by Rosemary Romberg
(originally published in Mothering Magazine, No. 22, Winter 1982, p. 34-39.)
When children are born and people grow up in this world, we expect each individual to keep all parts of his or her body. All people have hands and feet, fingers and toes, noses and ears. People are unquestionably accorded that basic right. Most people would be aghast at the idea that any individual should be unwittingly deprived of any part of his or her body. People without their expected body parts are usually regarded as unusual.Our feelings toward tiny babies inspire emotions of tenderness and protection. Babies are to cuddle and hold, to he kept secure in their parents' arms. Babies should nurse (preferably) at their mother's breast and sleep peacefully, safe and secure from any harm. Parents want to protect their infants from any unnecessary pain, discomfort, or unhappiness. The idea of cutting, pinching, or tearing the baby's skin, of injuring that baby, causing him to experience pain, crying, or bleeding, is totally against what most parents want for their infants.In the United States people make one glaring exception to these "rules" in that the foreskin of the penis of most newborn baby boys is routinely amputated shortly after birth.
As an American middle class woman I had always thought penises were supposed to look a
I gave birth to our first child, a son, by the Lamaze method, and successfully nursed him. However, I gave birth in a "traditional" hospital in which the baby was separated from me, kept in a central nursery, and brought to me on a four hour feeding schedule. Therefore I had little knowledge or control over what was being done to my baby.
Two years later after our second son's birth I again became pregnant. During this time I underwent a tremendous amount of change in my thinking about what I wanted for this birth and baby. We made the unconventional and daring (for that time and place) decision to go
We made plans to use only dim lighting when our baby was born. We would hold massage and speak softly to our new baby and welcome him into the world with gentleness and love. We would delay the clamping of the umbilical cord. No silver nitrate or other chemicals would be placed in the baby's eyes .
The idea occurred to me that if our new baby was a boy, perhaps he should not be circumcised. However, I knew practically nothing about it . None of our doctors ever gave us any information about the operation - pros, cons, why or how it was done. Although mothers regularly discuss at length all aspects of pregnancy, birth, and infant care, I had rarely heard anyone else talk about circumcision. While I regularly discussed in detail such things as nutrition, breastfeeding,
What incomprehensible force brought me from this beautiful, untraumatized birth at home to a strange doctor's office one week later - sitting there frightened and reluctant, holding my
Many people choose not to believe that the newborn infant feels any pain when his foreskin is smashed, slit, torn back from the glans, clamped and cut off. Circumcision, in its primitive origins, was often deliberately intended to be a means of torture and a test of endurance in adolescent initiation rites.We think of' that as Barbaric, yet regularly do the same thing to babies. There have been no documented studies to support the popular assumption that babies have little or no feelings. Curiously, the earliest modern writings on infant circumcision, those that appeared in medical publications around the beginning of the 20th century, were full of concern for the feelings of the helpless infant. (19., 20.) The belief that infants feel no pain came about years later during the 1920's, 30's, and 40's, during an era that advocated bottle feeding instead of nursing, rigid schedules, separation from mother and baby following birth, and rigid toilet training. Parents were warned not to rock, hold, or cuddle their babies for fear that they would "spoil" them. Popular attitudes and practices during that time totally ignored the baby's feelings and needs in many different areas.Recent scientifically controlled studies on the reactions of newborns to being circumcised have revealed that the infant characteristically lapses into a deep, "semi-coma", non-rapid-eye movement type of sleep which is an abnormal sleep pattern for newborn infants. This is clearly a stress-withdrawal reaction. (21.) Because some babies do not cry out in response to being circumcised, but instead lapse into this deep sleep, some observers have falsely believed that the operation is not painful for infants.Another study, attempting to evaluate gender differences among newborn infants, found that boy babies were generally fussier and more restless than baby girls. However, it was found that the greater fussiness on the part of the baby boys was due to recent circumcision - not gender. When the study was repeated, using only non-circumcised newborn boys, no behavioral differences between girl and boy babies were found. (22.)
Update: In 1985 I gave birth to our fifth child and fourth son. He has been left intact. Even I, after years of research, activism, and writing my book, was surprised to learn how ridiculously simple the whole matter truly is. Correct care of an intact son requires virtually no thought or action at all.
When Kevin was four I gave birth to our sixth and last child, another daughter. Why this baby did not have a penis required considerable explanation to a perplexed four year old boy.
When he was 7 years old I explained to him what circumcision was all about and why his penis was different from his Daddy’s and his brothers’. (He had never asked about it, and I don’t think he had ever even noticed.) As opposed as I now am to circumcision, I left open the option for my son that he could have the operation done if he felt that he wanted to "match" the other males in our family. As I was telling him how some guys have the foreskin cut off, Kevin’s face took on a horrified, frightened expression! His eyes grew big and his hands were cupped over his genitals as he shouted emphatically: "No!! That is NEVER going to happen to ME!!!"
As of this writing (2000) my son is a teenager. He could not care less what anyone else’s penis looks like. Although he is facing all the usual teenaged "crises" right now, the matter of foreskins or the lack of them is a total "non-issue" for him.
1. Bryk. Felix
Sex and Circumcision: A Study of Phallic Worship and Mutilation in
Men and Women Brandon House, North Hollywood, CA., c. 19672. Loeb. E.M.
"The Blood Sacrifice Complex"
American Anthropological Association Memoirs, 30, p. 3-40 .
3. Bettelheim, Bruno
"Symbolic Wounds" p. 230-240.
from Reader in Comparative ReligionLessa, William A., & Vogt, Evon Z.
Harper & Row, Publishers, New York, 2nd Ed., c. 1965
4. Remondino, P.C.
History of Circumcision from Earliest Times to the Present
Ams Press, New York, c. 1974
(original ed.) F.A. Davis Co. 1891
5. Marcus, Irwin M., M.D., & Francis, John J., M.D.
Masturbation: >From Infancy to Senescence
National Universities Press, Inc., N.Y. c. 1975,Ch. 16, "Authority and Masturbation", p. 381-409,
by Spitz, Rene A., M.D.
6. Barker-Benfield, G.J.
The Horrors of the Half Known Life
Harper Colophon Books, New York, c. 1976.
7. Persky, Lester, M.D.
"Epidemiology of Cancer of the Penis"
Recent Results of Cancer Research, Berlin, l977, p. 97-109.
8. Aitken-Swan, Jean, & Baird, D.
"Circumcision and Cancer of the Cervix"British Journal of Cancer, Vol. 19, No 2, June 1965, p. 2 1 7-227 .
9. Terris. Milton, M.D.; Wilson, Fitzpatrick, M.D., & Nelson, James H., Jr.,
"Relation of Circumcision to Cancer of' the Cervix "
American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Vol. 117, No. 8,
Dec. 15, 1973, p. 1056-1066
10. Gee, William F., M.D. & Ansell, Julian S., M.D.
"Neonatal Circumcision: A Ten-Year Overview: With Comparison of the
Gomco Clamp and the Plastibell Device."
Pediatrics, Vol. 58, 1976, p. 824-827.11. Grimes, David A., M.D.
"Routine Circumcision of the Newborn Infant; A Reappraisal"
American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Vol. 130, No. 2,
Jan. 15, 1978, p. 125-129.
12. Kaplan, George W., M.D.
"Circumcision - An Overview"
Current Problems in Pediatrics, Year Book Medical Publishers, Inc.,
Vol. 7, No. 5, March 1977.13. Limaye, Ramesh D., M.D. & Hancock, Reginald A., M .D.
"Penile Urethral Fistula as a Complication of Circumcision "
The Journal of Pediatrics, Vol. 72, No. 1, Jan. 1968, p. 105-106.
14. Shulman, J., M.D., Ben-Hur, N., M.D.; & Neuman, Z., M.D. (Israel)
"Surgical Complications of Circumcision"
American Journal of Diseases of Children, Vol. 107,
Feb. 1961, p. 149-154.
15. Money, John, Ph.D.
"Ablatio Penis, Normal Male Infant Sex-Reassigned as a Girl" *Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1975, p. 65-71 .
(*The full story of this experience is related in detail in the recently published book:
As Nature Made Him
HarperCollins Publishers, NY., c. 2000.)
16. Mackenzie, A. Ranald, M.D.
"Meatal Ulceration Following Neonatal Circumcision"
Obstetrics and Gynecology, Vol. 28, No. 2, August 1966, p. 221-223.
17. Freud, Paul, M.D.
The Ulcerated Urethral Meatus in Male Children"The Journal of Pediatrics, Vol. 31, No. 2, August 1947, p.131-141.
18. Brennemann, Joseph, M.D.
"The Ulcerated Meatus in the Circumcised Child"
American Journal of Diseases of Children, Vol. 21, l920, p. 38-47.
19 . DeLee, Joseph B., A.M ., M.D .
Obstetrics for Nurses
W.B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia, PA., 7th ed. 1924, (1st ed. 1901 )
p. 436-440.20. Valentine, Ferd C., M.D.
Journal A.M.A., March 16, 1901, p. 712-713.
21. Emde, Robert N., M.D.; Harmon, Robert J., M.D.; Metcalf,
David, M.D.; Koenig, Kenneth L., M.D.; & Wagonfield, Samuel, M.D.
"Stress and Neonatal Sleep"
Psychosomatic Medicine, Vol. 33, No. 6, Nov.-Dec. 1971, p. 491-497.
22. Richards, M.P.M.; Bernal, J.F.; & Brackbill, Yvonne
"Early Behavioral Differences: Gender or Circumcision?"
Developmental Psychobiology, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1976, p. 89-95 .23. Gairdner, Douglas, M.D.
"The Fate of the Foreskin - A Study of Circumcision"
British Medical Journal, Dec. 24, 1949, p. 1433-1437.
24. Reichelderfer, Thomas E., M.D. & Fraga, Juan R., M.D.
reprint from Care of the Well Baby
by Shepard, Kenneth S., M.D. (ed.)
J.B. Lippencott Co., 1968, p. 10.