Life Stories: Why I Didn’t Have My Son Circumcised — and Still Question My Decision

When my son Henry was born, and the hospital urologist came to visit us at his bedside in the NICU, it took all my self-restraint not to laugh in the doctor’s face when he broached the topic of circumcision.

Although he had just been born, Henry (pictured with me, above) had already endured much more than a typical newborn: At his 20-week gestational ultrasound, we discovered that he would be born with a severe birth defect called spina bifida, a condition where the spinal column fails to close in the first month of pregnancy. Right out of the womb, Henry needed two major surgeries to treat his condition — one surgery to repair the lesion on his lower back, and another to insert a shunt that would control his hydrocephalus, an effect of the spina bifida.

So when the urologist approached us in the NICU and asked whether we would circumcise him, I managed a tight smile and cut the conversation short as politely as I could. Two major surgeries were quite enough, thanks. I wasn’t about to willingly sign on for a third.

The choice not to circumcise, we thought, was a no-brainer. Increasingly, it seems unnecessary for a growing majority of other parents, as well. In the U.S., circumcision rates have fallen dramatically in recent decades,from 83 percent in the 1960s to 77 percent in 2010, with recent reports suggesting that it has dipped even lower. Opponents of circumcision (so-called “intactivists”) deride it as “purely cosmetic” and “unnecessary,” an assertion that’s not hard to find if you spend any time on parenting-focused messaging boards and Facebook groups.

Photo: Sarah Watts

But it can be very necessary for some, doctors say, reiterating in a 2012 AAP statement that the health benefits of newborn circumcision outweigh the potential risks. Among the benefits is a decreased risk for HIV and penile cancer, as well as a decreased rate of urinary tract infections (UTI), according to mayoclinic.org. For circumcised males, the incidence of getting a UTI in the first year of life drops from 1 percent to .001.

A one percent risk of UTIs wasn’t compelling enough for me to consider circumcision for Henry — but all that changed one afternoon when he was six months old. After a particularly long nap, I snuck into Henry’s room to check on him — and what I found in his crib had me racing for the telephone. Henry’s cheeks were bright red, his hair was matted with sweat, and as I laid him against my shoulder, he felt like the inside of a furnace. Panic-stricken, I relayed his symptoms to our pediatric nurse, and nearly dropped the phone when I read his temperature on the thermometer: It was an astounding 105.7 degrees.

The culprit, we learned later, was a urinary tract infection — something statistically uncommon, but potentially very serious. We would never know for sure what caused it. Because of the spina bifida, we are required to catheterize Henry intermittently throughout the day. Was it the catheter that caused his infection? Was it his foreskin? That afternoon at home, as Henry recovered, I spoke to other moms I knew whose kids also had spina bifida. To my surprise, they admitted that regardless of what had caused their sons’ UTIs, circumcision had, for some, helped cut the incidence drastically. Instantly, I felt a pang of guilt.

Six weeks later, Henry’s temperature skyrocketed again.  After another visit to the urgent care and another round of heavy antibiotics, doctors diagnosed him with yet another UTI, and my resolve weakened even further. Was circumcision the right choice for us after all?

Photo: Sarah Watts

It’s Henry I think of when I hear other parents deride circumcision. Opponents of circumcision like to bring up “bodily autonomy,” stating that it’s harmful and disrespectful to the child to make permanent medical decisions without their consent. Many parents I know have sneered at circumcision, calling it  “barbaric,“ comparing it to female genital mutilation, which has no medical benefit whatsoever. But what burns the most is when I hear other mothers call it “unnecessary.” Because it truly never seemed necessary to me either — until, one day, it did.

Our choice not to circumcise isn’t one I regret, per se. Rather, it’s a decision that I still grapple with, every single day. Did we make the right decision with Henry? Could we have prevented these UTIs, and could we prevent future ones? By refusing to circumcise, by respecting his “bodily autonomy,” are we risking kidney damage, penile cancer — even HIV? Now that he’s 2 and getting recurrent UTIs, we have to revisit whether or not circumcision would be medically necessary now, as it’s something that can be done at any point in a male’s life. It’s something we’re wavering back and forth on right now, wondering, how many UTIs are too many? How many high fevers does he have to spike before we decide he needs to be circumcised?

I don’t know. I just don’t know. After our saga with UTIs, I don’t have a “stance” on circumcision, and I don’t judge anyone who chooses differently. I have no idea what we’ll do with our future sons. And it’s a hard space to live in, this space of not-knowing. Right now Henry has been UTI-free for over six months, and, as UTIs are more common in the first year of life, it’s our hope that he’s outgrown them now as an otherwise-healthy two-year-old.

But here’s one thing I do know: If we have another baby boy, and a urologist approaches us in the hospital and asks whether we’ll circumcise? I know I won’t be so quick to laugh him off again.

January 5, 2016

13 thoughts on “Life Stories: Why I Didn’t Have My Son Circumcised — and Still Question My Decision

  • January 5, 2016 at 9:22 PM
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    Sarah, This is a very interesting article! You can trust that your decision to circumcise is the right one! I was reading this afternoon about the nature of the Mosaic law in the Bible as being, in large part, a health and wellness law. Circumcision of males was required. I believe that God gave this to the Jews to prevent disease and illness. Many people doubt it and they and their children suffer from the consequences. Genesis 17:11
    I hope that your son’s health improves and that he is blessed.

    Reply
    • January 6, 2016 at 1:31 AM
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      Says someone who probably has no clue that all mammals are created with foreskin. Both male & female! For women it is the labia & clitoral hood.
      Says someone who probably has no idea what having foreskin is like. Is biased because he was cut as an infant. And is most likely ignorant to the fact that male foreskin has 16 biological functions, both protective & sexual, all beneficial to both him & his partner! That it has 20,000 specialized nerves. Not regular nerves, but sensitive & SPECIALIZED… Or that it is not “extra skin” but rather an important & active part of the penis’s tissue!

      Says someone who probably has no clue that over 80% of the world’s men are whole, intact, natural… The way they were born & meant to be… It is only America who thinks it is necessary to cut babies. And they literally use every excuse possible to do it & justify it. Outside the US, only small regions of Jewish & Muslims practice it for religion. Which is changing. Many are reconsidering and do not anymore.
      P.S. the bible is against circumcision. Read the new testament.

      http://www.stopcirc.com/christian.html

      Reply
  • January 5, 2016 at 9:41 PM
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    Its still not too late for this to take place.What else do you need mother!!!!Several UTI’s and other mothers testamony…what do you want !!!I want to be nice ,but with other issues with your sons health and your refusal really perplexes me.This procedure was established back in biblical days for cleanliness….not for anything else.So if our God set this guidline..I would be more apt to follow that route.

    Reply
  • January 5, 2016 at 11:14 PM
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    Your son would have had the UTI’s anyway and you would have had parts removed for absolutely nothing.

    The UTI’s is a myth to get people to cut, nothing more. Just don’t retract him and clean like a finger and he will be fine.

    Do not cut your following sons.

    Reply
  • January 6, 2016 at 1:13 AM
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    Question? Were u advised to retract him? Many american doctors tell parents to retract the foreskin to clean under it. They will even, during pediatrician appointments, without permission, retract it themselves. And this is a huge No No! You should never ever retract the foreskin in infancy or toddler years. It is fused to the glans to keep out bacteria and other contaminates. To help prevent infections.
    Many are taught wrong in school, and do not realize they are giving you wrong intact care instructions. Other do know better, but do it on purpose. Why? Because the complications that follow, allow that doctor to recommend circumcision, which makes them money.

    Either way, UTIs can be treated with antibiotics. Make sure he drinks plenty of water & cranberry juice. And possibly get a second opinion, to make sure he really is getting them so often. It isn’t common, but some people are just more prone to them. I had a female friend in high school who had UTIs every other week. I’m not exaggerating. Always had them. And she was clean. It was like a phase almost. Because she eventually stopped getting them after a couple years. But she is the only person I’ve known struggle like that. Like I said, some people are like that. It isn’t common. Especially for males. But cutting is not required. Don’t circ him!

    Definitely research! Not just all you can about circumcision, but also what Foreskin actually is… A lot of people no longer circ their babies. With these iinformational resources, you’ll understand why!

    Educational Video, “Elephant in the Hospital”
    m.youtube.com/watch?v=Ceht-3xu84I

    http://www.yourwholebaby.org
    http://www.savingsons.org
    http://www.drmomma.org
    http://www.intactamerica.org
    http://www.mendocomplain.com
    http://www.doctorsopposingcircumcision.org
    http://www.cirp.org
    http://www.stopthecut.org
    http://www.circumstitions.com
    http://www.barreloforanges.com
    http://www.sexasnatureintendedit.com
    http://www.foreskinfacts.com
    http://www.thewholenetwork.org

    Other Informational Links:
    http://www.gosh.nhs.uk/medical-conditions/...

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/moral-...

    Complications:
    newborns.stanford.edu/CircComplicat…

    Bible:
    http://www.stopcirc.com/christian.html

    Medical research studies on circumcision: 
    http://www.circumcision.org/studies.htm
    http://www.thewholenetwork.org/14/post/201...

    http://www.savingsons.org/2007/01/circumci...

    FUNCTIONS OF FORESKIN (what is lost due to circumcision)
    http://www.drmomma.org/2009/09/functions-o...

    http://www.noharmm.org/advantage.htm

    http://www.circumcision.org/foreskin.htm

    http://www.norm.org/notjust.html

    http://www.norm.org/lost.html

    How smegma serves the penis:
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smegma

    http://www.cirp.org/library/normal/wright1/

    Physicians Guide to the Intact Penis: 
    http://www.doctorsopposingcircumcision.org...

    http://www.nocirc.org/publish/pamphlet5.html

    http://www.cirp.org/library/hygiene/

    http://www.cirp.org/library/normal/aap/
    (American Academy of Pediatrics guide)

    Parents Guide to proper lifelong care of the intact penis: 
    http://www.thewholenetwork.org/14/post/201

    http://www.thewholenetwork.org/3/post/2010...

    An excerpt from above link:
    “There is no medical reason to do it routinely…

    Circumcision isn’t the majority for newborns anymore. According to The New York Times, the infant circumcision rate is down to 32%. That means 68% of your son’s locker room will likely have natural penises. If you circumcise, he will probably ask you why he’s different from his buddies…

    6.) Natural penises are easier to take care of during the diaper-changing years. Just wipe it like a finger. No retracting, no mess or fuss. Compare that to having to care for an open wound in a diaper.”
    … …
    “The foreskin (prepuce) has been described as a simple fold of skin, with its structures and functions ignored. The foreskin actually is a complex organ, an integral part of the penis, with many important functions. ”

    Books worth reading:
    1. “What your Doctor May Not Tell You About Circumcision” by Paul M. Fleiss, MD
    2. “Unspeakable Mutilations: Circumcised Men Speak Out” by Lindsay R. Watson
    3. “Circumcision: The Hidden Trauma” by Ronald Goldman, PH.D
    4. “Sex As Nature Intended It” by Kristen O’Hara (and) George C. Denniston, MD

    Reply
  • January 6, 2016 at 2:08 AM
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    My 19 month whole son has never had a UTI. My best friend’s 6 and 15 year old whole son’s have never had UTIs.

    Please do not circumcise your next child. Our children have the right to keep their whole body.

    Harper M, Fowlis G. Management of urinary tract infections in men, 2007.

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/store/10.1002/tre.8/asset/8_ftp.pdf?v=1&t=ij2ha4ow&s=9a6b877326a5f27218c00a41245568aa6df06e6a

    #Godmadehimperfect
    #knowbetterdobetter
    #humanrights4babyboys
    #hisbodyhischoice
    #keephimwhole
    #breakthecycleofabuse
    #stopinfantgenitalmutilation

    Reply
  • January 6, 2016 at 7:40 AM
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    Nope. No need to cut to prevent UTIs . My cousins boy had them
    All the time and was circumcised at birth. My son who had a Upj at birth was still left intact and he has never ever had a UTI ( nor did my husband who is intact and 38) please be proud if yourself for being a great mom and leaving him the way he was MEANT to be. I pray you future sons will be left alone..

    Reply
  • January 6, 2016 at 8:39 AM
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    I had recurrent high temp fevers and UTI as a baby. Should I have been cut? I am female. But there are plenty of places in the world where yes, mothers and even medical professionals would argue I would have been cleaner and healthier. It’s cultural nonsense. Anecdotal examples do not equal fact.

    Reply
  • January 6, 2016 at 9:07 AM
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    Take it from an 88 year old man—-Do circumcise the male. When not using the penis at my age. I had to get it done at age 78 because of it covering where I urinate and couldn’t and the buildup that came was terribly painful. Yes– I am not of the religion that requires it.

    Reply
    • January 6, 2016 at 10:34 AM
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      Your situation is not always the case for all males. That may have been your problem, but not men have this issue.
      And it was better to have had it done as a grown man. You were old enough to be given adequate anesthetics for pain. Old enough to be put to sleep even, for the procedure if you wanted. Old enough to be given strong legit pain meds post-op! Babies can’t. They are too young, and so it wouldn’t be as safe.
      Your foreskin was also already retractable. In toddlers & babies, the foreskin is fused to the glans, the way a nail is fused to your fingers or toes. It has to be ripped from the glans before they crush it & cut it. So hardly any pain relief, if any at all, and they feel all of that! He also does not have any immune system. Has less blood, so death due to hemorrhage is a high risk! And he wears a diaper, where he will pee & poop on his raw wound inbetween changes. At least you could use a toilet! At least you have some type of immune system, and more blood in your body. And at least you were old enough to understand what was happening to you, and gave your own consent! Babies deserve that same respect!

      Reply
  • January 6, 2016 at 4:41 PM
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    Really, it’s all about money. Hospitals charge for circumcision (which is done without anaesthetic) and then SELL THE FORESKINS to certain cosmetic companies to add to allegedly ‘anti-ageing’ formulations. In Western Europe, the only circumcisions normally done are for religious reasons, and there is not ahigher nstance of interuterine infections, hiv or other stds.

    Reply
  • January 13, 2016 at 3:50 PM
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    I am a physician who has researched the AAP’s policy statement on circumcision and i am well-versed on the topic. Your son’s UTI’s are related to frequent urinary catheterizations related to the spina bifida, NOT the presence of his foreskin. UTI’s invariably are related to anatomic defects, not the foreskin. Countries, such as Denmark, that do not routinely circumcise have the same or lower rates of UTI’s in their males. Circumcision prevents nothing except normal sexual and other functions. Your son will still get UTI’s after circumcision.

    Reply
  • January 14, 2016 at 3:43 PM
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    Don’t do it! I live in the Netherlands, circumcision is not done here neither in the rest of Europe. In the U.S. It is a heritage from victorian times, you probably know about that. Luckily we didn’t have people like Kellogs. Later docters still wanted to make money and started lying about risk. They are false, I never heard of infections. The foreskin has many functions! Your boy will lose so much.
    please google. In Europe everybody is an Intactivist, although nobody knows it because it it is not an issue, if i tell people about the practice in America they are outraged and horrified. Boys are born perfect, evolution or God don’t make mistakes.

    Reply

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