Here it is, the blog that just kept rearing it’s head wanting to get out.
And here’s hoping the result’s not ugly.
My wife recently gave birth to a boy. That was my first shock. A boy. Just like me. Oh.
I can’t recall what I said at the time. I hope it wasn’t: “Oh. Will you look at that!”
I soon realised I hadn’t genuinely considered the implications of having a boy. (I don’t get why people find out the gender via ultrasound. You lose all the shock and awe. And that doesn’t just last the first few days. I’m still in it!)
Given a week staring at the adorable child, I realised the only new decision to be made was not about colours or clothes or toys.. in fact, the only choice to reveal itself as urgent was the one of circumcision.
To cut or not to cut? To slice or just pretend it looks nice?
Real information was hard to come by. Dr Google returned a range of local doctors happy to do it – this website has 2 pages of doctors happy to do it, just in Sydney – and fear-mongering sites supporting either side. What was missing was genuinely clear, unbiased info from a reputable source. The medical associations here and in the US offer tainted views that fail to cite research or, if they do, it is for one side of the debate only.
Sites claiming to be neutral offered up the furphies that a ‘vast majority‘ of boys don’t get circumcised’ or that no hospitals and few doctors perform circumcisions.
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians has this paper (PDF) on the matter. Of course, when I was a boy they had the opposite view and, now, with the general trend against the cut (as it has no immediate need nor benefit) the RACP also appear sceptical of any preventative benefit the procedure may have. That view surprised me, coming ae it does, despite circumcision’s widespread implementation in Africa to reduce STIs (The best thing I found to read on this part of the debate was here).
A website called Circinfo appears helpful and genuine but ultimately fails too in providing fair info without slant.
The site has a neat table of possible injuries a boy may incur – a valid concern – and one that points out how in 1919, one boy somehow got tuberculosis from his circumcision.
What? Why? I’m sure there were some nasty results of early forms of amputation too, or side effects from cough medicine that included strychnine, but I don’t need to be told them when I sign up for the modern version.
Circumcision is safe enough to have been performed in pre-biblical times so boys getting it done have a good long historical record predating Jesus by several centuries.
It’s easy to dismiss that fact but why is the procedure still around and so popular two millennia later?
For those are not up to date on how circumcision can work in these days of whiz-bang surgery, anaesthetic cream is now all that is needed, and after 20 minutes, a quick procedure cuts the foreskin off and your boy is good to go home in an hour, adorned with gauze. A little protective ring is left on – this falls off in a week. (The next day or two are typically days of pain and discomfort but breastfeeding does the trick in calming anxious babies’ nerves)
Yet some hospital websites haven’t cottoned on to these procedures yet and still recommend general aneasthetic, suggesting it is safer.
“Thus,” says one ill-informed Australian hospital website, “It is recommended that you wait until he is at least six to 12 months old because the operation and anaesthetic are safer then.” – Thankyou Sydney Children’s Hospital.
In contrast to this, the two doctors I contacted both prefer boys to be brought in before they are two weeks old. Who to believe? Research can prove anything, it’s all just trends and everyone has an agenda.
So I turned to trusted friends for their views.
That wasn’t much more helpful.
Nearly everyone fell into two categories:
1) We did it because his dad had it done. (Felt right)
2) We didn’t do it because dad didn’t have it done. (Felt wrong)
Decisions based on hunches didn’t seem good enough to me when those against the procedure were claiming it was an abomination, harmful, dangerous age at their angry worst, ‘barbaric’.
(If you want to lose credit in an argument, describe something most people do because it feels right, as barbaric.)
I was already heading toward getting my boy done, believing that the cosmetic reason many dads give was actually a genuine anxiety disguising a deeper sense of identity that is at threat between a man and his son. That, and I believed STIs are a widespread issue that could be dealt a statistical blow if everyone did this to boys at birth.
But one friend I talked to, a school office worker, had a thoroughly different view.
Her stance came from the experiences of parents at her school. “I could name six or seven families that have told me they have had to get their boys circumcised later on because of problems.”
The problems were infections under the foreskin and the boys were four, six and eight years old. This was not something anyone else was discussing.
This shocked me as it obviously meant that the boys would need a general aneasthetic – a much riskier proposition than a newborn circumcision.
The optional twenty minute procedure for a newborn had, for these parents, turned into an overnight hospital stay for their primary school boy and surgery that required a surgeon, an anaesthetist, a nurse etc. etc.
Plus, unlike a newborn, a four or eight year-old would definitely remember the pain that folllowed, and probably be left to deal with the shame of their friends finding out why they went to hospital… This was a very revealing chat.
The next revealing chat was with the doctor holding the knife.
The waiting room would have had twenty newborns pass through in the hour we were there. Apparently, doctors into snipping do as many circumcisions in one day as they can. This guy was heading for 100 plus in a day.
I was ready to grill him as I still didn’t feel I yet had the full story.
I asked how many older boys he saw needing to have it done due to infection. Ten per cent, he said. One in ten people he circumcised was a boy or man, not a newborn.
So, I was getting this done, firstly, for my boy’s one-in-ten chance that he might face it later without what I believe is the emotional mask of babyhood. This is what I call a muting effect, the precious grace a baby has to withstand a bump on the head, or a serious fever, and recall neither later in life, even a day later. Some deny this, fearing babies carry all trauma forward into life. I’m not one.
Secondly, I made the decision based on the identity issue. To have a son with whom I will share many traits, many not physical at all, is a special, special thing. To be lacking one similarity that is profoundly personal and how shall I put it, a centrepiece(!) of a man’s primal instincts, would add a bonding difficulty I would rather didn’t exist.
Lastly, I was at ease knowing the preventative value of circumcision I was providing my son. In a judgment of risks now versus risks later, I was glad to know the rate of STI transmission for my son would be lowered, as was his chance of passing on infections to a woman – even cervical cancer via the pappiloma virus – and, knowing I had removed, literally, his need to wash an area regularly to maintain personal hygiene.
We do preventative things throughout our life to protect ourselves just in case. They may not have been needed, and, moreover, we do them for our kids who may or may not agree. We’ll administer painkillers, antibiotics, provide the best available diet, teach them to ride, drive…
This was how I arrived at my decision.
And look, I didn’t even need to mention Elaine from Seinfeld’s quote:
“It had no face, no personality. It was like a martian.”
– Elaine, describing an uncircumsized penis, in “The Bris”