I was so anxious about the idea of circumcision that I actually hoped for a girl. I didn’t get a girl. I got two beautiful boys instead, and therefore had to make the decision twice. Though our sons were born four years apart, my partner Abbie and I gave equal consideration to the question of whether of not to circumcise with each one.
With our first son, Tommy, I had nightmares that if we chose circumcision, the doctor would make a mistake. I knew the statistics were low, but that rarely soothes an anxious mom-to-be. I worried the procedure was obsolete. When I looked around the room at my friends’ sons, many if not most were uncircumcised.
About a month before Abbie was due to give birth to Tommy, we visited my parents out on Long Island. At dinner, we talked about interviewing pediatricians in our Brooklyn neighborhood of Cobble Hill. We were looking for a doctor who struck a balance between holistic and traditional Western approaches to medicine and childcare.
We had a few things down. Abbie planned to breastfeed—or at least to try. We understood that antibiotics were at times necessary to treat ear infections. We believed in and felt adamant about vaccinating our child.
But the one place where we were both still unsure was on the topic of circumcision. Abbie and I didn’t yet know the sex of our child, but admitting that we were even questioning whether or not to circumcise our son set off a slew of opinions at the table that evening.
“You have to circumcise him!” said my sister Melanie, an emergency room doctor who has seen her fair share of infected uncircumcised penises and urinary tract infections, and whom I trust immensely.
My other sister, Meredith, an amazing mother of three boys who were all circumcised, agreed. “It’s unsanitary,” she said. “I can barely get my kids to brush their teeth at night. And imagine him in the locker room when he’s a teenager.”
Our best friend and sperm donor, Tim, who is circumcised, was more aligned with Abbie and me. He questioned, like me, if the procedure was outdated and based more on social customs than medical necessity. And, like Abbie, he wondered whether the benefits outweighed the trauma.
Health! Melanie reinforced. Hygiene! Meredith repeated. Is it really necessary? Tim asked honestly.
All of the impassioned arguments and questions raised during this discussion gave us plenty to consider. To be honest, as lesbians, neither Abbie nor I had spent a tremendous amount of time thinking about circumcision in the first place. But it was clear that as soon-to-be parents, we had a lot to learn.
And so we began our research. Prior to this conversation, we’d been leaning toward not circumcising our child if he was a boy. We trusted that Tim could teach him how to be sanitary and avoid infections. We didn’t care about the aesthetics. As two women and a gay man raising children together, we did not feel particularly bound to social custom or tradition. We researched the varied perspectives and we considered the ethics and our child’s individual rights over his body. We knew that this was a big decision—one of many—and we took our responsibility seriously.
We respected both sides of the argument, but the medical evidence supporting the use of circumcision to prevent STDs and penile cancer, and to reduce UTIs compelled us. We were finally persuaded when the World Health Organization and UNAIDS issued a joint statement in 2007 supporting the link between male circumcision and HIV prevention. Suddenly we felt that we were making a decision that could not only protect the health of our child, but could save his life. We spoke with the pediatrician we’d chosen and our OB/GYN, who would be performing the surgery, and both agreed with our position.
That said, when our OB/GYN first held up our newborn and announced that it was a boy, I soon returned to my earlier fear that something would go wrong during the circumcision procedure. I felt confident in our decision, but I was more terrified that our doctor would make a mistake during this operation than I was when she performed Abbie’s C-section.
The next day, I decided to go with Tommy for the operation. I didn’t want to send him alone. He was given anesthesia and I pressed my face to his and I held his hand. All in all, the procedure did not take more than five minutes and was a success.
Was it an easy decision to make? No. Do I think we made the right decision? Yes. Do I know that Abbie and I investigated, explored and considered all of our options and with the help of professionals and our own reflection decided on what was best for our child? Absolutely. Hearing that the American Academy of Pediatrics now also feels the benefits outweigh the risk only reinforces our decision.
Before our second son, Teo, was born, we continued to educate ourselves on the procedure. Both Abbie and I were open to the idea that the evidence may have changed. We did not just assume that we’d follow the same path with our second child to make sure he shared this trait with his older brother. We approached the decision in much the same way and, again, in the end, we found the medical evidence to be the most persuasive factor.
Just as I had with Tommy, I stayed with Teo during his procedure. I pressed my face to his face. I held his hand. I knew I’d made this decision with care and thought and I felt, and still feel, that it is one that will benefit him.
I don’t expect everyone to understand or agree with the choice that Abbie and I made for our sons. When Tommy and Teo are naked at the beach with friends, often they are in the minority because they are circumcised. And that’s okay. For us it was never about fitting in or following customs. We made our decision based on the information that we had and trusted, and our own expectations and fears and hopes for our children’s future.