Taking The Bull By The…(In Support Of Moms Who Circumcise)

In a recent Thursday Paragraph, I called for women to stop cyberbullying. The discussion really took off, but off-topic. Instead of cyberbullying, the bulk of the comments have revolved around circumcision. I think there are some important points to be made on this issue, but I also think there are people who would want to jump in and comment who wouldn’t know to look for such a discussion under a post about cyberbullying, so I’ve decided to “formalize” the discussion. I’d also like to jump in at this point and say something, so I’m starting us off with a point to ponder. I know it will be easy for this post to be misconstrued, so I am going to state right up front:

–This is a defense of MOMS WHO CIRCUMCISE, not of CIRCUMCISION ITSELF–

Several commenters on the Thursday Paragraph claimed that circumcision leads to a variety of negative outcomes. While it is a minor medical procedure and all minor medical procedures carry a (small, non-zero) risk, there are no studies that have conclusively linked circumcision to major detrimental medical outcomes in the vast majority of cases. Neither are there studies that show major medical benefits associated with circumcision, which is why (in the US) the medical establishment neither officially supports nor officially opposes circumcision. (Note: I always love reading scientific studies. If you know of a scientific study that I’ve missed, post the citation information in the comments and I’ll take a look, and thanks in advance!)

Having said that, here’s why I think it’s important not to flame, bully, or criticize the moms who circumcise even if you don’t agree with circumcision: they are doing the best they can by their children, just as you are.

While it’s certainly possible that SOME crazy people make parenting decisions with the ultimate goal of harming their children, or are so grossly ignorant as to be negligent, the vast majority of mothers worry INTENSELY about how to parent “right.” Take me, for instance. When I was pregnant, I didn’t find out what I was having. My gut told me I was having a boy, so I went through a thought process like this:

Should I circumcise? What does the AAP say? Research, research…they don’t take a stand. What do the other major national medical establishments say? Research, research…they don’t take a stand. What does the medical literature show? Research, research…nothing conclusive. What are the possible risks and benefits? Research, research…there is a small risk of minor complication with circumcision, and a very, very, very small risk of major complication with circumcision. There are no conclusive major benefits to circumcision. What about the baby’s self esteem…maybe that’s the bigger deal. Will the baby be happier if he looks like his daddy? Will most of the boys in school be circumcised or uncircumcised? What is the circumcision rate in the U.S? What about where I live? What about in my socioeconomic demographic?…and on and on and on.

All my desire to parent well, all my research, all my problem-solving poured into making a “good” parenting decision. I read info from anti-circumcision groups. I read info from pro-circumcision groups. I read testimonies of men who said they’d had horrible, lifelong physical and psychological fallout from being circumcised. I read testimonies of men who said they’d had horrible, lifelong physical and psychological fallout from NOT being circumcised. I was terrified that no matter what I did, I would violate my son’s wishes. That if I circumcised him, he’d be angry (and justifiably so!) that I’d stolen a piece of his body. That if I did not circumcise him, he’d be angry (and justifiably so!) that I’d forgone a very simple and generally problem-free medical procedure that perhaps he wanted after all, and that having the procedure later in life would be major and painful.

In the end, I was saved by the bell…I gave birth to a girl. Honestly, avoiding having to make the circumcision decision was one of the biggest reliefs of my life, because despite my incredible desire to be a good mother, I agonized over the best route to take.

Now, there will be those of you who call my reasoning into question. There will be those who flame me for the way I did my thinking. If you indict me for THINKING, though, there’s a flaw in your logic, because considering all the options and researching all the outcomes is one way to make a good parenting decision, and no one knows (because I haven’t chosen to divulge this information) how I eventually decided. So please don’t judge, because you have no idea what conclusion all my reading and thinking eventually led me to.

Why haven’t I divulged what my decision would have been? Because it doesn’t matter. Because my point here isn’t to share what my hypothetical son’s penis would have looked like; it’s to say that good moms think hard about parenting, and good moms often find that despite all their thinking, the road isn’t perfectly clear, and they have to make really tough calls. You might not agree with all another mom’s choices, but I think it’s worth respecting the fact that if you chose A and another mom chose B, it’s not because she didn’t think it through, or because she thought it through and then decided, “Oh, well, I think I’ll do the worst possible thing for my kid.” No, likely she thought it through, weighed the options, and found they added up differently than you found. And you know what? Maybe you thought of something she didn’t. Or (gasp!) maybe she thought of something you didn’t. Or maybe you both went through an identical thought process and came down on opposite sides of the issue. You can have made different decisions and both be good moms.

I am guessing that the point of this post is going to be totally lost in the comments. The comments will likely feature a parade of all that is wrong with circumcision, and all the harm it can do. But please, as you get ready to comment, remember the point of the post. This is not a post about whether circumcision is good or bad. It’s a post about whether the moms who are doing the circumcising are trying just as hard as those who aren’t circumcising to do the right thing by their sons. If we assume that they are (and I think that point has been well made), and if we assume that circumcision is a parenting decision that isn’t ongoing, and takes place only once per child, then there is no logical reason nor is there a justification for flaming moms regarding their circumcision choices.

I’m going to go out on a limb and extend the call to be gentle to one another beyond the issue circumcision. For instance, many women torture themselves mentally over whether or not to vaccinate. I think the science strongly supports vaccination, as I’ve addressed elsewhere, but I’d be wrong to call the moms who don’t vaccinate “bad moms,” or “abusive,” as one poster on the Thursday Paragraph that started this all dared to call circumcising moms. It’s one thing to initiate a peaceful discussion about differences of opinion and parenting style; it’s another thing entirely to name-call, to use inflammatory language, and to indict.

We don’t all parent the same. We’re not all identical (thank goodness!). But I think we do share the quality of being moms who want the best for our kids. And I think that’s something we can all respect.

Ok…have at it.

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12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Catherine
    Nov 02, 2011 @ 16:52:03

    Nicely put. That’s the process we went through too. Almost exactly. I did appreciate the comments in your earlier piece because they gave me a lot to think about. I have wondered for some time about the line between a babys’ human rights and a parent’s right to decide. Thing is, the moms who iron their daughter’s still developing breasts with hot rocks in parts of Africa are doing the best they can too. And genuinely believe it’s the right thing for them. And parents who smack, which I am quite sensitive about believe the same. At what point do those things become a violation of the baby’s rights? I don’t know. But I think it’s an excellent topic for us to consider in our decision making processes. A baby’s right to breast milk? A baby’s right to freedom of religion?

    Reply

    • SquintMom
      Nov 02, 2011 @ 17:00:37

      For sure. We agonize over just about every decision we make. If I vaccinate and my child is the one in millions who has a reaction, will my child blame me? Will other parents? Will I blame myself? If I don’t vaccinate and my child is the one in a few thousand who gets the measles and has permanent brain damage or dies, will the child blame me? Will other parents? Will I blame myself? It goes on and on.
      -If I raise my child in a religion, am I violating their rights? What if I don’t?
      -If I let my child cry it out, will I do damage to their psyche? What if I don’t do CIO and I go months and months with no more than an hour of sleep in a stretch and get in a car accident and we are injured or killed?
      -Should my child sleep with me? If they don’t, will I damage their sense of attachment? If they do, will other parents judge me? Could the child someday claim I “stunted their independence” or “caused them emotional trauma” because they have memories of sleeping in bed with mom and dad?
      -If I wean early, will I harm my baby physically or psychologically? If I extended wean and my child has later memories of nursing, could the child claim he/she had been traumatized by the experience?

      Good grief, we can make ourselves crazy with the worry. There’s no one best way to parent. The only thing for certain is that we’re all finding our way, and we need SUPPORT, not CONDEMNATION.

      Reply

  2. Alice Callahan
    Nov 03, 2011 @ 15:10:18

    So well said, Squintmom. Thanks for writing this. The same logic could be applied to many of the controversial parenting decisions that get people all up in arms and make them say hurtful things. Simply practicing empathy (and modeling it for our kids) goes a long way.

    Reply

  3. mara
    Nov 05, 2011 @ 01:49:26

    I really like this article. As parents there are so many decisions we need to make on our childrens’ behalf, and no matter how much research we do whether it be about circumcision or any other hot debatable topic it really comes down to us making a choice we feel is the best for our children.
    It is sad that parents feel they need bash each others choices when they are different to their own.
    All we can hope for is that the choices that we make for our kids will turn them into well rounded individuals, who are happy, and enjoy life.
    I doubt majority of parents make choices to intentionlly harm their offspring. Why don’t the ones that bully see that?

    Reply

    • SquintMom
      Nov 06, 2011 @ 17:11:13

      Well stated!

      Reply

    • Denise
      Mar 21, 2012 @ 12:17:54

      I guess this is somewhat in defense of mothers, because I have never been acquainted with a mother I thought would harm a hair on her babys head.
      But should mothers take the right over another individuals body to cosmetically alter disfigure or reduce his penis size?
      In other words, do moms want this choice or so called right to make such an irreversible decision? This is not a shot, or a dose of medicine or a spanking…

      Reply

      • SquintMom
        Mar 21, 2012 @ 15:44:58

        True. But there is good evidence to suggest it reduces risk of HIV, HPV, penile cancer, and now (per brand new research), prostate cancer. Women might circumcise on the grounds that they believe they’re positively impacting future health, just as a mom who has a child with a history of tonsil infections might choose for the child to have the tonsils removed. This is an alteration of the child’s body, and is done without their consent, but is done by well-meaning parents in the interest of health.

      • SquintMom
        Mar 21, 2012 @ 15:45:39

        Also, circumcision has no effect whatsoever upon penis size.

  4. lena
    May 07, 2012 @ 16:05:15

    I love this article….I as a mother would die for my children. We don’t want to cause harm to our child in anyway. I cant stand mom bullys they are awful. All mothers that love there children have true intentions. Much love to my fellow mama’s.

    Reply

  5. cheryl
    Jul 10, 2012 @ 21:30:07

    i dream to write as well as you. this post was so eloquently put and thank you for writing it. like you, i agonized over whether or not to circumcise my son (yes, i did have a son so i did have to make a decision!). but circumcision really is just one of the many, many decisions i have had to make for my son since he was born. other decisions i have had to make after doing research and interviewing other parents with more experience include: what foods to introduce first? should we sleep train him or not? for how long to breastfeed? when should he start eating solids? and because he has eczema, how much steroids to use and for how long?

    and he’s only 7 months old!

    i have so many more questions and i’m sure more will sprout as we continue on this journey…

    but yes you are right: at the end of the day, regardless of our decisions, all of us moms/parents really just want to do the best for our child.

    amen to your post.

    Reply

    • SquintMom
      Jul 11, 2012 @ 11:44:10

      Thanks for your kind comments! I agree that parenting can be mind-boggling, and so much more so in a culture of “mommy wars” that seems to have made criticizing the parenting of others socially appropriate. All ou can ever do is your best.

      Reply

    • SquintMom
      Jul 11, 2012 @ 13:52:37

      Cheryl,
      I meant to add this link earlier in response to your comment, and forgot to. I don’t know whether you’ve read it or not, but it’s great article, and is very freeing for those of us who sometimes worry that we’re “not good enough”:
      http://powerofmoms.com/2012/04/your-children-want-you/

      Reply

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