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Circumcision: Let’s Speak to Our Boys

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The American Academy of Pediatrics no longer recommends circumcision and aside from religious beliefs, there are no absolute reasons to circumcise our boys. I have heard many fathers express the desire to have their boy “look” like them. For years we were misinformed about many things. We have been told that bottle-feeding was better then breastfeeding—we no longer believe that and do not need our children to be “like us” in that department. We have been told that a medical birth (epidural, cesarean) is better then a natural birth—we no longer believe that. We have been told that there were medical reasons for circumcision—The American Academy of Pediatrics has now denied that.


We can be different from our children and choose what is best for them regardless of what has been done to us. Parenting experts like Dr. Benjamin Spock in his fortieth anniversary edition of Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, writes, “There is no excuse for the operation—except as a religious rite. I strongly recommend leaving the foreskin alone.” Parenting expert Penelope Leach agrees, pointing out that the operation is very painful even with anesthesia. “Why spoil your baby’s first week with you and yours with him, when there is no possible good to balance the probable harm?” she writes.


Dr Paul Fleiss writes in his Mothering Magazine article:


“Numerous other studies have proven that circumcision disrupts the mother-infant bond during the crucial period after birth. Research has also shown that circumcision disrupts feeding patterns. In a study at the Washington University School of Medicine, most babies would not nurse right after they were circumcised, and those who did would not look into their mothers’ eyes.”


According to Anita Diamant in The Jewish Baby Book, the Torah refers to the foreskin as the orlah, which, she says, “means not only foreskin but also any barrier standing in the way of beneficial results. The word orlah is also used as a metaphor for obstructions of the heart that prevent a person from hearing or understanding God. Removing the orlah is interpreted as a permanent, physical sign of dedication to the ongoing task of perfecting the self in order to be closer to the Holy One.”


The Circumcision Resource Center, a nonprofit educational organization with the purpose of informing the public and professionals about the practice of circumcision, states, “Based on a review of medical and psychological literature and our own research and experience, we conclude that circumcision causes serious, generally unrecognized harm and is not advisable.”


This is an excerpt from The Jewish Circumcision Resource Center discussing alternative rituals in the Jewish culture:


Though most Jewish families still choose to circumcise their sons, some parents are looking for alternatives to their baby boy’s tearful parting with his foreskin. Often, these parents are torn between sparing their child the pain of circumcision and maintaining a connection with Jewish traditions and commandments.


As central as the mitzvah of circumcision is to Judaism, some parents have created alternative rituals. One such ceremony is called brit shalom, or covenant of wholeness, during which parents might read Bible passages and recite the traditional blessing normally recited at a brit milah, but there is no circumcision performed.


Another procedure called hatafat dam brit is also being used in place of a circumcision. Usually only appropriate in the case of already circumcised converts or adopted babies, or when a baby is mistakenly circumcised at the hospital, hatafat dam brit is a Jewish ritual circumcision performed by drawing a drop of blood from the site of the circumcision.


Obviously many people are questioning this procedure. Nevertheless, in the United States, we still circumcise 56 percent of all boys. If you opt to have your child circumcised for religious reasons here is something to consider:


  1. Circumcision is a surgical procedure, which involves pain and needs recovery time.
  2. Circumcision, as all invasive procedures, needs to be explained to the “patient” in details before, during, and after it is performed.
  3. Although there is no way we can ask for the child’s consent, it is our responsibility to explain why we have decided to circumcise. Going into details about the covenant and your tribal beliefs.
  4. Even though at times this surgical procedure is performed outside the hospital and in the midst of a social/religious event, the child should be held and cuddled by the mother and breastfed immediately following the procedure as you would do if your child is hospitalized for any other surgical procedure.
  5. Following this procedure the child should remain in a quiet, comfortable, and safe environment to help with healing, close to his primary parents.
  6. Encouragement and reassurance that healing is taking place should be verbally expressed to the infant while he is changed and his penis is cared for. Just like a doctor or nurse would do as she/he checks and dresses a surgical site.
  7. If you feel confident that circumcision is the best and rightful decision for your son you should not apologize for it. An apology can be felt as if you are not sure the procedure should have been done. Apologizing will only confuse the child who has placed his trust on you for his well being and his spiritual growth. Thus, if you are on the fence about the circumcision be sure to gather enough information and be part of the decision making (in your heart) and not simply follow what is expected of you.


As a parent, I encourage you to talk to your newborn before, during, and after the circumcision. Please don’t discount the ability a newborn has, to understand your intentions, your support, and your love for him. If you are not totally convinced about your boy being circumcised and you have doubts about it he will know it. If in your heart you believe this is a tribal rite of passage, and feel strongly about it, he will feel that too. You will be amazed at the difference in the experience your child will have with your support, and with added knowledge. Baby talk or simply telling your boy you love him will not do. Respect him enough to explain in details why he is being circumcised, what it means to you, to your people (if it is a religious decision.) I have worked with wonderful Mohels who took their time explaining to the people witnessing the circumcision its history and its reasoning, yet I have never seeing a mother or father actually whispering those reasons to the newborn. I am sure some parents instinctually do, and I praise them for it. But if you have not done it please help your child understand it, even if it is after the procedure was done. If your boy is all grown up.


I have witnessed first hand many circumcisions and can attest that when the baby boy has been told the reason for this decision, and when a parent gently whispers in his ears what is happening as the procedure is performed the baby seems much calmer. Immediately following the procedure the child should be held in mom’s harms and should be breastfed. At times I have seen breastfeeding discouraged, as it is believed that the wine given to the child to soothe the pain can make him vomit if fed immediately following the procedure. Please be informed most urologists or doctors who perform circumcisions at the hospital will allow you to breastfeed your baby immediately following surgery. Ask your doctor about this.


I advise my clients to talk to their newborn and ask permission for every action taken. Something as simple and routine as changing diapers, giving the baby a bath, should be stated. “I am going to change your diapers sweetie,” is a simple statement, but it goes a long way for both you and your child. Communicating this way with your child from the very beginning, allow you to remain conscious that you are dealing with a human being. Your child has a right to know where he is taken and what is about to happen to him. It makes the child feel connected and makes him trust being in your care. It keeps you connected to each other and focused on one another. It is, after all, a simple form of respect you would expect for yourself.


Talk to your child no matter the age, about everything that is done to him especially if it may result in physical discomfort and/or separation. When at the doctor’s office tell your child he is getting a shot and that it will hurt, don’t lie or minimize what will happen. Trust between parent and child is built early on. Don’t assume because your child does not talk, or has his eyes closed he does not understand you. When I first came to this country I did not speak English, it took me six months before I could communicate with others, but I could understand it much earlier then that. Your child will understand your intention, if not the exact words. In the womb he has developed a relationship with you that goes deeper then words. He knows you as only one that has been inside your body can know you. Perhaps, at times even better then you know yourself. He knows dad’s voice, and moods, and love and warmth. He has acquired your memories and developed some of his own. He is not just a baby he is a human being and as such he needs all the respect we give or should give an adult.


I propose you ask your child while in the womb his opinion on this as well. Use the precious time you have with him to discuss your feelings and listen to his. Let your spirit guide you, you know the answer to all questions. 


Resources:
Mothering Magazine Article: Case Against Circumcision
www.nocirc.org
www.cirp.org/library/cultural/maimonides
www.aish.com/literacy/lifecycle/bris_milah_beautiful_or_barbaric$.asp
www.act-now.org

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