I was over-the-moon in love with my twin boys way before they were born. We found out early that they were boys and that’s exactly what I wanted! I made them check at each appointment that the last ultrasound tech wasn’t wrong. I researched their nursery, car seats, pediatricians, all the usual baby topics. The subject of circumcision came up. My husband was circumcised as an infant and insisted that they would be just fine if they were circumcised too.
I wasn’t sure. I had seen circumcisions done in nursing school and I felt the practice was barbaric. The doctor performing the few that I had seen did not use anesthetic since “the babies are too young to feel pain the way you and I do.” I did all I could during the procedure to calm these screaming, struggling babies – gave them pacifiers dipped in sugar water, rubbed their heads, talked to them softly. I was shaken by what I saw. But it’s what we do to little boys, I was told. They’ll get infections. They can get penile cancer. They’ll be teased. What kind of mom wouldn’t want to protect her sons from infection, cancer, and bullying? My uncertainty remained as I typed “Yes, the boys will be circumcised. Please give us more information on the procedure” into my birth plan.
The big day came that I delivered my precious sons. I was in labor for 32 hours after an induction for cholestasis. They were healthy little boys and required no NICU time. I was so happy. We snuggled our boys for a few days in the hospital, where I recovered from blood loss after the delivery with a few units of blood. On our last day there, their fourth day of life, they came to get consent for the circumcision. I felt sick signing that paper, but my husband rubbed my back and assured me they would be okay. I told him I didn’t want to cause them pain. “They won’t remember it” he said, “I don’t.” As we walked our babies down the hall in their rolling bassinets, tears started streaming down my face. I looked at my husband and he gave me a hug. “It’ll be over before we know it and you’ll be able to snuggle them again.” We knocked on the nursery door and handed our boys over to the nurse as I sobbed, “I don’t want to do this.” We walked back to my room.
I’ll never know exactly what happened in the nursery that day. I thought that my little boys were sleeping when they came back. Now I know that they were in shock from the horrible pain I put them through. The nurse came in to show me what to look for in circ aftercare. The gauze was stuck to one of the boys’ bloodied penises. She pulled it off, hard, and my son started screaming. Over his cries, she shouted the aftercare. Vaseline, change diaper frequently, should heal within a week or so, check for bleeding. I threw a new diaper on him and picked him up. He cried and wouldn’t nurse. He finally fell back to sleep after exhausting himself again. I looked at my husband while cradling our sons. “Never again. This will never happen again.” He nodded his head but didn’t say anything.
Every diaper change, I stared at the bloody incisions. I put the Vaseline on them as much as I could to keep it from sticking to the diaper. They would cry each time they peed. One healed more quickly than the other. The slow healer also had adhesions, which I was told to separate or they would cause bigger issues later. I gently tugged on the little remaining foreskin with each diaper change and after three weeks, the adhesions released. “That happens sometimes,” our pediatrician said. “It’s not a big deal.”
Fast forward 18 months. I found out I was pregnant again and joined a few mommy groups on Facebook. “RIC is CHILD ABUSE,” screamed one of the posts. Even though I never wanted to do it again, I thought, “Who are these people to tell a parent what to do? It’s their choice!” I clicked on one of their links about foreskin. “Who knew it had a function? Why would the doctors tell me it was extra skin?” I thought. I clicked more links – links to studies on STIs and pain thresholds, pages on intact care, and finally, statistics of circumcision rates in the world. My heart dropped. I thought circumcision was NORMAL. If it was normal, why would the vast majority of the world’s men be intact? I looked at another thread of a mom asking about infections. This caught my attention – that’s one of the reasons I was told it should be done. “Really, UTIs?!” one poster wrote. “Let me ask you this – what surgery should be done if your daughter has a UTI?”
“Well that’s dumb,” I thought. “If my daughter had a UTI, I’d give her antibiotics.” LIGHT BULB. That was the exact moment that I became a regret mom and intactivist. I may have regretted my decision before that because of the pain it caused my sons. But now I knew WHY my instincts were screaming at me that day. The guilt was intense.
I asked my husband that night if he knew that foreskin had a function. He said no. I asked him if he knew that more than 70% of the world’s men are intact. He said no. I asked him what surgery we should have done on our baby if it was a girl to keep her from getting UTIs. He said, “What? Why would we do that? That’s what medicine is for.” I said “BINGO. Why wouldn’t medicine work on our son then?” LIGHT BULB. He finally understood my regret in that moment and held me as I sobbed.
Our third and final baby turned out to be a boy. A beautiful, healthy, whole little boy who is loved by his whole-at-heart twin older brothers. Someday, my husband and I will talk to our boys about circumcision and the mistake we made in consenting to it. We will offer to pay for any and all restoration they have, if they so choose. I hope my sons can find it in their hearts to forgive me someday. Until that day and beyond, I will not stop talking about how RIC must end and the damage it causes. I have saved more than a few babies so far and I’m hoping to add many more!
At the time of this writing, the twins are four years old. Over the years, they have suffered from adhesions, irritation of their glans, painful erections, balanitis, a UTI, and meatal stenosis. Both have developed varying degrees of meatal stenosis, and one of my boys has required a second surgery on his penis to re-open his urethra. Before the surgery, he would kick and scream in pain when I had to wipe his glans to clean him during diaper changes, and he was resistant to potty training. The urologist said that the pain was caused by his urine creating forceful pressure against the scarring of the urethra before it released through the small area that was left of his urethral opening. The painful sensitivity of his glans was a side effect of the internal swelling. The actual meatoplasty and recovery were no picnic for him, either. There was no explaining to a 3-year-old that his penis was going to hurt for a week or more, and that it would burn when he urinated. Though it was an outpatient surgery, he was scared by the hospital environment and all of the medical personnel approaching him.
When it was time for the surgery to begin, the nurses had me gown up and carry my son into the operating room. I fought back tears as he sat on the OR table, looking around. I calmed him as they put the mask over his face to sedate him with nitrous oxide and held his hand as he fell asleep. My head hung down as I walked out of the OR and back to the recovery room. The searing guilt I felt inside was nothing compared to what my son went through that day. I was sobbing in the recovery waiting area when one of the nurses approached me to ask if I was okay. I explained that I was a regret mom and that I hated seeing my son in pain again solely because of a horrible choice I agreed to when he was born. Instead of exhibiting compassion, she scoffed at my explanation and told me it’s better to have it done as a baby. She said I had nothing to feel bad about, and that these repairs are quick and easy and are done all the time. I put my head back down and couldn’t form a retort at that moment. I reached into my bag, pulled out an info card and handed it to her. “I used to think all of that too,” I said. “I know that they didn’t teach me much in nursing school about foreskin and its purpose, so I’m sure it was the same at your school. Can you please look into this more and know that I’ll never stop regretting the decision to circumcise my sons?” She nodded her head and put the card in her pocket. She walked away and didn’t engage with me again. I carded every crevice of that waiting room, the bathrooms, the elevators, the ATM, and the parking deck. I was on a mission. My sons endured more than their share of pain because of an uneducated decision that was made by their parents; a decision that never should have been ours to begin with.
After the surgeon came out and explained that the surgery went well, the staff brought my sedated son back to the recovery room. His recovery nurse was an Irish man with a soothing voice. After chatting for a little bit, he saw the aching in my eyes and asked if I was okay. I told him of my regret and asked if he saw this sort of thing when he worked with kids in Ireland. He said, “Not really, since we don’t circumcise wee ones like they do here. Try not to feel bad; the culture here very much believes in circumcision. You didn’t know.” I gave him a card too. I even left cards on the surgical intake desk. We all left the hospital that day emotionally and physically exhausted.
While waiting to get the “all clear” from the surgeon regarding his surgery, I swore to the universe that I would never stay quiet about my boys' experiences – not until I don’t have to fight for the rights of bodily integrity for all children anymore. So here I am, world. Your friendly neighborhood child's rights activist – not because I want to be, but because I HAVE to be. It's my calling, my duty, and my promise.
Chrisann graduated from William Paterson University with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in 2008. She has cared for patients at various stages of life and currently works in Labor and Delivery. She aspires to become a certified nurse midwife who will educate others on the value of trusting their natural bodies. Chrisann believes in bodily integrity and autonomy for both birthing parents and their children. She volunteers time for Your Whole Baby and serves on the Your Whole Baby Advisory Board.