The topic of circumcision is quite possibly even more heated and more passionate than the topic of home birth or licensing midwives (and that is saying a LOT). Online discussions about it very quickly turn into vehemently spewed insults and accusations of neglect or abuse. Often these discussions do not even include persons who choose to circumcise, but simply those who advocate for the option to be available or those who are considering it. Here is my (son’s) story:
I was 20 years old when I had my son, but I was not your typical twenty-something. By that time, I had already been married for almost three years and had a two-year old. I was fairly educated about birth and considered myself pretty informed about most matters. We found out we were having a boy around the middle of the pregnancy, so we had time to discuss whether or not to circumcise him. My then-husband, L, was very adamant that his son look like him, that he not be “different” in any way. I offered studies, pictures, videos, tirades and tantrums…all to no avail. With the clarity of hindsight, I see that he probably would not have intervened had I simply not taken the initiative to get it done. At the time, though, I felt his opinion on the subject was important and that it was more his “right” than mine to decide.
The pediatrician I chose was very middle-of-the-road and explained the procedure, in detail, to us. When I mentioned that I wanted to be there, he said it was fine but that most parents didn’t want to see, especially fathers. I felt that it was only just that I be available to comfort my baby as well as see exactly what we had decided to do to him. I made clear that I expected his father to be there as well. The decision was made, the appointment was scheduled.
We brought him to the office for the procedure, and the pediatrician asked one more time if we were sure we wanted to be in the room. He looked at L when he said this, who quickly took the opportunity to dash out the cracked door. I, however, was not about to leave. I took B’s clothes off and laid him on the board. I could barely breathe from the huge lump in my throat and the pit in my stomach was overwhelmingly heavy. I yearned to run from the room but felt helplessly trapped in the decision “we” made (why didn’t I run??!!). B was very calm, unaware of what was about to come. His arms were left unbound, so that I could stroke them and hold them. The pediatrician told me he was going to start; the last thing I remember coherently is the scalpel coming towards him.
I stared into B’s eyes, willing him to understand and saying out loud that I was right there and he was okay. I watched his pupils get large, saw the tears well, heard the cry of pain….we were both crying. A million thoughts ran through my head: Why am I doing this? Where is his father? I should leave now! It’s too late, I can’t! How can I do this to my son? What kind of mother am I????
And then I saw B retreat into himself. He stopped crying, his eyes clouded over and he was gone. The vacancy in his eyes was (and still is) haunting. I kept talking to him through my tears. I told him it was almost over and I told him I was sorry I did this to him. I will never forgive myself. Will he ever forgive me? I will never forget this moment. I will remember this and I will relive it. I will kill his father for not seeing this.
It felt like those moments lasted forever. As soon as they were done, I undid the straps and held him to me. I controlled my tears, stuffed my anger and listened to the instructions on post-care. B came back to me, seemingly unaffected. I wondered, Did anyone else see his retreat? But it didn’t matter, I saw it.
On the car ride home, and the next few days, I said as little as possible to L. I felt he had betrayed our son at the deepest level and I’ve never looked at him the same since; I’ve never looked at myself the same, either. Every time I see him without clothes on, a pang hits my heart. When I birthed two more boys and left them intact, I grieved for B and wished I could go back in time. Some nights I dream about it. There are not many parenting choices I’ve made in twelve years that I feel are wrong, but this is one. And it’s a big one. I can never go back, change it, make it right.
I write this out for me. I have carried around this guilt on my shoulders for nearly ten years. I have thought about it, worried about it, wondered about it. I have to move on, but I do not have to forget. I have to let him decide whether to be upset about it or not…it is the only gift I can give him where that is concerned. And, if he chooses, someday I will show this to him. I will tell him that I made a mistake and he paid the price; I will tell him that sometimes we hurt the people we love most, even when we don’t intend to; I will tell him that the experience changed me and protected his brothers; I will tell him how incredibly sorry I am and how I should have stood up for him. But I won’t forget. Ever.