Sensitive readers, look away! The topic is circumcision, an issue dear to my heart and another part of me, which got the snip when I was an infant.
I never thought about circumcision much. Born in the mid-60s, this was apparently commonplace for male children in the US. Indeed, I guess it’s still fairly common, in that the male children of my friends as well as my nephew in the US all have had it done when they were born recently.
It’s not commonplace in the UK, and my struggle with what to do about my first son all came rushing back at me after this was the topic on today’s Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2.
Should I have it done? My unborn son at the time had no idea of the trauma I went through — real honest worry and upset! I’m amazed that even today, it still gets me riled. My debate went something like this:
- How would he react when he realizes one day that Daddy looks different than him?
- How would I cope with any questions about an uncircumcised penis, such as proper cleaning, having no such experience of foreskin?
- How would he react if circumcised and then looking different from other boys in the UK?
- How would he react if circumcised and then looking different from other boys in the US, should we ever move back there for any length of time?
- Was it healthier to be circumcised or not?
- Would future sexual partners in the UK find him odd to be uncircumcised?
- Would future sexual partners in the US find him odd to be circumcised?
Those were just some of the questions running through my mind — things I’d never expected to ponder at all when still dealing with all the other issues of preparing for fatherhood. If we’d been in the US, circumcision probably would have been done as a matter of course. In the UK, it was much more an unusual thing to consider.
I turned first to our medical professionals here in the UK. A terrible move. Our health visitor — a nurse who comes to your home for free through the NHS and monitors prenatal and postnatal / antenatal care — was wonderful for everything but this.
What did she think about circumcision? “That’s like cutting off puppy dog tails really, isn’t it,” was her reply.
I found the response incredibly insensitive. Jews and Muslims are both circumcised for religious reasons in the UK, as they are all over the world. Had I been known to be either, I wondered if the response would have been different. Instead, my very real concerns and questions were dismissed out of hand.
On our hospital tour, I tried again when the group of parents we were with were asked if we had any questions at the end. What about circumcision, I asked?
The nurse looked puzzled and concerned. She didn’t know if they were done at the hospital, who would do them or even why they might be done. I envisioned that should I go ahead and request this, some forgotten drawer would be found, rusty instruments cleaned off and an aged doctor with shaky hands might volunteer to do the snip on my son.
At least there was a bit of humor watching the other parents suddenly look worried. You could see they’d never pondered if this was something that should be done. Someone asked a follow up question and got a brief response.
My medical contacts having failed me, I turned to the internet. Bad choice. Searches at this time (in 1999) brought up pages that seemed endlessly pro or con, though subtly acting as if they were neutral. Then there were all the pages about adults wanting to have this done having missed out as infants — complete with styles of circumcision I never knew existed. There were also the pages about reconstructive surgery, for those who decided it should have never been done.
Feeling lost and confused, my wife was even worse. She had no idea what to say or suggest. She turned to her mother — a former nurse — for advice. That resulted in an amusing gush of emotion for these two usually reserved British women. “Your father is circumcised!,” my mother-in-law blurted out to her. It was done when he was a child, after tightness of his foreskin was found to be bothering him.
As it turns out, others in the UK are circumcised. Men in the royal family are, as well. Had Prince Charles and Princess Diana
gone through the debates I was having?
As the birth date approached, I began wondering if I needed to seek out a specialist to have the procedure done, if I decided to go that way. I found a few names, but never did any more work. I’d decided that if it needed to be done, we could wait until after my son was born (and if he turned out to be a son at all — we didn’t know the sex in advance).
A split second after he was born, my decision was made. He was perfect as he was! There would be no snipping for him. If he wanted that, he could decide for himself down the line when he was older.
By the way, he’s six now, and our other son is four. To date, neither of them have noticed that Daddy looks different than them down below. I’m sure that will come, but I’m less worried about dealing with it than I was those years ago.