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A few months ago, a group of my female friends got into a discussion (or rather, a debate) about circumcising infant boys. A few of the ladies expressed remorse, claiming that they now see the procedure as "similar to female genital mutilation" and would never do it again if given the chance.
When I said I was fine with my decision to circumcise my sons (who are both teenagers now), many of the ladies seemed bothered. One insinuated that if I really loved my sons, I never would have had their body parts altered in any way.
Until then, I hadn't thought much about the subject. When I became a mother, I didn't have strong feelings about circumcision either way. In fact, it was my husband who was adamant that our sons would be circumcised.
As a child, my husband felt extreme embarrassment because he, like many Latino males, was not circumcised. In his nearly all-white school, he became acutely aware of the difference of his genitalia due to teasing in the boys' locker room. As a young teenager, my husband believed his uncircumcised penis was something to be ashamed of, and he never wanted his own children to feel that kind of pain from being teased.
My husband was deployed to Japan during the birth of our first son, and when I called him to share the news, he expressed joy at our new arrival and then said, "Make sure our son gets circumcised before you leave the hospital."
All I had known about circumcision was that it was believed to be healthier for boys. At the time, pediatricians recommended circumcision for boys as a way to reduce their exposure to certain sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV), as well as to limit the occurrence of urinary tract infections and even penile cancer.
In 1998, when my son was born, the American Association of Pediatrics had yet to publish their findings that "adequate analgesia should be provided whenever newborn circumcision is performed." That meant that my son's circumcision happened au naturel, without any form of numbing or pain relief, and it looked like it hurt.
I remember my son's red face when they wheeled him back to my hospital room after the procedure. He looked like he was in pain and I felt heartbroken for him. The pediatric nurse instructed me to breastfeed him to make him feel better, so I did and it seemed to work. He instantly quieted down and relaxed.
I was told how to care for his post-circumcised penis and did as instructed. Within a week, he was completely healed and had no further problems.
In 2012, the American Association of Pediatrics revised their statement about the benefits and risks of infant male circumcision. They found the health benefits outweighed the potential dangers. The same cannot be said about female genital mutilation, which has serious repercussions for young women who undergo this barbaric, scientifically unsound practice.
In 1999, when I gave birth to our second son, I talked to the pediatrician about my concerns regarding pain during circumcision. He informed me that the American Association of Pediatrics had instituted new requirements that all boys circumcised in hospitals were to be given medication to reduce their pain during the procedure. Apparently they had finally realized baby boys do indeed feel pain when having their foreskin cut.
The doctor also explained they would not be cutting my second son's foreskin with a scalpel the way my oldest had experienced. Instead, they were using something called a Plastibell; a clear plastic ring that would slowly pinch the foreskin until it essentially died and fell off. How's that for a visual?
There was almost no maintenance required for the Plastibell, and when my youngest underwent the procedure, he seemed to have absolutely no pain. After about seven days, the device fell off and my son had a normal-looking, circumcised penis.
I've asked my sons how they feel about having been circumcised. Their responses generally lie somewhere between "great!" and "don't care either way." Neither child has any memory of the experience nor does my oldest remember the pain he felt as an infant.
Since my friends made the comment that male circumcision is similar to female genital mutilation—something I am ardently and passionately against—I did some research on the subject. I can't help but disagree with their correlation.
While some may argue that it is better to wait for boys to become adults and make the decision for themselves, I disagree. Adult circumcision is much more painful and poses a higher risk of infection and long-term damage than infant circumcision.
Do I feel bad about circumcising my sons without their consent? No. I'm no advocate for circumcision, but I do believe it's a highly personal choice for families to make. Parents shouldn't shame one another if their decisions conflict with other's beliefs, and no one should feel like they are traumatizing their child for opting to have a scientifically supported procedure done to their child.