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To Snip, Or Not To Snip

To Snip, Or Not To Snip

October 03, 2009

It was assumed, as an Indian Muslim mum-to-be, that circumcision was a given. But I wasn’t sure about that...

“It’s a boy.”

When I first heard those words, I was both elated and disappointed. A boy. Perfect! I mean, I know everyone says they don’t really care what gender their baby is as long it’s healthy, and I didn’t. Except...

We’d have to do the snip.

You know the one I’m talking about. The one Muslim boys get. The one Jewish boys get. The one some kids just get.

Circumcision.

Growing up in an Indian Muslim household, circumcision wasn’t really talked about, but it was understood that it was something boys had done, and, that if I ever had a little boy, he’d have it done, too. And I was okay with that - until I started to look into the procedure, that is.

The deeper I probed, the more concerned I became. I mean, I knew circumcision was supposed to make things cleaner down there, less prone to infection. But current research - backed by the American Academy of Pediatrics - suggests that circumcision does no such thing. In fact, there are no tangible medical benefits to circumcision outside of high risk environments such as the third world.

Outside of the third world? Studies suggest that circumcision can reduce the transmission of STDs and HIV. But, in the Western world, everyone knows to use condoms, right? All right, maybe not everyone. But Joe and I fully intend to take charge of Mir’s education, and talk to about the ins and outs, dos and don’ts of safe sex when he’s a bit older. Okay, significantly older.

So circumcision wasn’t a medical necessity - but that wasn’t the only issue. When I brought the subject up with our pediatrician - a Jewish woman with a circumcised son - she suggested we think about the norm for our family. Would Mir be growing up around all circumcised males? All uncircumcised? A blend? Who will he be talking to when he starts to get curious about his body? “Think about how he’ll feel,” she said. “And if he’ll be okay with not being the same as everyone else?”

The idea of Mir’s not fitting in bothered me - I’m not exactly a poster child for conformity, but I am a mother, and I worry about every aspect of my baby’s life, present and future. Joe was less concerned. “He’ll just have to get over it,” he told me. “Besides, don’t you want him to grow up understanding that he’s more than the sum of his parts, that beauty is on the inside, not the outside, and all those other things you’re always blabbing on about teaching him?”

And then there were the risks. As with all surgery, there’s a risk of infection. The circumcision itself can also be botched - some doctors and moyles remove too little skin (meaning the procedure has to be done again), while others remove (painfully) too much. Worse, most circumcisions are performed without anesthesia and can be quite traumatic for the baby.

By the time my water broke, I still hadn’t made up my mind. As we raced to the hospital on that dark and stormy night, the decision loomed over my head. We were at the eleventh hour, and I still had no idea what to do.

Until he arrived. When our nurse, Maggie, slipped Mir into my arms, I cuddled him, checked he had all his fingers and toes, checked that he didn’t have a tail. I marveled at his ear hair - at 38 weeks, he was a little premature, and had a bit of adorable fuzz on the tops of his earlobes - then kissed him all over.

And that’s when I knew. No snip for my baby. I couldn’t hurt him, not even a little bit. Sometimes, even now, I feel a bit strange, knowing that I’ve gone against culture, religion, and upbringing. But as a Muslim woman in the 21stcentury, I’m fast discovering that flexibility is key - things aren’t as clear cut as they used to be. And I’m okay with that.

4 Comments

  • tys
    By
    tys
    25.02.10 11:29 PM
    Personally I dont know what the fuss is all about. We can use the excess skin to make purses, which when stroked will become suitcases.

    But seriously, I think you made the only choice a mother can make...Iam glad that you didnt let society or culture influence you in your decision. This decision is his to make when he is ready to make it.

    You make a great mother
  • Gorii Gadhii
    By
    Gorii Gadhii
    12.02.10 02:47 AM
    I hope these help:

    http://www.cirp.org/library/disease/HIV/vanhowe4/

    http://www.cirp.org/news/healthday2007-03-05/

    http://ijsa.rsmjournals.com/cgi/content/full/19/12/821

    The way I personally see it is, though we gave birth to our children, their bodies belong to them. Until they are old enough to make a decision on any permanent physical changes themselves, these procedures simply should not be allowed. As the parents of the children, it is our duty to protect them from harm until they are old enough to make their own decisions.
  • Peta Jinnath Andersen
    By
    Peta Jinnath Andersen
    12.02.10 02:19 AM
    @ Gorii Gadhii - thanks! It was very difficult to get around cultural expectations and I still second-guess myself from time to time. The lack of science supporting the practice made the choice much easier, though.

    I'll have a look for the studies you mention, too - they might be worth having as backup in any family discussions!
  • Gorii Gadhii
    By
    Gorii Gadhii
    12.02.10 12:29 AM
    Ah, good for you! Circumcision is a barbaric custom, tantamount to genital mutilation, in my own opinion. If I knew what I know now when my son was born, I'd have fought his father tooth and nail to keep him from going through the horrible and painful procedure. A child should have the final say in any permanent cosmetic changes in their body, whether circumcision or ear piercing. Consent and choice is important on such things, certainly.

    There have been other studies that show that having a foreskin doesn't necessarily correlate with higher rates of STD and HIV. The key is actually in hygiene -- after sex, a man should wash carefully with soap and water, and pee. That simple solution, along with regular condom use, is the key to preventing the spread of the genital nasties.

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