Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Durban Doula's Pregnancy Diary - Third Trimester! Week 28

Yeehah! The third trimester is here! Duhm duhm duuuhm...

Downhill from here!
It's crazy how this whole thing feels so fast and so slow at the same time. I'm trying to enjoy every bit of it, although the heat wave we had over Christmas was quite something! With my first I was 38 weeks pregnant at this point, and I don't remember feeling like I wanted to crawl out of my skin from the heat...

I've finally made a plan to get together with a personal trainer friend of mine to help me get some exercise - so relieved! I can feel how much of a difference it makes, but  I also think I'll need to pop in for a visit to the chiropractor soon. My pelvis is starting to feel a bit wobbly again and I'm getting a bit of sciatica. Oh the joys!

This was my belly at this time of year in 2009!
38 weeks pregnant with my first...
So as we reach the third trimester we are having to make some decisions the we didn't have to make before, and one of those is deciding whether or not to circumcise our little boy.

Living in South Africa, where circumcision is still commonplace even among those who aren't of Jewish or Muslim descent, for many parents it isn't even something they think about - it's just the done thing. Of the men I've spoken to of my generation, most of them are circumcised, and a number of them can't recall ever seeing an uncircumcised or intact male their own age. Being who I am, I've come to question this practice and came up with some reasons why we won't be circumcising our son.

I know it is a pretty contentious issue - many Facebook mommy groups have banned it as a topic of discussion because things get too heated - but I'm trusting I can express my position in a reasonably civil manner, and I'd request that if you do comment on the post, you do the same.

My main reason is that I believe that people should have choices about what happens to their bodies, and I also believe that no person's body is owned by any other person. 'It's my child, I can do what I want,' doesn't cut it with me - my son's body belongs to him and him alone, just as my body belongs to me, and I believe I should have primary authority over what is done to it and I share it with people I choose to share it with.

Bodily autonomy is something I value, so it seems natural to value my son's bodily autonomy too - he is the owner of the penis after all, so I feel he has the largest vested interest in the matter, and so I will wait until he is able to make the decision for himself. It can't be undone.

The be honest, that was enough reason for me to let my son choose for himself, but I have a few others as well. I'm going to try and keep it brief.

Religion: Because of my faith in a wise creator, I can't accept that every single baby boy would be born with a birth defect that requires potentially risky amputation of a very sensitive part of his body. I know circumcision was part of God's covenant with the Hebrews, as described in the Bible, but what was considered circumcision then - a snip off the tip or just a tiny slit cut into the foreskin - and circumcision today, the full amputation of the entire foreskin still fused to the glans of the penis the same way your fingernail is fused to your nail bed - are, as you can see, very different.
Having said that, even in religions where circumcision is required, such as in Islam or Judaism, many individuals are choosing not to circumcise. (For more info on this check: Biblical Circumcision Information.)

Pain: For a long time, and until fairly recently, many practitioners didn't use any anaesthetic for circumcisions as it was believed that babies didn't experience pain the same way adults do. Even now, it is too risky to use general anaesthetic for a newborn, so babies have to make do with a local anaesthetic which cannot numb all the pain experienced. Furthermore, because they are so little, the pain relief available to them after the procedure is not as effective as the relief available to an adult, and they have the added discomfort of chafing from nappies, and the risk of the wound coming into contact with urine and faeces. This degree of pain can affect the brain quite negatively at a very vulnerable time, and hence interfere with bonding and breastfeeding, with a high risk of long term consequences. Some say circumcision should be done early as it is more painful later on - but I would be keen to know if it is just that babies are not as able to express their discomfort as adult men are. (For more information see: The Effectiveness of Anesthesia for Circumcision Pain.)

Sexual Sensitivity: The foreskin is not just an extra flap of skin, it has over 10 000 nerve endings. It definitely does affect sexual function. In fact, circumcision in Western society was popularised precisely because it was thought to decrease masturbation because circumcision was known to decrease sensitivity i.e. no foreskin = less pleasure = less masturbation. Furthermore, intact (uncircumcised) penises require less lubrication during intercourse, and can provide a smoother experience for the partner too. Many men who have been circumcised as adults have reported decreased sensitivity. (See: Intact or Circumcised: A Significant Difference in the Adult Penis - Yes, there are photos - view at own discretion)

Aesthetics: Many say they think it just looks better circumcised. But to me that is purely a cultural prejudice, we generally find the familiar more attractive than the unfamiliar. And honestly, circumcising a baby because you think it looks better brings us back in to the realm of cosmetic surgery without consent. In the same way that I wouldn't tattoo my baby because I think it looks better, I wouldn't perform any other kind of cosmetic surgery on my baby either. And beyond that, I'm not the one who's going to be looking at my adult child's penis - if his partner thinks it looks better circumcised, they can deal with it then.

Functions: The foreskin doesn't only affect sexual function, but also protects the glans of the penis against chafing, and has important immune benefits - apparently latest research is showing that  the foreskin can actually protect against HIV infection, and besides that, it prevents contaminants entering the urethra.

Equality: I wouldn't alter my baby girl's genitals in any way, so why do it to my baby boy? In places where female genital cutting is still practiced, the same reasons are used as are currently used for male genital cutting - it looks better, it is healthier, because her mother had it done...

Risks: No surgery is without risk. In the US, more newborn baby boys die from circumcision than from car accidents. The penis and foreskin is obviously highly vascular and haemorrhaging is a risk, as is the possibility of removing too much skin, as well as other injuries and complications including impotence, urinary retention and necrosis among others.
(See here:  Death from Circumcision Higher Than Suffocation and Auto Accidents and here: Death from Circumcision)

Hygiene: An intact penis is actually easy to clean - the guideline is to treat it like the tip of a finger. No one except the child himself should be tugging on it or retracting as this can actually cause adhesions and scar tissue leading to a tight foreskin later on. Boys can be taught to wash their own penises the same way girls are taught to wipe from front to back. To think that boys are incapable of such simple self care is actually a little insulting. Actually, I would think an intact penis is easier to keep clean initially too - no open wound to deal with!
(See: Basic care of the Intact Child)

Health: Each decade has seen it's own list of diseases and conditions that circumcision is claimed to cure. In the nineties it was said to prevent cervical cancer in women, now it's said to reduce female to male HIV transmission. Many of these studies have been shown to report inflated claims, or they have been very flawed in their design. Also, they only talk about reducing male to female transmission. Um, yeah. Nothing about male to female transmission. I'm sure there are less invasive and more effective ways to decrease HIV transmission. Furthermore, even if there was a slight decrease in rates of urinary tract infections among circumcised infants, girls get urinary tract infections far more often than boys and we wouldn't dream of circumcising all infant girls to reduce urinary tract infections - we just treat them as they happen. No surgery required.
See: HIV, AIDS & Circumcision Resources, Where Circumcision does NOT Prevent HIV, Circumcision and Cervical Cancer Resources, Cervical Cancer: A Reason for Circumcision?)

Family Likeness: For a number of families I've spoken to this has been one of their primary reasons. I heard a story that cleared this one up for me: Circ'ed dad is showering with intact son. Son asks, "Dad, why does your penis look like that?" Dad, who has been dreading this conversation, wisely asks, "What do you mean?" Boy answers, "It's so hairy."

I wouldn't dye my child's hair to match mine, or surgically alter his nose to match his dad's or give them matching tattoos before he's a year old - so I'm not sure I could use this reason for cosmetic surgery on my newborn child.

My last reason would be that it is irreversible. There are methods by which men are gaining some restoration of their foreskins, but this is a difficult process. I would rather let my son choose for himself.

I was going to mention some stuff about why I'm enjoying the colouring and why birth affirmations make a difference, and further plans for our home birth, and great second hand deals and other bits and bobs, but I'll leave those for next time!

Two videos you might appreciate - one funny and one more serious:

Adam Ruins Everything - The Real Reason You're Circumcised:

Elephant in the Hospital - Child Circumcision

I understand that some people reading this post may be feeling regret for having had their son/s circumcised. It is difficult to feel you made a wrong decision when it comes to your children, but there are many who have walked this road before who can help you deal with those feelings of regret - please see these links for some excellent resources:
I Circumcised My Son: Healing From Regret
Circumcision Regret: Working Through and Rising Above Mistakes Made

Sorry it's been such a long post! I really tried to keep it as brief as I could without being blunt! If you have any thoughts or questions, please feel free to share them below, but please be civil! I know these things can get heated...


  1. Hi Leigh

    Great post.

    I love how you're expressive in your own personal reasons for doing or rather not doing something.

    It's not as though you have to justify anything to anyone, but I do like that give an honest explanation of what you do/believe.

    This means that you've actually invested in what you're living out, instead of being lead by society,trends or pressure via influence.

    I like that.

    I also agree with about 95% of what you have said in your post. I too feel that the choice and body part is that of your little boy's.

    As someone who believes in allowing everyone to express who they are, be it personality, sexuality or anything else I love how you mentioned that this is never really a large topic in regards to female babies and their private areas.

    The thought of altering a female babies parts is almost nauseating and unthinkable to those of us who do not practice it as a religion and as you mentioned even those of us who are not religious seem to be just fine with "doing whatever" to a boys bits because "its the norm".

    I am glad you wrote this post. And I enjoyed the read. I think educating rather than blaming, or fighting, or pointing fingers as you mentioned in the top of your post is a far more productive way of moving forward.

    Great stuff Leigh.

  2. Exactly why we chose not to circumcise our boy. The first point on its own I believe is enough, one doesn't even need to go to all the others.