We changed minds last weekend. I actually saw the process happen.
Sometimes like this: a pregnant mother walks up, admits she hasn’t researched circumcision and has no opinion on it, is told there’s no medical indication for routine circumcision, and walks off with her eyes glued to a handful of information she just received.
And sometimes like this: a mother of circumcised boys walks up, her attention caught by “117+ boys die” written on a frame, says “I didn’t know any of this when my boys were born,” is told “I’m so sorry,” and assures us “Don’t be sorry! You are doing a good thing. Tell EVERYONE.”
It was clear our message was supported, even by many of those who were hearing it for the very first time.
We wanted people to know about babies. That all babies want to remain whole. That babies of both sexes are equally “too cute to cut.” We wanted people to know about foreskin. That foreskin is normal. That its absence is a big deal.
We had a message about parents, too. We want to help you. We support you. We have answers.
1). We’re All On The Same Side
We know you love your babies.
Whether we’re ignorant to the truth, or victims of the cognitive dissonance that blinds us to the vested ethical dilemma. Whether we discovered the truth too late and struggle with how we can ever ask for forgiveness from our children for failing to ask the right questions, or any questions at all. Whether we agonize over the feeling that we don’t even deserve to speak our apologies aloud.
Whether we can’t seem to inspect the issue as closely as is imperative, because the thought of self-categorizing as a ‘victim’ is too daunting and unexpected. Whether we agree with the concept of genital autonomy but tremble at the thought of publicizing our stance.
Whether this or that… we all love our babies. We want the best for our babies. We’re on the same side.
2). Foreskin Is Normal & Healthy
I noticed several people flipping through our Intact Celebrities binder. One young woman thanked us for including it in our set-up because it helped show how foreskin is normal, healthy, and doesn’t in reality match the ‘unsexy’ and ‘undesirable’ image as demoted in American culture.
(Just a few of the names that make an appearance in the binder: Leonardo DiCaprio, Hugh Jackman, Will Smith, Charlie Hunnam, Keith Urban, Anthony Kiedis, John Mayer, Robert Pattinson, Colin Farrell, Prince William, Paul Rudd, Christian Bale, Elvis Presley, Daniel Craig, David Bowie, Frank Sinatra, Idris Elba, Orlando Bloom, Hugh Grant, Jason Statham, James Dean, Justin Bieber, Marvin Gaye, Gerard Butler, the list goes on…).
With an estimated 80% of the world’s men who have a normal intact penis, the United States is the only Western nation that still routinely practices circumcision (find out why).
3). Restoration Can Be Healing
One woman was hanging out at the end of our table acting distressed, angry even. Her husband stood beside her with a tiny baby who couldn’t have been more than a week old. She exchanged huffy comments with him under her breath and I began to worry about what could possibly be their story. I walked to the end of the table and introduced myself and our organization. I asked if she had any questions.
“Oh no, not me. I’m just trying to rub all of this in his face,” she replied, gesturing to her husband. “I didn’t want to circumcise. This was a HUGE fight with us.”
She didn’t try hiding the poison on her tongue and he didn’t dare defend himself with even a single-syllable word.
“Is your baby circumcised?” I asked. Normally I avoid outright asking about the state of a child’s genitals. It feels rather invasive. However, in this instance I sensed she was hoping I would probe for their story, so she could respond without divulging herself, so I reacted with my instinct.
“No, he’s NOT,” she huffed righteously. (I’ll bet that was some fight these folks had!). “See, honey? See? There are people here with a whole table advising against it.”
I wanted to lighten things up a bit from this soon-to-be marital counseling session and return to the intent at hand — making sure everyone leaves learning something new, or at least with a sparked curiosity to learn more on their own. So I showed them our intact care section and explained how easy it is to care for an intact boy.
“Oh I know,” she said. “I did my research.”
She shot a few eye-daggers in the direction of her husband.
I attempted to diffuse the hostility with something positive. I wondered if they’d heard of restoration? I said many men who were circumcised are turning to foreskin restoration to take back control over some of what was lost, which can also help as they process confusion or resentment they may feel while raising an intact boy.
For the first time in the entire conversation, the father spoke. He smiled, caressed his baby’s head, and said thank you, very much.
Restoration came up in conversations with regret parents, too. One young mother said her ten-year-old son underwent circumcision revision, for years experienced pain while urinating (to the point that he’d routinely refuse to use the bathroom) and tearing with every erection, and made constant pleas for help with the pain.
She confided that she thought he’d grow out of it but the years passed and his complaints seemed to only increase. She teared up as she confessed no one else knew about his constant struggle.
I told her restoration is an option that could grow enough slack skin to feel more comfortable in his body. Given that he is only a child, it’s advised that he becomes old enough to decide for himself if he wants to try it, and informed enough to begin that journey at his own behest without pressure or intrusion from others as the process is highly personal and usually private.
A man pushing around a sweet baby in a stroller found himself very surprised by the materials at our table.
“[This] was an amazing conversation. He had no idea that the foreskin had a purpose and function and that led to a conversation about how he thought the problems he and his guy friends were having and spoke about were just part of the natural normal condition of their penises. He was very interested in restoration, and said he was going to be speaking to his friends about the functions of the foreskin and that they needed to begin speaking up about this practice and helping each other become educated on the functions of the foreskin and he hopes to keep his friends from circumcising any of their sons.” – Amber Clark
The man was still lingering around the table after they finished talking, so I followed up with him.
He said he was amazed when he saw on one of our cards the difference between the glans of a normal penis and a circumcised one — a dried up, keratinized, discolored, scarred, unnaturally external organ versus the smooth, moist, richly colored, internal organ.
He laughed, “I definitely recognize one of them, for sure.”
He said he would look into different restoration methods and felt very excited and encouraged.
4). Intact Care Is Easy
The number one issue people message us about is to report a forced retraction, or a question about proper intact care. It seems like caring for a baby’s genitals would be complicated but thankfully nature designed their natural bodies to be as easy to care for as possible.
It’s so simple: for intact babies, all you have to do is… nothing! No pulling or pushing (the penis is a single unit in young children, not separate ‘parts’), no soap (which can irritate and alter pH), wipe only what is seen, any infections or rashes typical of the diapering days can be addressed in the same way they would for girls.
The first step to protecting a child from pointless bodily harm is to keep him intact. The second step? Educating oneself and baby’s caregivers about the dangers of premature forced foreskin retraction. Click here for ideas on how to prevent your child from being retracted.
Of course, sometimes in our advocacy it feels like preaching to the choir. When approached by someone who needs no convincing of the normalcy of foreskin, we still have room to discuss the importance of proper intact care and encourage them to help spread the word.
5). If Your Baby Is Kept Intact, You’ll Have Support & So Will He
Regret parents shared their stories with us and thanked us for our work (sometimes the strongest support is found in the seemingly unlikeliest of places).
Fair attendees signed our board to declare their belief that all babies deserve genital autonomy regardless of sex.
Birthworkers told us they were starting to include this topic in their education efforts with clients, with a less “pro-parent’s choice” slant and a more “pro-baby’s rights” slant.
As Houston is a melting pot of nationalities, people from non-cutting countries told us how their families don’t agree with this practice. As residents of our city, their intact children will grow up alongside American peers, and natural bodies will be further normalized in our high-cutting nation.
“She is starting her doula business and wanted some good resources for her clients. We talked in depth about the functions of the foreskin and looked at the images of the natural versus circumcised penis photos and discussed the many options for educating her clients. Her sister was also there and would occasionally listen in. At one point the sister said she was glad she only had daughters because she was uncertain how receptive her husband would be to keeping a son whole.” – Amber Clark
“She wanted information for keeping this son she was expecting intact. She was thrilled to be able to take the gift bag with the ‘Do not circumcise’ bracelet to put around his ankle. She talked about how fretful she was in the hospital having to make sure no one took her first son away and having this added safety feature was comforting to her (though I was sure to tell her that they never needed to take him from her and that she had full right to keep him with her throughout her entire stay). She also wanted information for her family who was not supportive of her, so I gave her information pamphlets on the functions of the foreskin and correct intact care instructions to have on hand. I also encouraged her to plant seeds at the hospital and challenge those nurses on exploring the functions of the foreskin during her stay.” – Amber Clark
6). There Are Risks You Won’t Read About On a Circumcision Consent Form — Including Death
One woman seemed incredulous that there was even a choice.
“I do not want to do this,” she said. “I really do not want to do this.”
She was worried. She said, as a mother, she did not want to go through the experience of caring for her baby’s circumcision wound, changing bloody diapers, and seeing him in pain.
We assured her she did not have to do this.
“I mean, he could always get it done later, right?” she asked.
We informed her about why it would be preferable to undergo circumcision as an adult as opposed to in the newborn days (an adult can give informed consent, he can understand why he’s undergoing the surgery, he’ll receive adequate pain relief during the surgery and in the post-operative recovery period, he’ll receive special apparatus to protect his genitals from pain of urinating on the wound, the surgeon will know exactly how much skin to remove, and the first step of ripping the foreskin from the glans can be skipped entirely).
“That should be his choice, then,” she said. “I don’t want to do this. I really don’t. I didn’t know any of this.”
7). No National Medical Organization In The World Recommends Circumcision
Doulas, midwives, and physicians stopped by to learn more or pick up materials to share with their clients. Some were confused about the AAP’s recent update to their stance on circumcision. I clarified that no, in fact the statement does NOT recommend circumcision. This critique on the most recent statement is especially insightful.
8). Religious Circumcision Is Not What You Think
A man paused at our table with arms crossed and a frown on his face as he surveyed our spread of information.
“Can I answer any questions?”
“No, I’m just seeing what you have,” he said. “I agree with all of this. It’s not even needed.”
“No, circumcision isn’t necessary,” I said.
“Even for religion, it’s not needed. I’m a pastor actually. Christ doesn’t want that.”
He asked if we had information about Christianity and circumcision. I referred him to our card that cites a wonderful page that helps Christians understand this topic in the context of their religion, and my Christian co-director Amber was happy to chat with him more in-depth about it.
“[The pastor] was gathering Christian materials for his congregation and becoming more learned in the practice of circumcision, the negative implications it has and the benefits of the foreskin and its function. He was definitely on our side, but I wanted to send him away with as many resources as I could to help him lead his congregation well.” – Amber Clark
We don’t frequently encounter people of the Jewish faith at our tables, but we always have information about Brit Shalom (a traditional ceremony that doesn’t involve cutting) just in case.
“This conversation was challenging. I wasn’t certain their background, but gave them a ton of information on the benefits and functions of the foreskin. I believe that they are Jewish and were seeking information on Brit Shalom as opposed to the Bris. They left with a lot of questions answered, and hopefully will choose a sweeter, more peaceful option for their little one. They did ask a lot of questions about Brit Shalom still having a ceremonial aspect and I believe they felt comforted by the information I was able to provide. I just hope they continue to question and explore…” – Amber Clark
9). Respecting Genital Autonomy Is Part of Protecting a Baby’s Basic Needs
Researched natural infant feeding? Check.
Researched car seat safety? Check.
Researched the continuum concept? Check.
Researched the biological norm of cosleeping? Check.
Researched genital autonomy? Hopefully, check here too.
A baby needs to be fed, protected, to feel safe, comforted, clean, and loved. Circumcision fails to fit in with the womb-like environment we know is vital to replicate after birth. It also shatters his first, perhaps most psychologically impressionable chance to learn about trust and human connection in the way nature intended.
10). There Is More To Learn Than You Probably Realize
At our busiest hour, a line of people waiting to talk to us had formed in the aisle. It seemed something on display had caught their eye, and they sensed a lot more waiting for them deeper down the rabbit hole…
“[In this] photograph is me speaking with a girl who is becoming a doula and her friend. The doula was seeking information for her clients, and the friend was along for the ride. By the end of the conversation, the doula had a good amount of resources and the friend was educated beyond her imagination about the functions and benefits of the foreskin. They both walked away appreciative, shocked, informed and well supplied.” – Amber Clark
See more photos from our “Don’t Fall For It!” visual presentation (below) of reasons to keep your child intact and common circumcision myths.
See more photos from our event here.