Monday, November 7, 2011

One son is and one son isn't: How we came to our circumcision decision.

I would like to begin this post by saying that this is a very touchy subject for some.  It's one of those hot topics that people are often passionate about.  This is simply our family's story about circumcision.  I share it because of my own struggle with this decision in hopes that others will do what they feel is right for them and their sons.  Whatever that decision might be.

When we found out BBZ was a boy in April of 2008, we were over the moon with excitement about our sweet baby boy.  N and I both desperately wanted a boy, so we were thrilled that our dream was going to come true.

Surprisingly, there were only two people who asked me what our plan was for mom and a friend from work.  My mom wondered if we thought much about it and let me know about some extended family members who decided not to circumcise.  I thought about it some and didn't like the idea of circumcising, but N seemed to think we needed to and I kind of went along.  I really didn't think I had much of a choice about it.  It seemed like it's just what people did.

As it came closer to BBZ's birth, I became more uncomfortable with the idea of having him circumcised.  The few times I spoke with N about it, he continued to feel that we needed to do the procedure.  Unsure of how I felt I went along with it.  N didn't press the issue and neither did I.  Looking back, I felt an enormous amount of social pressure to circumcise, even though my gut told me not to.

The day after he was born, my OB said that she would do the circumcision the next day, which was to be the day we would take him home.  This concerned me because I realized I would be taking him home with an injury.  I somehow thought that he should have the procedure done that day in case something went wrong.  I suddenly felt like I really didn't want to do it, but I didn't say anything to anyone.  Not even N.

The next day I had to give consent for the circumcision and reluctantly did.  When they brought him into the room and I saw what I had consented to have done to my perfect, natural little boy, I nearly vomited.  They literally cut the top of his penis off.  Because I asked them to.

As the new mom, I felt an incredible need to care for what I saw as an injury, so N did very little of the care in those first few weeks.  Care involved covering pieces of gauze with A&D ointment and covering the top of BBZ's penis with the gauze at each diaper change.  This was so the diaper would not adhere to his healing penis.

At his 1-month appointment, his doctor showed me that his remaining foreskin was adhering to the part that was cut.  She had to pull the foreskin down, which exposed red skin that also needed to be covered with ointment in order to heal.  For the next four months, I had to pull the adhered foreskin off of the top of his penis and apply ointment periodically.

I realize that this is not typical for a circumcision, but this was our experience.  The guilt I felt at each diaper change was horrible.  I realized that what was done was done, but I really beat myself up for not following my gut for months following his birth.  Even now, I am so angry at myself for being so influenced by societal expectations that I couldn't stand by my own views.  I was ashamed and embarrassed and ultimately angry.

As we started to think about having another baby, I wondered how I would handle things if we had another boy.  When we found out LBZ was a boy in April of 2011, and after I celebrated the fact that we were going to have 2 sweet little boys, I immediately wondered whether or not to circumcise.

N and I talked a lot about it.  While I felt very strong about not circumcising, I wanted to explore N's ideas as a man and also take into consideration what it would be like for brothers to grow up looking well, different.  Different not only from each other, but one different from both his brother and his dad.

I posted a message to the LLL board I belong to and asked to hear from people who had an older son who's circumcised and a younger son who wasn't.  I was pleasantly surprised to get a response from at least 7 families who had this scenario.  I spoke with most of them about how they came to their decision, what their husbands thought, and their concerns about the boys being different.

Most of the moms didn't think much of the circumcision with their first child, but decided to make a different choice with their second and subsequent children.  Many of them also dismissed the concerns about the boys looking different because of the many other ways they would look different.  None of them had a negative view of the decision they made.

I also started doing research.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not make a stance either way on the issue.  The exact statement can be found here.  I found one study that looked at instances of baby boys acquiring urinary tract infections (UTIs) and compared boys in the UK with boys in the United States.  The study found that boys in the UK (where circumcision rates are much, much lower that in the US) UTIs were about twice as likely to occur in the baby boys in the UK.  The study stated that the results did not prove causation.

N and I spoke at length many times as I perused online information and spoke with the other moms who experienced it.  I also found a blog post written by a man who was the younger son in a family of two boys where he was uncircumcised and his older brother was.  He talked about his comfort level and his experience being "different" from his brother.  He talked very personally and positively about his experiences.

N summarized it best the day we finalized our decision.  Parents who do circumcise do it for cosmetic reasons and for possible health considerations.  Parents who choose not to circumcise do so in order to avoid possible pain to the infant.  That's a pretty simple explanation.  I wanted to do anything to avoid any pain to my second son, especially after the difficult time his brother had.  N recognized my passion for the issue and agreed that we should not have LBZ circumcised.  My opinion is that he was indifferent about the issue and since it meant so much to me, he supported me.

I can't really explain how confident and happy I am about our decision to not have LBZ circumcised.  It was so easy to not do anything and to care for him just as he was when he was born.  He looks just perfect to me, the way he should.  The biggest concern is making sure that anyone who watches him knows to never pull the foreskin back during diaper changes.  Everything else is as natural as he was meant to be.

I realize that LBZ might have questions about why he looks different than his brother, but the truth is that we learned something after BBZ was born and decided to make a different decision this time.  I am confident that I will be able to explain this to him one day, should he have questions or concerns.

The biggest lesson learned for me is to trust myself and not be influenced by others' opinions.  Just as the AAP states "To make an informed choice, parents of all male infants should be given accurate and unbiased information and be provided the opportunity to discuss this decision".  Knowledge is power. 

Many new soon-to-be-parents I know have watched a circumcision video on YouTube as a part of their decision making.  I cannot bring myself to watch it as I still carry some guilt for putting my 3 day old infant through what became a 4-month issue.  The people I know who watched it found it to be beneficial when making their decision about their infant sons.

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I do not pretend to know what is best for baby boys.  I just know what was the best decision for MY baby boy.  And I feel great about our decision!