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To Circumcise or Not to Circumcise

When it comes to parenting, my husband and I are mostly on the same page. We don't spank our 5-year-old daughter. We're raising her as a Catholic, but we also want her to be tolerant of other faiths and beliefs. And I've learned to look the other way—while clenching my jaw in silent terror—during my husband's and daughter's bouts of extreme Nerf swordfighting.

I did say "mostly," after all.

But now that I'm pregnant with our son, one bet seems to be off: circumcision.

I want my son to have one, and my husband doesn't.

And I'm not just talking a kind of on-the-fence feeling. I'm talking verbal daggers (the marital version of extreme swordfighting), with my husband even questioning my ob-gyn friend's respect of the Hippocratic Oath. (Yes, he went there.)

While I feel there are so many reasons to recommend the practice—reports of a reduced risk of urinary tract infections, HIV and STDs (not that I want to think about that when it comes to my unborn child)—my husband has asked me, "Why would you perform unnecessary surgery on a baby?"

He has even doubled down by asking me to provide evidence from a respected pediatric organization that says it's medically necessary.

Well, Monday's announcement from the American Academy of Pediatrics stating that the medical benefits of the procedure outweigh the risks, a reversal of its 1999 statement, is my own weapon in the battle of protecting my son against potential infections and diseases.

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And that's how I feel about it. Do I like the idea of my days-old child being cut while he's just learning to accept life outside of the womb? No. Do I like the idea that he might have to feel any sort of pain, especially as an infant? No. And do I like the idea of juggling diaper-changing with caring for an open wound?

Let's put it this way: I'm the mom who fainted when her daughter fell off of a step stool and split her chin open. (I had to put my head between my knees after writing that last part, just FYI.)

But I would suck it up, for all of it, knowing that I was making a decision that would positively affect my child's health in the long run.

And it's hard to argue that the process isn't beneficial when studies have shown that it reduces the risk of contracting HIV and STDs such as syphilis, herpes and human papillomavirus, the last of which is linked to both penile and cervical cancers.

My husband, however, is unmoved. "If I had a son who I thought was planning sex tours to Haiti, then I would say yes to that," he says.

Forget Haiti, has he seen what's going on at local high schools?

But, honestly, I have other reasons, too.

First of all, high school is hard enough without having to be ridiculed for how you look—and, doubly, for something that was forced on you by your parents.

Second, it's easier to clean. Will my young (or, heck, teenage son) be careful to clean under his foreskin? (Thank God, doctors say parents don't need to do this when they're infants.) It's not as if I'll be able to check, as I would, say, his crazy-messy room.

Third, I've read arguments that say it makes sense for the boy to look like his father (yes, my husband is circumcised). It's not as confusing for the son once he discovers his own body and wants to ask questions of his dad.

Fourth, what if my son needs a circumcision later for medical reasons, or if he decides that he just wants to have one? Isn't that operation going to be way more painful than if he'd had the procedure in the hospital after getting the shock of his life just by being born?

I'll admit that my knee-jerk opening argument with my husband was a bit weak: "But everybody gets their sons circumcised!"

Not only was I not exactly right—one of my own friends actually hasn't circumcised her two young sons (along with just under half of other U.S. parents as of 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)—but he volleyed back with the fact that this is, after all, elective surgery, and that the AAP even conceded that the decision ultimately lies with the parents.

But the more research I've done, the more confident I feel in wanting to avoid health problems for my child.

And, honestly, I don't want my son to come back to me years later, saying, "Mom, you could have fought for my penis while I was still in the womb, and you didn't."

At which point, I'll turn to my husband, tell him to put down his sword, and let him know that he can do the honors of taking our son to the hospital.

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