. That my hair is showing it’s gray.  That I won’t look at myself in the mirror again till night.  I guess it represents my complete removal from myself in the midst of raising all these young children.  I miss being pretty, and I wonder if I ever will be again. Logic tells me it will be attainable again some day, but my emotions are a bit fragile about it all I guess.

I have travelled from one side of the pendulum swing to the other when it comes to appearance, and as usual, I rarely reside at the bit in the middle where good mental health resides.  As a very young girl, I would spend a couple of shaky hours in front of the mirror, painstakingly applying “the mask”. I was very, very good at using makeup to enhance my appearance. I thought of it as armor, not me. I still do in ways, and so my carelessness about wearing now has some homage to better mental states to it. The  “Me” underneath was always an awkward, unattractive mess and the make-up hid that.  It took two hours to cover that person and the fear that she would bleed through.

17 years old = 2+ hours
44 years old = 5 minutes (maybe)

I am a creature of extremes.

I miss the days when I had a hairstyle.  I miss looking better than I do. But to accomplish what needs to be done and not be under enough stress to wholly guarantee a stroke, I have elected to surrender make-up and hair for now. (I surrendered exercise as well of late).  But I miss it. And the best I hope for is to be kind of invisible as I facilitate my kids through their day.  It’s one of the things that I hope will pay off…and will still be there when I come back to it again.