Talking with kids about circumcision

Whether you’ve left your boys intact or had them circumcised (or did some of each), or only had girls, I want to ask you how you have dealt with the subject of circumcision? Have your children ever asked you what it means to be circumcised? Have your children seen both circumcised and intact boys, and if so, have they commented on the difference? Or if your children are too young, what do you plan on telling them if they ask why they were circumcised or

My boys are intact, but some of their cousins are circumcised. They’ve taken baths together, and so far my boys haven’t asked me why their cousin’s penis looks different from theirs, but I’m anticipating the day that it comes, and I want to be forewarned and forearmed. I feel rather like the mother of a child who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, fearing that he will spoil the fun for all the other kids who still believe. Part of me wants to talk about it in strong terms, but part of me is afraid that in so doing, I will make my sons feel somehow superior, or that they will “spill the beans” to their cut cousins who will then be mad at their mothers, and I just don’t want to get into that, y’know? Of course, that may not happen; and my kids may never even bring it up, but still…

Over the past few days, I’ve been reading and watching more about circumcision (just watched the “Penn & Teller” video on it — warning that it has foul language and lots of penis wisecracks in it, but it was interesting), so the topic is on my mind. Some of the comments on these blogs and videos have been from men who are violently angry that they were circumcised as infants; others were circumcised as older children or even adults and are angry over it (with the men, it was usually because they were misled into thinking that circumcision was better than being intact, was necessary or was the only option for some condition they had, and they were dismayed over the outcome, and/or discovered too late that there were much milder treatments that the doctor never told them about). Reading comments like these made me proud and that I had “stuck to my guns” and kept our sons intact, and I want them to be glad but not at the expense of their cousins, y’know? And I don’t want my boys to tell their cousins, “Your penis looks weird because your mom had part of it cut off!” and then to have the cousins ask their moms about it. I’m hoping that the conversation never comes up, but I want to be prepared in case it does.

The biggest problem I foresee is that my older son has interminable questions and always wants to know “why.” And I anticipate that every answer I give him is going to be followed up with “why?” until it makes me uncomfortable. My hope is that if the question comes sooner rather than later, I may just say, “Your cousins are circumcised; that means that this part of their penis was cut off when they were babies.” And if they ask why, I will respond, “Because their parents thought it was the right thing to do; but we think that it was right to keep you whole.” If the question comes up later (or never) when they’re too old to spill the beans in a “Santa Claus isn’t real” fashion, I may just show them a video of a baby being circumcised, and say that I didn’t want to do that to them. How old they are at the time will be the determining factor of how much I say.

In the Penn & Teller video, they interview a pregnant woman and her husband who were trying to decide whether to circumcise their son or not. The husband was intact and didn’t want to cut his son, but the woman was for circumcision. It seemed to me that she was bowing to the cultural norm, rather than having any independent reason for circumcision; and actually her husband’s experience of being ridiculed for being intact weighed heavily on her desire to cut her son. She said with tears once, “I just want to do what is best for him,” and related that she didn’t want her son to undergo the teasing and tormenting that her husband endured as a teenager or young adult. The husband was very upset by being teased, but not enough to get himself circumcised (although there have been some men and older boys who have gone that route). I don’t anticipate my sons being teased for being whole, and I certainly don’t want them teasing anyone else for being cut; but I don’t want them ever to have misgivings about not having been circumcised as infants. So, I want them to be reasonably proud [not exactly the right word] and grateful [again, not really the right word] that they were not put through circumcision as infants, which means that eventually I will want to tell them my strongest thoughts and feelings on the matter, so that if anything comes up in a negative way, that they will not be caught off-guard, but can deflect any criticism (without being mean or critical in return).

Just in writing this, I foresee that at some point my kids will ask what circumcision is (reading through the Bible, you can’t exactly miss it), so I plan to give a simple and accurate answer as to not only what it is, but why God ordained it for Abraham’s offspring, and why it is not incumbent on Christians, and leave it at that. Maybe around the age of puberty (unless it comes up before), I will tell them that some boys are cut and others are intact, so they may see boys that look different from them, and just not to say anything (especially to their cousins); and also around the time of puberty (maybe before if necessary, or if I think they can handle it; or later, if they still seem to young at that time), I will give them a more thorough explanation, perhaps including a graphic video of a baby being circumcised.

What do you think?


Breastfeeding in Mongolia

You may not agree with everything in here, and I daresay that most of you will cringe at least once when you read through this, but it is a great read! Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan — very well worth reading. Here’s a snippet:

In 2005, according to UNICEF1, 82 percent of children in Mongolia continued to breastfeed at 12 to 15 months, and 65 percent were still doing so at 20 to 23 months.

Yeah, baby! That’s what I’m talking about! I don’t think the US gets those sorts of breastfeeding rates when mothers and babies are discharged from the hospital, much less at 6 months! At the very least, this article will show you some cultural differences in Mongolia that help promote the culture of breastfeeding they have. And you can have something to show those people who think you’re crazy for “still” breastfeeding at 3, 6, 12, 18, or 24 months. I don’t know that I would necessarily be completely comfortable with everything mentioned in this article, but I would like at least a cup-full of Mongolian attitude mixed into the American mix. We could start slowly, and at least quit the looking down our noses at women who are nursing in public or nursing their child past a certain age. Let’s celebrate breastfeeding, not look at it as some sort of necessary evil!

Kegels don’t do squat?

If there is one mantra, dogma, or axiomatic belief among women “in the know” when it comes to birth and babies, it’s that Kegels are wonderful, necessary, beneficial, etc. Now, someone is challenging that assertion. In short, the way the pelvic floor is understood is wrong, and needs to be changed. Tighter doesn’t necessarily mean better; it just means tighter, which may actually lead to a worsening of the problem. You need to read the whole article, because I’m skipping a lot (or else I’d be tempted to copy and paste most of it, but that wouldn’t be nice), but basically, squatting is what she recommends for incontinence and other things that Kegels are supposed to help.

If she just said that Kegels don’t work, I might be a tad suspicious that rather than being a lone voice of reason, she’s a lone voice for a reason [sorry, couldn’t help the chiasmus there :-)], although I’ve read enough from people who say that most women don’t do them right, and doing them “wrong” is worse than not doing any at all to know that there are many people who share her opinion at least to an extent. However, it was her suggestion of doing squats rather than Kegels which resonated with me.

Squatting is natural; doing Kegels is not, really. For most of human history, women (and men too) had to do a lot of physically demanding work, including a lot of squatting — tending the fire, garden, children, etc. Even in the absence of work, squatting was a natural way to rest and relax, if a chair was not available for whatever reason. Squatting is a normal part of life except for (primarily Western) adults who view squatting as either menial or childish. It’s not really a normal part of life to try to stop and hold the Kegel muscles, is it?

So, I’ll add this to my mental list of reasons to squat more regularly. What do you think of this article?

Mississippi Friends of Midwives Button

If you look over on the right-hand sidebar, you’ll see a new button that can be added to your website or blog that links to the MS Friends of Midwives website. Here it is below:

If you’d like to add it to your blog or website (please, please!) 🙂 here is the button info for you to copy and paste:

<a target=”_blank” href=””><img src=”; border=”0″ width=”200″ height=”40″ />

If you find that the width is too big or too small, you can easily change it by changing width=”200″ to width=”150″ or width=”250″ or whatever else will fit. Remember to change the height to match, so that the ratio stays the same — just divide the width by 5 to come up with the number for the height: for a width of 150, the height would become 30; for a width of 250, the height would be 50.


Update — to add to Blogger, you’ll need to Add a “Picture” gadget. In Mozilla Firefox (and possibly in other browsers), you can right-click the image above and “copy image location”; paste that in the Blogger gadget where it says “image”. You can also right-click the image and choose “copy link location” and paste that in the Blogger gadget where it says “link.”

Pure-breds vs. Mongrels

Nope, not dogs, cats, horses, or any other animal. I’m talking about humans. Sorry if the term “mongrel” offends you, but I’m including myself in this group, and it seems a handy term to identify people of mixed genetic background. This is not necessarily so-called “mixed race” offspring, but anything that is not “pure-bred” (or shall I say “inbred”? — My dad was 100% Dutch — we can trace all of his ancestors back to Holland in the 1860s, and some of his ancestors all the way back to the 1500s or 1600s; so when I talk about inbreeding, I’m including him and all the other “genetically pure” or “ethnically pure” people like that). I kinda like to say “inbred” because “pure” sounds so hoity-toity and “holier than thou,” while “inbred” has negative connotations. Using terms like inbred and mongrel kinda puts us all on equal footing [“all men are created equal,” after all], even if these terms are negative sounding. I’m not intending to be offensive; I’m typing this with an amused smirk on my face, and hope you all can see the humor in it. You see, America is a great “melting pot”; although apparently some groups haven’t “melted” as much as others. When I lived in Chicago, one of my husband’s friends (a Jamaican) was married to a Polish woman who I believe was native-born American. She was pure-bred [inbred? ;-)] Polish, and she and her parents and extended family all spoke Polish to each other, but spoke English to others. It was actually pretty humorous — we went to their child’s birthday party, and because I was white, all her Polish friends and family thought I must be Polish too, so they started off talking to me in Polish. Needless to say, I got on better with the Jamaican grandmother because we both spoke English, than with the Polish grandmother, although those who were bilingual spoke English to me. Many big American cities have neighborhoods called “Little Italy” and “Chinatown” and so forth, because people from one country or another tended to congregate in one spot and maintain their ethnic identity, rather than truly “melt” together. This is also how my dad was able to be pure Dutch, though all his ancestors left Holland a few generations before he was even born — they all settled in a very “Dutch” part of the country, and continued the tradition of Dutch marrying Dutch (see why I call it “inbreeding”?)… until my dad met my mom who has a who-knows-what genetic background.

One of the things that people often say about America and our birth outcomes is that we are of mixed genetic heritage — good ol’ melting pot, with many people claiming ancestry in half-a-dozen different European countries, and others combining genetics from entirely different continents. I think that’s great; but there is a theoretical problem with this mixing, if, for example, a woman with a genetically small pelvis, thanks to generations of inbreeding (for example, Koreans marrying only Koreans and giving birth to Koreans for millennia), marrying a man with a genetically large head (like, apparently, the Dutch, judging by my dad’s family photos), and then ending up with a theoretical baby that has a head too big to fit through the mother’s pelvis. I say “theoretical” because I don’t know if it’s been proven. [Also, it seems to be at least an equal chance that the baby would end up with the mother’s small head and body, so it’s really being prejudicial to say that a hypothetical child would definitely be too big to be born vaginally.] I remember reading about (and I blogged about it previously) a study in which Asian women married to white men had C-sections at a higher rate than white women married to Asian men. However, I wonder how much of the C-section rate was due to the doctor’s prejudicial decision that the baby would be too big for the woman’s pelvis, so was quicker to call for a C-section than he would have otherwise. And I also think of that one “Baby Story” I watched with a short woman and a big and tall husband, and she was induced because the doctors feared that with her husband being that big, the baby would be too big if she went to her due date. Birthweight? Six pounds and change. Um, yeah; that’s big. [Sarcasm]

So, are America’s high C-section rate, and poor rates of things like maternal and infant mortality due to us being a genetic melting pot? Or is it possibly something else?

What got me thinking on this topic again was this article I read, about a New Yorker living in Japan (married to a Japanese man, having lived there for years), trying to have a home-birth. In the article, the woman said that 1 out of 10 couples in Tokyo is “mixed” — I wonder if that would be a better place for a study into the theoretical problem of mixed genetics leading to “unbirthable” babies. We could look retrospectively at birth records of the three groups: “pure bred” Japanese mothers and fathers; Japanese mothers and foreign fathers; and foreign mothers and Japanese fathers; and see what if any differences there are in the C-section rate and birth outcomes of the three groups. It wouldn’t totally do away with provider bias, but it seems more likely to me that Japanese doctors would be less likely to stamp a Japanese pelvis with “FAIL” than American doctors might be — nationalistic pride, if nothing else, perhaps?

At the least, it would be interesting to see if the C-section rate for Japanese mothers and gaijin fathers would be similar to that of the American study.