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My Regretful Heart



“To circumcise or not to circumcise?” 

That is the decision which parents of baby boys are faced with, often before their son is even born. The surgical removal of the foreskin from the penis is as routine in the United States as the standard pee-on-a-stick pregnancy test. Circumcision, like any other topic that involves parenting choices, is a touchy subject. I know it is for me–big time. The word alone makes me cringe and shudder–there’s such a cruel, finality it brings to mind. My hope through sharing my experience is that it may open the eyes of others and inspire parents to always make informed and educated decisions. Telling my story is not a judgment of others, nor am I attempting to persuade people to share my point of view (although hopefully with a little research and serious thought, one would come to the same conclusion I did). Like Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.”

I believe in trying to live life without regretting anything–instead choosing to see the lessons learned from past mistakes–but consenting to the circumcision of our first son is the biggest, hugest, most epic regret I’ve ever experienced. It’s so hard to even let myself think about it, let alone try to articulate my feelings. The guilt I feel is like the weight of an elephant standing on my heart. Probably heavier. When Jack was born and we were faced with the choice, I didn’t give it much thought. My husband thought Jack ought to be circumcised (like himself), and since he had been so wonderfully supportive of all my natural birth choices, I decided to go along with it. I guess I felt like it was “his thing” (as a woman, I have no idea what it’s like to have a penis and wasn’t very familiar with the technical workings of one).

Looking back now, I know that I felt a little weird about it for a reason–my instincts were telling me it wasn’t right but I brushed those feelings aside. It was important enough to me to research pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and vaccines. Circumcision, I just didn’t look into at all. 

It has been so ingrained in our minds that infant circumcision is totally routine and ‘normal’. Why, as a culture, are we having our baby boys’ foreskin removed? I can’t wrap my head around this barbaric practice.  Most people, like I used to, probably think the foreskin has no purpose. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It can’t be lack of information–we live with knowledge at our fingertips virtually 24 hours a day. All it takes is a simple Google search and you can find more than you need to know about any subject under (and over) the sun. A little research on the awesomely informative website, The Whole Network, gives more researched, accurate, and reputable information than you’d ever need to know about the penis, foreskin, and circumcision. The site is well-organized, easy to navigate and should be required reading for every pregnant woman (and even better, her partner too).

Parenthood is a new beginning, and no one knows everything about caring for a child instantly–it’s something that grows with time and experience. Why are first-time parents of baby boys not automatically educated and informed about circumcision? There should be a class you have to take before you can schedule the procedure. Let’s be real–there needs to be dialogue and education in order to come to an actual educated decision. What about ‘informed consent’? I’m sure technically there was some ‘fine print’ somewhere on some paper I signed but I absolutely do not remember any professional actually even explaining what the foreskin is, let alone asking me why I wanted to have it unnecessarily removed. Shouldn’t that be required too? I bet most of the time, the answer would be something along the lines of “so he can look like his dad”. Thus, the cycle continues for another generation. What would people think if female genital mutilation was the norm here? Newborn baby girls having part of their labia surgically removed, for no reason other than cosmetic. It is absolutely no different for a boy. The fact that it’s so ‘normal’ in this country is frightening.  

When we had Jack circumcised, we violated our baby and took away his freedom of choice. If he wanted to have his foreskin removed, that should be his choice, as an adult. As a mom, I believe in treating my children with respect, to model it for them to learn, and because they deserve it. This choice that we blindly made will affect him for the rest of his life. He has no clue now, but part of his body is gone, and the function of his penis is altered. I could never pretend that it’s no big deal. It hurts my heart when I think about how I didn’t protect him. It is such a yucky feeling of regret... if only I could go back in time. It’s as though we exposed our son to an insane cult ritual. I guess all I can really say is that I was a brand new mom and didn’t know any better–a baby in motherhood myself and still too ‘green’ to fully understand the weight and importance that every choice bears.

The fact that I didn’t thoroughly question the surgery that we elected to put our baby through is insane to me now. Today, almost 4 years later as a wife and mother of 2, I would never, ever, allow a child of mine to go through this barbaric practice. I’ve grown to feel so strongly about the importance of researching everything and making the most educated choices I can, while also listening to my intuition. Who was I then that I agreed to it? Motherhood  has had such a profound effect on who I am as a person. Its hard to believe that as the mom I am today, I let this happen to our son. Even worse, my husband and I willingly chose the surgery.

I am glad that I realized the insanity of this practice before it was too late for our second son, Wyatt. I had been expecting a girl during my whole pregnancy with him, and didn’t think I would need to share all that I learned and felt about circumcision with my husband. But when my little lady turned out to be a little man, I don’t think Jake even thought about circumcising him. The way Wyatt was born left no room for even thinking about such a thing–peacefully and gently, in the comfort of our home. A perfect specimen of human life, entering the world so naturally and beautifully, there were no thoughts of altering his body in any way. 

 I’ve heard men say, “oh well, I’m circumcised and I’m fine.”

But this is just what someone might say to minimize it or make it seem ok. It’s not. As a parent, I can forgive myself but I will never be ‘ok’ with this.

I can’t go back and undo what’s been done to Jack, but I’m so thankful that we had the chance to make the right choice for Wyatt. When Jack asks why his and Wyatt’s penises look different, I will simply tell him that everyone looks different, just like all the other features of our bodies. I really believe in being honest with my children but there’s no way I can look my sweet little boy in the eye and tell him “Well, Jack, we had part of your penis cut off shortly after you were born.” That would most definitely be followed by the ever-present question “Why?” and what would I tell my curious, innocent little boy? There is just no good answer to that question. 

While I do feel that it’s important and therapeutic for me to write about this and share it with others, I will not be showing it to our family or friends. I’d normally be excited to share something I wrote but this is different. It’s too sad. I’m ashamed. My message to other parents is this: question everything! Question every single thing that goes into or onto your child’s body. Question every recommended procedure, idea, treatment. Always research and never blindly agree to things you don’t completely, 100 percent understand and agree with. Curiosity and conversation are good and necessary! Learn every day...there’s so much more to know about everything and some things simply can’t be undone. The feeling of regret can be equivalent to the deepest heartbreak. We can’t go back in time, we can only move forward, making the next choice better than the last.

My message to Jack is this: I’m so sorry, my sweet, perfect, beautiful boy. Thank you for teaching me about the most whole, pure love imaginable. 


(This article appeared in Holistic Parenting Magazine, Issue 4, July/August 2014)

About the Author
Sara Sites
Author: Sara Sites
Sara lives outside of Pittsburgh, PA with her husband and sons. Passionate about the inherent strength and beauty of womanhood, she seeks to develop within herself and share with others through her interests in fertility, pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, parenting and holistic living. Sara stays busy laughing and learning with her boys while supporting and encouraging moms, babies and families as a La Leche League leader, doula and leader of various groups and workshops through her business, Full Circle Doula Care.

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