Nurse’s View

on Circumcision

Dear Mothering,

The responses about circumcision really struck me. When my first was born I still wasn’t sure about it and luckily we had a girl. Since then I’ve become very sure of which way to go. Definitely no circumcision for my kids!

I’m an R.N. who has worked for one and a half years in a newborn nursery in a hospital. I hate a lot of the practices that occur in hospital nurseries (even that there need be a nursery is contrary to my feelings) but I’ve found my place helping newborns and parents in a generally unfeeling place. I can give a newborn silver nitrate drops in his eyes and the routine vitamin K injection, even though I feel it unnecessary.  In fact, since that baby is going to have these things done anyway, I’d rather it be me to do it. I can do it gently and as untraumatically as possible. Often with my gentle touch, soothing voice and explanations, the baby won’t even cry.

But circumcision is a different story. When I have to set up a baby for a circumcision, I feel like crying and often do. I feel like I’m betraying that being behind those eyes, as I calmly and easily strap him on the “circ board.” I talk to him about what will be happening and apologize. A baby will cooperate even with being restrained, but there’s no excuse for the torture that happens after that! After witnessing many circumcisions, I can say, yes, it hurts. It’s pure and simple torture. As often as I can I leave the room for the slaughter. I just can’t bear to watch another. Sure, some babies cry more than others, but they all cry. But more than the cry, it’s the look in those trusting eyes as it all begins (before they are squeezed closed in terror.)

I’ve talked to parents many times about their babies’ circumcisions before it’s been done. I see fathers just sort of shrug like it’s one of those things boys have to go through. And mothers wince at the thought and hope not to hear his screams but still sign the papers of permission. Parents ask “Does it hurt him?” and I tell them, “Yes, who else would they do surgery on without anesthetic? But they always have a “good” reason to go ahead. … “He would be teased.” “He wouldn’t match his dad (or brothers.)” “It’s too much work if he’s not circumcised.” “It’s not healthy.” “We’ve always done it in our family.” “I’d hate for him to have problems later.” “It’s so much worse if it would have to be done later.” *

Maybe some facts about the care of uncircumcised penises would be helpful. Let’s hear response from the parents of boys and from men who are not circumcised.

The only advice I have is from Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care. He very conservatively says., “The third method of care is to leave the foreskin alone. This is the simplest way and the one used throughout a great part of the world.”

Thanks for listening,

Terry Schultz, Somerset, Kentucky

    Reprinted with permission from Mothering, Vol. XII, p. 83, Summer 1979.

(Ms. Schultz has since given birth to a son who has been left intact.)

* All of the purported arguments in favor of infant circumcision listed here have been thoroughly challenged and refuted in my book Circumcision: The Painful Dilemma and in many other writings on the subject. R.R.

infant crying

Reprinted with permission from The Saturday Evening Post Co., © 1981.

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