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'When my son was born, we altered his body forever. And I so deeply regret it.'

Growing up as both an American and a Jewish person, it was a given that I would someday circumcise my children.

I didn’t really question it. When I was pregnant with my son, my husband, who is circumcised, but not Jewish, told me that he wanted to circumcise him because he wanted them to ‘look the same.’ It was reasoning that I couldn’t really argue with. I didn’t know much about circumcision, and I wanted to respect my husband’s feelings on the issue. And, if I’m being totally honest, it was a relief to defer this decision – my two previous miscarriages had sucked any joy and spontaneity out of this pregnancy, and the anxiety over it happening again, and the overabundance of information that I buried myself in as a distraction, left me exhausted and overwhelmed. Circumcision was very low on my list of concerns at that point.

Circumcision was very low on my list of concerns at that point. (Images: iStock/provided)

My doubts began when the nurse at the hospital came to take my son. It hit me that I was trusting strangers to take my newborn child, the one we’d gone through hell to bring in to this world. And now strangers would be performing minor surgery on him without my supervision.

I had only been a mum for around a day, and every instinct I had told me not to do this. I didn’t even take the time to question whether this was important to me, although it obviously wasn’t. I’m not particularly religious - I married a Catholic, meaning our only collective reason for circumcising our child was for cosmetic purposes. But I had deferred the decision, so I let the nurse take him.

When they brought him back, he was crying. The nurse dismissed it by saying that the procedure didn’t hurt, but that he was just ‘pissed off.’ Words of a medical professional, people! It wasn’t that surgery on his genitalia was painful, just that a day-old newborn was angry. Over the rapidly rising rate of unemployment, no doubt. Or maybe petrol prices? Lord knows, that really boils my onions. Or, more likely, his parents had sent him alone into a room of weirdos who think that babies can’t feel pain. Yup, it’s that one.

LISTEN: The hosts of Mamamia's parenting podcast This Glorious Mess get a performance review from their kids. (Post continues...)

So the question is, if you aren’t circumcising your child for religious reasons, is there any point to circumcision? Many of the older arguments for circumcision, such as hygiene and sexual function, have long been debunked. Similarly, circumcision only provides partial protection to HIV, and evidence that it decreases the chance of contracting human papillomavirus, UTIs, and penile cancer is negligible.

Risks of circumcision are the same risks of any minor surgery: bleeding, infection, and removing too much or too little skin. But the largest concern among most is an ethical one.

Since the procedure is elective and only in very few cases medically necessary, shouldn’t the child be the one to give consent? After all, the child’s body is now altered for life. Not to mention the pain the child endures, which, while fortunately temporary, is still very real. Ultimately, there are few compelling reasons to argue that circumcision either helps or hurts.

"Shouldn’t the child be the one to give consent?" (Image: iStock)
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My son is turning five in about a month. Despite some hiccups, he’s become a very healthy, very MALE little boy (my home is filled more ninjas, dinosaurs, robots, monsters, and pirates than I will ever be comfortable with).

At this age, when things are fairly uncomplicated, it’s easy to be honest with him. But is this something I can discuss with him someday? When the time comes, I hope that I will have the strength to admit my guilt and to apologise. But frankly, I think that’s the easy part. The harder conversation is explaining why people circumcise and what it means to be Jewish. I’m not so sure I’m clear on that myself.

If I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t circumcise my son. That’s not to say that I don’t believe anyone should do it. And I certainly don’t blame my husband for making a decision that I was unwilling to make. But in the end, it doesn’t sit right with me. And that’s something I’m going to have to find a way to live with.

Nicole Steadman is a freelance writer and photographer living in San Diego, California. She is also a mother, long-distance runner, and aspiring children’s book author.

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