Real Stories: I changed my mind about circumcision and left my second son intact.

Tessa’s lovely family

The decision whether to circumcise one’s son is often a very contentious decision, especially on the internet.  Circumcision advocates and critics argue in online debates and family and friends share their opinions in real life, leaving expectant parents confused and feeling like they need to “take a side.”  Sometimes what seems like the right and obvious decision before the baby is born becomes a regret later, but it’s never too late to change your mind.

[In my early years of intactivism, I frequented parenting boards to convince people to not circumcise their sons.  In late 2008, I posted a thread on in which I briefly laid out the best arguments against circumcision and refuted the most common myths about the foreskin.  I’m proud to say that this post is still being discussed today.

A few days ago, I received an emotional private message on from our guest author, Tessa.  Four years ago, she was adamantly pro-circumcision, yet now she is an intactivist.  In the message, she apologized for being rude so long ago on DiaperSwappers (though I truly don’t remember that), and confessed her guilt and sorrow over her son’s circumcision.  I am so grateful that she so bravely agreed to share her story here, because I believe it is helpful for everyone embroiled in the circumcision debate to see each other as people, not enemies.  ~Lilli]

Guest Post by Tessa Tewksbury

I fell pregnant with my first child in late 2008. I was 19 years old. My mother was not shy or private on the matter of circumcision growing up. I often heard her use crude terms about intact penises and other derogatory descriptions we are used to hearing in our society: “turtle neck,” “pencil dick,” “gross,” “dirty,” “ugly,” and “smelly.” I was told that surely any boy who was intact was doomed to a lifetime of humiliation and embarrassment, as well as infections that would eventually lead to circumcision. I was led to believe it was “cruel” to leave a child intact. She also described to me how my grandfather “had to be” circumcised at an old age. I was told I had to circumcise my baby if it was a boy, to spare him from going through the pain as an adult, when he would remember it. I lived in an area with a high prevalence of circumcision, more than 80%. Text books in school all depicted circumcised penises. I knew literally nothing about the intact penis or the foreskin, and wrongfully believed that it was just a little bit of skin that was snipped off the tip.

Sometime in the middle of my pregnancy I was exposed to anti-circumcision information on the internet. The brainwashing I had received all growing up, the normalization of the circumcised penis, and my already having planned to circumcise my unborn child if it was a boy instantly left me feeling defensive and appalled at what I was reading. I defended circumcision angrily, felt attacked, and left the thread refusing to read any information. Back then, I’d say I was being treated rudely. Now, when I can look back at that actual conversation four years later, with a great more amount of perspective, humility, and knowledge surrounding the intactivist movement, I realize that I was angry at what I was reading, not at how I was being treated. I was given accurate information and was only met with angry tones when I lashed out first. I shamelessly mocked concerns over the pain the baby would feel as a newborn undergoing circumcision, using the common phrase “he won’t remember it,” as if not remembering it meant it did not happen or that the baby did not experience excruciating pain with no way to cognitively understand what was being done to it, or if it would even survive the attack. I didn’t want my baby to have to be circumcised at an old age like my grandfather, but refused to recognize that the chance he would actually need to be circumcised as an adult was minimal and that by doing it to him as an infant, I took it from a minimal chance that he might experience the pain of circumcision, to a sure thing.

The truth is, come time my oldest son was due, everything in my body was screaming at me not to do it. I didn’t want my son to have to be in pain. As hard as I tried to justify the procedure, as much as I ignored the arguments, it was eating away at me. My husband, like many circumcised men in the U.S., wanted it done for no real reason probably other than just that he didn’t want to admit he was missing anything or that it was done to him unnecessarily. He brought up concerns with cleanliness, and we considered the myth that being intact would make an intact son more likely to have a UTI. We were having a stressful time in our relationship and I sincerely thought that if I made waves, it could rock or end our relationship. My mother told me I had to and if insurance didn’t cover it, she’d pay for it. Everyone I talked to in real life told me I HAD to do it and mocked me for second-guessing it. Recently, my sister told me she would have supported me in leaving my son intact and didn’t think I should do it at the time, but she never spoke up.

Time ran out. My baby was born in September of 2009 by cesarean. I hardly left my bed and my husband changed his diapers. I literally never once saw my son’s natural penis. Come that awful day, I asked a nurse if it would hurt him. I desperately wanted just ONE person outside of the internet to tell me it didn’t need to be done. She lied to me and told me it would not hurt him and it was cleaner. He would sleep through it and they used anesthesia, she told me. I had not done enough research to know anything about the actual procedure or that she was lying about the anesthesia and pain he would feel. So I let them take him, even though every muscle in my body was telling me to run after her and take my son back. After a long labor in which I already felt like I had my rights stripped from me and told my concerns did not matter, I honestly did not feel like I had the power to say no, so I let her take him. That was the last time I saw my whole son.

After his circumcision, we couldn’t wake him to eat for hours upon hours. It rocked our breastfeeding relationship and we were warned if he didn’t start nursing, we’d have to supplement with formula. When I brought him home and changed his diaper for the first time, I was horrified. My son was screaming: he was in pain. My husband looked worried and said he never screamed like that before his circumcision. He was bloody and raw, and we had to use Vaseline to keep it from sticking to his diaper, though sometimes it still happened, and he’d scream bloody murder as we peeled his sore and painful glans away from the diaper. I think we both knew then what a mistake we had made, but we never discussed it. At the time I do not think either of us was willing or ready to accept that we had made the wrong decision, at least not to own that mistake out loud.

Weeks later after my son had already healed, someone in my online due date club had their son circumcised and he almost bled to death. Then… finally.. way too late to spare my oldest son… I was open to researching. Truth be told, I still wasn’t entirely open minded about it. I still tried to defend my choice, and it was months of reading before my irrational, myth-driven opinions gave way to facts and evidence. The truth was indisputable, and I finally acknowledged that I had made a very big mistake.

Since then, I’ve gained a wealth of information. I learned that the “anesthesia” that was used on my son was likely a dorsal penile nerve block, though the name is misleading, and it hardly blocked the pain. I also learned that his circumcision took far too little time for the lidocaine injection to have had actually had any real pain-relieving effect, because during circumcision, they hardly ever wait the needed 15-30minutes for the anesthesia to take effect before they start cutting. This was probably the fact that horrified me the most. My baby experienced excruciating pain, and I was still questioning, was it really necessary? The answer was no. I learned that the reasons I once supported circumcision and chose it for my son were hardly medically justifiable. I thought it’d protect my son from UTIs to learn that only 1% of boys in the first place get urinary tract infections, that there is only a slight increase of risk to intact boys, and those studies are questionable at best. I also finally had a “coming to light” moment when I realized, why in the world would a UTI warrant such an extremely invasive preventive measure, when I personally have had three UTIs in my lifetime that were all easily treated with oral antibiotics? I learned that we circumcise to prevent just 1% increased risk of developing a UTI, but that 9-11% of circumcised boys will go on to develop meatal stenosis, which can require a second surgery to correct the iatrogenic condition. Circumcision causes more problems than it prevents. The statistics were simply just NOT making sense. Although I do live in an area with still a very high circumcision rate, I learned more mothers are leaving boys intact, and only 32% of baby boys as reported in 2009 were circumcised. Circumcision is no longer the “norm” or the majority, and the “locker room” argument is no longer valid. I was literally protecting my son from nothing by circumcising him, but instead exposing him to unnecessary pain, harm, complications and infection.

In 2011 we learned we were expecting our second child. The topic of circumcision weighed heavily on my mind. I knew I would never circumcise again, but had a way to go in convincing my husband to be completely on board. He seemed reluctant to do any research of his own, and sometimes even seemed angry at the things I was saying, especially if it was concerning the negative effects circumcision has on sex. One day, I finally became frustrated, looked him straight in the eye and said “I will protect my baby from whoever I need to, a doctor, or even you.” A bold approach, but one that finally let him know just how serious I was. Once I stopped being wishy-washy and he understood how strongly I felt, his response was “Okay, we don’t need to do it.” I think in some sense, he was relieved as well, remembering the pain our oldest endured in the healing process. There began HIS journey into intactivism. He finally started to do some reading on his own. By the time I was 30 weeks along and touring our hospital, he actually stopped a couple who stated they were pregnant with a boy to tell them all about the harms of circumcision.

I also frequently discussed circumcision with my mother, who still was very much in favor of it. I partly resented her for pressuring me into circumcising my oldest and fervently wanted her to understand why she was wrong. She tried to argue that the boys both should match their father and that my youngest would feel different. I asked her how often she sat around as a teenager comparing her genitalia with her mother’s. I pointed out how my breast size did not match hers, and that I had never seen her vagina to know if mine “matched” hers either. I certainly never remember my brothers comparing their penis with our father. Friends and others had remarks to say about how my son would be dirty, but quickly dropped the subject. My sister was hugely supportive and actually vocal about that support this time around, and I had even made some new friendships with other mothers that felt similarly and had chosen to leave their sons intact as well.

The biggest concern with them not matching was not that my youngest may feel “different” but that one day I would have to broach the talk with my oldest, confess to him about the mistake we made and the truth about circumcision, and ask for forgiveness. Still, if my youngest noticed, I just knew that I’d always be honest in an age appropriate way. Once I knew the truth surrounding circumcision, repeating the mistake was simply not an option, not even to spare my oldest from realizing he lost an important, functional part of his penis. Even if we had not been exposed to the information that led us to leave our second son intact, circumcision rates are at an all time low of 32% in the U.S. He would certainly be exposed to intact males, whether it was his brother or a friend. In addition, there is a wealth of easily accessible information about circumcision on the internet that our son would most certainly see some day. Choosing to circumcise a second son to be “fair” to our first child was just not rational, and certainly not fair, or moral, with the knowledge we now possessed. We made that mistake, we cannot change that, but we can choose not to repeat it. While certainly my oldest will have his own emotional struggles with our not protecting him the way we did his little brother, I hope in time he is able to understand and come to respect the courage it takes to say “I’m wrong.”

Our second baby was born in April of 2012. We brought our WHOLE, PERFECT baby home. He was so easy to clean and care for. My sister pointed out he did not scream bloody murder during his diaper changes like my oldest had. I could not imagine ever wanting to change anything about his body. When he was born, I said he was perfect, and I meant it! He didn’t need cosmetic surgery, and being left intact did not cloud any family member’s love for him. It quickly became a non-issue. They didn’t love my second son any different, and especially anyone that had no responsibility in diaper changes, sometimes even forget that my second son is intact!

Leaving my second son intact was actually quite healing. I felt such tremendous guilt from not sparing my oldest from the incredible pain he felt during his circumcision. I wish I could pretend I was never a proponent of circumcision and that I never forced my son to endure such torture, and worse, that I was presented with information that tried to persuade me it was all unnecessary, but quite simply refused to consider that what I had been taught to believe was wrong. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to come around to the truth. Not only did I make the wrong choice, but it was also a choice that was excruciatingly painful, one that I can never take back, and one that will effect him for the rest of his life. That is a devastating reality as a mother. No mother wants to hurt their child, and the realization that they did, is a hard pill to swallow. After not feeling like I had the power to say “No” in the hospital with my first, it was entirely empowering to take back that control and protect my second son. I was asked three times while in the hospital if we wanted him circumcised, and I proudly said “No!” every time. It still never changes what happened to my first, and I will always hold some amount of guilt, but I’m also learning to forgive myself. I made a mistake, but I was also courageous enough to say “I was wrong” and do better in the future. If nothing else, that is a powerful lesson my children can learn from when they are old enough and the circumcision talk can be broached on a more serious level.

In addition to leaving my second son intact, I feel morally obligated to spread awareness. I am incredibly grateful to intactivists that helped me to gain access to information that ultimately made me change my mind, and it is a way to pay it forward. I talk to expectant parents, I card, I educate. I try to help as many baby boys as I can to spare them from what I did not spare my oldest from, and try to help spare other mothers from the guilt I experienced upon accepting the truth too late. I feel terrible that in advocating for the genital integrity of baby boys, I might stir up feelings of guilt and pain in parents over a decision that they may have made with the information they had at the time. Mistakes do not define us, but we do have a choice to repeat them, or to learn from them. I don’t try to make people feel bad about the decisions that they made in the past. I am focused on helping people make better decisions in the future.

[Thank you so much to Tessa for sharing her story.  I am always looking for more Real Stories about circumcision, so please contact me if you would like to share yours.  ~Lilli]

Tessa’s beautiful sons
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35 Responses to Real Stories: I changed my mind about circumcision and left my second son intact.

  1. Pingback: Excellent true story about a mom who went from pro-circumcision to anti-circumcision | Coffee and Kids

  2. Klaus says:

    I am unsure what my father’s circumcision status was, but I do know that my older brother was circumcised, but my parents decided not to have me circumcised as a child. Growing up, I knew my brother had a circumcision when he was a baby, but I didn’t really understand it. I didn’t recognize the harm that it caused. Growing up in a predominantly circumcised culture, I did get a bit of “locker room” treatment, but that was totally worth it. Besides, if kids really want to pick on somebody, they will find something different, right? May we forgive them for their ignorance in mocking me for having a normally functioning, whole penis when their parents likely also wrongfully took that right from them.

    At any rate, here I am a 30-something man and I couldn’t be happier about being spared from circumcision. Rest assured you did the right thing. I know you wish you had done so sooner, but at least you broke the cycle.

    God bless.

  3. Tim says:

    I never understood or usually believe when people say “he’ll have to be circumcised later” or “I know men that had to get it done later in life”. I have a hard time believing so many people know men who got it done as adults. 99.8% of men left intact as babies will live the rest of their lives intact. Its why I think a lot of those types of stories are hot air.

    • Stephanie says:

      I know of two men who were circumcised as adults, and for both it was a choice they made for cosmetic reasons. I know at least one regrets it. I’ve never heard of someone (outside stories on the internet) who needed to be circumcised for medical reasons. So yes, there are men who are circumcised later in life, but I’d be hard pressed to say they had to be.

      • Sylvia RN MSN NP-C says:

        A study in Denmark found that only 1 in 16,000+ men warrented a medical circumcision. And in the USA, only 1 in 500 men choose to have one done for cosmetic reasons. So even with that rate, 499 babies are needlessly having healthy body tissue amputated without their consent for every one that chooses to have the procedure performed later.

  4. Michelle says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I know how difficult it is to admit making a serious mistake, especially with one’s children. It is wonderful that you have such insight and have used it to make positive changes in the world for the benefit of your children. I have never doubted standing up against infant circumcision, for indeed, what could be more right than protecting those who can’t protect themselves.

  5. roger desmoulins says:

    I linger over but one thing — your grandsons, and your ensuing male descent, will all be intact. And that is a lovely thought.
    You deserve no blame for cutting your first born. You and your husband were victims of the American Foreskin Holocaust, which resulted in millions of American parents being very uncomfortable with raising intact sons. American medical schools and sex research deserve all the blame for this situation.

  6. Ashlie says:

    If my daughter would have been a boy I would have cut her for sure and that is the most sexist thing in the world. I was not even aware it was a surgery until others decided to speak out to me. I now know better and have a perfect little intact son. I couldn’t imagine thinking now how I did back then. Thank you for sharing your story and showing just because you did something once doesn’t mean you have to repeat it forever <3

  7. Jacob says:

    I was not circd, and grew up in the early 80’s. All my classmates were, and as one guy pointed out, I too took some flak for it. But when it wasn’t that, it was my hair, or dark skin, or whatever. Kids cruel.

    It left me thinking I was the only one in the world. I asked my doctor during a routine physical how it could be done. She was shocked. She asked what was wrong and why I would do it. I said, “i’m just asking, if I wanted to do it, just because…” She told me it would be excruciating, had potential side effects, and she could not endorse it. As a 34yr old, happily married man, I’m glad for her advice. I am also so thankful my parents left that decision (which I made for myself) to me, and did not do it for me.

    I’ve asked my mom, a delivery room nurse, why she didn’t do it. She has long since retired, but told me she will never forget the scream of a male infant being “snipped” and knew the first time she saw it happen that she could never do it to her own child.

    • Sylvia RN MSN NP-C says:

      Your mom rocks!!! I had to witness an infant circumcision while in nursing school and almost vomited from how horrific it was and also vowed never to cut any baby boys that were born to me. My son is 3 years, perfect and whole!!! :-) <3

  8. Pingback: Real Stories: I changed my mind about circumcision and left my second son intact. | Circumcision Doctors Australia

  9. Louis says:

    I personally don’t see a problem with it. I am and have never had any problems or concerns. I don’t remember any pain and I also believe it just looks better. I had my son done he didn’t scream or cry during the procedure. We didn’t have any problems with cleaning it afterward. I just want to say my views have nothing medical about doing it or not i believe it just looks better!!

    • Tessa says:

      Louis, you have to ask yourself, is it your right to perform completely elective, *COSMETIC* surgery on your child without their consent? If your only concern is that it looks better, shouldn’t HE get the choice? After all, HE is the one that will have to live with and look at his penis for the rest of his life. YOU only have to look at it and care for it for a few short years. And YOU cannot be sure that he will be happy with the choice you made for his body for cosmetic reasons. It can always be done later if he chooses for cosmetic reasons, the same as I could as a female choose cosmetic genital surgery or breast implants.
      YOU may not have a problem with it, but one day your son may, along with thousands of other men that are speaking out. If it is not medically necessary, if you cannot be sure that your son will want or approve of a decision made on his behalf for merely cosmetic reasons, the sensible thing is to leave it be and allow him the choice.

      Just food for thought

  10. Richard Russell says:


    Thank you for your beautiful story. Please, no guilt, no blame; you didn’t know better; after you knew better you did better. You seem to have all the issues for the future covered. Most of all please often reassure your older son he got cut, not because you loved him less but because you knew less when he was born. When I was born I got a US medical circumcision in the hospital; it was horribly botched and I’ve experienced a lifetime of pain and disfigurement from that. When I asked a doctor for help with the pain I was told there was nothing wrong with circumcision and anyone who thought there was was crazy and crazy people got put in an insane asylum, and finally that if I ever brought it up again he’d put me in one. (He never asked me any questions, nor even looked at my mangled organ, just started screaming.)

    I share that little snippet of my life to disclose just one risk a mother takes when she says yes to circumcision. But even the best circumcision outcome can leave a boy, and the man he grows up to be, emotionally scarred. You are a hero to me; your example will inspire other mothers to not circumcise. Thank you, from me, on behalf of the boys of the future!

    • Tessa says:

      Richard, thank you so much for your reply, and I am so sorry for the the suffering you endure and the continued mistreatment from medical professionals. :( If it is one thing I can find comfort in, it is that although I made a permanent harmful decision that will effect my oldest for the rest of his life, that he has two parents conscious of their mistake and willing to validate his feelings at any time.
      My oldest now is 4 years old. The other day going through my purse, he found some of my intactivists cards. Unable to read yet, he asked what they said. I explained they tell parents not to cut baby’s penises. We had only one prior conversation about why his baby brother’s penis had more skin than his in which I explained a doctor told us to cut off some of his peepee skin but that before Garen was born we learned that it is bad to do that, so didn’t do it to him. That was a very short conversation, ending with him telling me that he was going to get some superglue and some and put his skin back on! He knew he didn’t “match” his brother, we explained we were wrong, and he imagined up a solution to the problem. It was literally as nonchalant as that. This time, however, he was older and had many questions, including “Did it hurt?” “Did I cry?” and “Do babies bleed? Do they DIE!?” In our home, we take the approach of age appropriate honesty. I explained, yes, it hurt very much. Yes, you cried. Yes, babies bleed. Not always, but yes, sometimes babies die. This made him all very sad, but he said his baby brother never had that happen to him. I told him he was right. We learned that it wasn’t good or right to do, and that if we had not been lied to by a doctor that we would NEVER, EVER let anyone hurt him either. My sweet, sweet boy replied, “I’m glad no one cut Garen!” and proceeded to talk about putting on his Halloween Spider-Man costume, going to the hospitals and saving all the babies from having their penises cut.
      I can only hope having apologetic, empathetic parents that are willing to validate any negative feelings will make a difference.

      • Richard Russell says:

        Thanks for that. It’s good to know your older son is internalizing the right message; it bodes well for a compassionate and kind man in the future. As for age appropriate, he may be happy to learn that he can restore his foreskin. I believe age 16 is optimum age for starting, but we have had some as young as 14 have great success with it. Early/beginning techniques are very gentle and easy to tolerate, so there is very little risk, though you may want to encourage him to let you know if he experiences any injury such as chafing or reddening that may require some time-out to allow for healing, before proceeding. Teens may find their nocturnal and spontaneous erections to be more inconvenient during restoring than otherwise, but they can learn to adjust for them with experience. Many believe the younger ones have faster results, but there are anecdotal messages to say no, they are typical of all other ages, as well as those who say they are faster. Some men have faster success; others have much slower success; two to three years at low end, 8-10 at high end. Patience is essential. The important thing is that he really wants to do it; it won’t work if someone else wants him to do it and he’s not dedicated to it. Maybe by the time he is 14 give him the book by Jim Bigelow, _The Joy of Uncircumcising_. History of circumcision, history of restoring, and principles of restoring, and early techniques are timeless; what is dated is latest equipment and supplies for advanced efforts. He can go online and search for that when he is ready. They sell it at www[dot]norm[dot]org. About $25. for print edition, and I recommend that so he can mark it up and share it with others when appropriate, without always needing a PC or e-readier with it on file. What is most often a hindrance for some teens is parental hostility to the idea; I can tell that won’t be a problem in your family! Best wishes to you wonderful parents and your fine sons.

  11. Frank says:

    The circ rate where I live is very high, so when I adopted two school-aged boys, when the time was right I offered them any time they wanted one, I would agree. They never did, and I learned that there is nothing wrong with having a foreskin, and adapted my thinking from what I learned. A former circ advocate, I now hope that my grandsons (if any) never get one. Also, I read a related article on loose circumcision, and have a nephew with that. His is fine and he is a teen now. I think the decision, a compromise, was brilliant compared to a full circ. Anyone who finds their doc only did a loose circ should not be too hasty to get it all off. It’s a good religious compromise and the guy will look like the future majority of intact fellows in the USA, like already around the world.

    • Richard Russell says:

      Frank, Thank you for sharing your story. And congratulations on acquiring and applying the wisdom that kept your sons whole. As for your nephew, loose cut is almost always better than tight, but they can have complications in some cases (more prone to adhesions during healing of cut, which is why some doctors say they don’t like to do them). But overall better, and can leave a boy and man he becomes with a mostly covered glans, which along with the mucosa (inner foreskin) can retain healthy sensitivity, color, and texture. (It also preserves for future sexual partners the gliding action provided by the slack skin, even after erection.) Best option is no cut, and here’s why: Even the mildest circumcision takes away the highly enervated ridged band which is situated just inside the foreskin near the tip; there are more nerve ending in that relatively small structure than in all the rest of the penis.

      Thanks again for your thoughtful input. And don’t let your sons forget that you let them choose, as they should for their sons.

  12. Sonny says:

    International doctors’ organizations condemn the AAP’s 2012 stance on circumcision.

    It is now more than a year after the anniversary of the AAP’s statement on circumcision. The AAP’s statement was made on August 27, 2012. It is time to learn about the condemnation of the AAP’s statement on infant male circumcision by 38 doctors representing more than 16 international medical associations. This is groundbreaking and historic. Why? When was the last time you have heard of so many doctors and their organizations condemning another doctors’ organization?

    I am including a reference to the American Academy of Pediatrics own journal which presents the international condemnation of the AAP:

    Cultural Bias in the AAP’s 2012 Technical Report and Policy Statement on Male Circumcision

    What is in the best interest of the child? It is in the best interest of the child
    1) to become educated and aware of what the foreskin is and what its functions involve before cutting it off,
    2) to consider the stereotypes and why they exist before cutting the foreskin off,
    3) to consider if any men circumcised in infancy have been harmed by the procedure since the newborn could possibly become one of these men in the future, and
    4) to avoid cutting off any body part if other less invasive means to care for that part of the body are available.
    5) to learn the easy care of the foreskin which is healthier than circumcision. A) Do not pull the foreskin back. Let nature take its time. B) Do not use harsh soaps or bubble bath. C) Give your child a regular bath. As easy as ABC!

    • roger desmoulins says:

      The European doctors focused their disagreement with the AAP Task Force on claimed “cultural bias”, something doctors are not trained to reason about. They did not focus on the fact, which the AAP’s 2012 Technical Report admitted, that the long term adverse consequences of circumcision for adult sexual pleasure and function have yet to be researched seriously.

  13. Alisha says:

    I’m a mothe of two boys. One is intact and one, sadly, isn’t. Every time I went to the hospital for a NST or false labor, I was asked if I planned to circumcise. I kept saying, “I don’t know yet.” Every part of me said “No” except my mouth. Every muscle in my body screamed “No!” But I didn’t listen. I finally decided to leave it up to one thing. If he would have pain relief during the surgery. My pediatrition said he would be given a local but they couldn’t fully numb him. My mother was literally next to me giving me horror stories. I felt completely torn. But I consented. Every bone in me regretted signing my name to that simple, yet intimidating piece of paper. They took my son and cut his foreskin off. My room was just a few feet away from the nursery. I could hear him scream. I also had a c-section after a very long, long labor. I tried going to get my baby boy but I couldn’t. Instead I vomited everywhere. ‘What did you do?!’ is what I kept thinking to myself. My poor son has spent a lifetime full of problems with his penis. 7 years later, in 2012, I found myself pregnant with another son. I still questioned whether or not to circumcise my soon-to-be son. But this time was different. I had access to the internet and was even in a group on Facebook with other pregnant women due the same month as me. Almost 700 women from all over the world. Russia, Canada, England, Ireland, Japan, Austrilia, France, and so many more. One mom in Alabama asked “If you’re having a son, will you circumcise him? Why or why not?” It became a heated debate, as always. Women were fighting over a baby’s penis. I read along and one simple sentence from a mom in Austrilia struck me. “All you have to do is wipe it off like a finger.” What?! Surely she must be wrong! All I’ve been told is how much easier circumcised penises are to take care of, how much cleaner they are. Surely an uncircumcised penis is A LOT of work to keep clean! I kept reading all the research these crazy women provided. They all said that an intact penis basically required no care at all. Just don’t retract it and wipe it off like a finger. But time had run out, my son was born. He, just like his brother and sister before him, was absolutely perfect. On the second or third day of our hospital stay, my older son saw me changing his new brothers diaper. He was horrified by what he saw. He started crying and asked what the doctors had done to his little brothers penis. I said “What do you mean? Nothing has been done to him!” He was mortified they cut the umbilical cord and it had started to dry and shrivel up. He was SO relieved once I explained it to him.

    Later that day a nurse came to take him for his circumcision. I thought of all the problems my older son has had to deal with. Did I really want to subject another one of my sons to all that pain? No. “No. No. No!” I told her. “No, he will not be circumcised. He will come home intact.” My mother was there and didn’t say a word. The nurse tried to scare me into cutting my sons genitals. She kept saying he would live a life full of UTI’s and get HIV! I started getting mad and screamed “As long as he doesn’t sleep around like a wh*re then he’ll be perfectly fine! GET OUT OF MY ROOM!!”

    My mother, the same woman who told me that my first son would have soooo many problems if left intact, supported my decision. She didn’t fully agree with it but understood my reasons. Since that day, I’ve become passionate about telling the truths of genital mutitaltion on our sons and daughters. About the proven benefits of leaving our children WHOLE and perfect.

    I still harbor a lot of guilt for not sticking up for my oldest son. His screaming still haunts me. When he’s older, I plan on giving him information about making himself whole again – since he might end up needing surgery to correct the damage that was done. But at least when that happens it will be his choice on whether he wants to do it or not and I will support him no matter what he decides.

  14. Leslie says:

    This will be me when I have another son! I am dreading the day my first son asks why I circed him but not his little brother. I will regret it forever :(

  15. Erin says:

    So happy to read this article which is getting more views. I believe our overly “pornified” culture has convinced us that “it looks better” is a valid reason for elective surgery on a newborn. If a woman does not love my son when he is an adult because he isn’t circd, that is a simple way to know she is not the one you want to marry! Getting circd reduces sexual sensation and who would want that!? Human beings are not made with unneccessary or disposable parts.

  16. GregH says:

    Thank you for sharing this powerful story, and thanks to your husband for his ability to learn and make a turnaround (it’s not easy for many). Your statement: “My husband, like many circumcised men in the U.S., wanted it done for no real reason probably other than just that he didn’t want to admit he was missing anything or that it was done to him unnecessarily” is probably the single biggest reason that infant male genital cutting (MGC) persists. Many women in certain African and Islamic cultures use this same rationalization. It takes a very open-minded person to stop the cycle of cutting.
    I have one correction – the current American newborn MGC rate is not 32% – that oft-cited number was used by pro-cutting HIV researchers at a conference to lament the low rate. They actually acknowledged the inaccurate methods used to arrive at that number. According to recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the national MGC rate is 56%, although it varies widely by region.

  17. This so much echoes my own story which is one of the spurs that launched the intactivist movement when it was published in Mothering magazine in 1982. I feel so much empathy in reading this that it brings me to tears. I’ve shared it on my own timeline and on Anchorage Circumcision Resources. Thanks Tessa for having the courage to share. Writing can be immensely powerful and healing.

  18. Andrea says:

    Thank you for sharing! We have an intact 8 month old son. We received tons of family pressure regarding circumcision. To the point family members were filling out consent forms, and asking me to sign. Rude comments you name it. It really hurt me. They still bring it up.. You are not doing what’s best for him. Even told he may hate you for it later! I had so much pressure I made an appt to take him, but my motherly voice said NO! I did the research and we chose not to circumcise our son. I will never regret doing what was best for him!

  19. Will says:

    At some point, your first son will realize what he’s missing, and yes it may cause him problems later in life. But if you’re open and honest with him about your decision, he will forgive you as I forgave my parents. He will ask questions, so be prepared to answer them and provide all the appropriate resources. Your second son will be forever grateful that you chose to keep him intact. I was circumcised as an infant, and because of the problems it caused me (even with a normal, successful circumcision) I vowed that all of my sons, and hopefully my descendants for generations to come, will all be intact. I didn’t truly realize what I was missing until we found out we were having a boy, when I started researching the topic heavily. It makes me really quite sad when I think about it, because I’ll never know what intimacy *should* be. But all the sadness and depression in the world can be offset by the decision to leave my son intact. And I hope that will be your comfort as well.

  20. Crystal says:

    I feel like this is me writing this. I also circumcised my first son and my second I left intact

  21. maria says:

    While I applaud your decision to take a stand for what you believe in I just wanted to say that we circumcised our first born and he did not scream bloody murder or at all for that matter during his diaper changes. He didn’t bleed or stick to his diaper. I do remember him crying during a diaper change before that happened. Here’s the thing about newborns… they are new to the world and hate new experiences like a cold wipe trying to get meconium off. And they don’t feel secure when something is not wrapped around them holding their arms in like our wombs used to.

    Also, circumcision did not affect my breastfeeding relationship with him. He did sleep after his procedure “for hours” but he was a newborn. He had it done at 7 and was back to breastfeeding at 12. I also had a c section after a long labor.

    I’m not saying this to start an argument or anything, I’m only saying that I feel like your post is scare tactics and I want people to know that not every circumcision is like your sons. Just like not every intact person has the same story.

    For the record our second son will also be circumcised. Because I believe it’s best. I have done research so please do not try to persuade me. And yes I have watched them perform a circ. There’s even a video of a traumatized 7 year old you can watch. ..

    • Tessa Tewksbury says:

      I am sharing my true experience. No scare tactics. Only truth.

      Before his circumcision, he was calm. He was content. He nursed readily. After his circumcision, he was in shock and wouldn’t nurse. He slept very deeply and was nearly impossible to wake ( his body’s mechanism to deal with the excruciating pain he was in). This response, I’ve learned, is not at all uncommon. When he needed his diaper changed, he’d cry and scream the way a baby only does when they are in true, genuine PAIN.

      My son is far from the only boy that has ever reacted this way to having his genitals cut. There are entire facebook groups dedicated towards “circumcision regret” parents in which I’ve seen hundreds of peopel echo my own experience.
      This video is of a baby’s first diaper change after being cut. He is clearly in pain:

      A well researched parent knows that circumcision is purely social surgery (I refuse to call it “cosmetic” because I refuse to give credibility to the idea that “it looks better”) in which the risks outweigh any spurious “benefits” Americans have been led to believe. The AAP claims 1% risk of UTI, a 0.00001% risk of penile cancer, or 1% risk of phimosis is basis to justify circumcision. 9-11% of boys that are circumcised develop meatal stenosis, a condition caused by circumcision that often requires surgical correction . Ignoring the incidence of meatal stenosis, some studies have suggested the rate of complication is 3%, which is still greater than the risk of UTI, penile cancer and phimosis combined. Concerning UTIs, if 1000 well boys are circumcised, 8-10 infections will be prevented, but 20 will have a complication related to the circumcision. One study estimates that more than 322,000 newborn circumcisions are required to prevent just 1 penile cancer event per year, but 644 boys would suffer complications from their circumcision. So the RISKS of circumcision surgery OUTWEIGH any spurious claims of health benefits. Circumcision directly causes more harm than it prevents.

      This is a fantastic read on the subject:
      Cultural bias in the AAP’s 2012 Technical Report and Policy Statement on male circumcision

  22. Bella says:

    I only read through about 3/4 comments but strangely, the whole dialogue reminded me of the dog tail docking argument. Years ago, so many breeds had their tails docked (to look good), but by the Naughties most of these practices were outlawed as they were considered abusive (varies from country to country of course). I too chose not to circumcise my son, and I sometimes regret it – I still hear women say that uncircumcised penises are ‘disgusting’ and they ask them to wash before sex. I find it all very confusing and I think I will always doubt my choice. One thing I do do though – I respect everyone’s choice and I don’t judge what is right or wrong – as a parent, you will make so many in life. Give yourselves a big hug :)

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  24. Sara says:

    Thank you for this post, I’m in tears reading it. A week or so ago, my mother said to me “we really need to book him in for a circumcision”, about my 3 year old son. I was horrified and explained to her that I’d done my research before he was born and chosen not to have him circumsized and I would not have my 3 year old child go through that kind of surgery. I really wouldn’t, but I’ve felt a sense of guilt since then. I began wondering if I’d made the wrong choice when he was born by choosing not to circumsize him. If perhaps he will be the odd one out, made fun of… I couldn’t believe my own mother commented on it. I felt hurt to be honest because he’s perfect in every way. I needed to read something to reassure the decision I made, not that I can go back in time and undo it or anything but just so I can feel better about the decision I did make. Thank you very much for reassuring me, I loved this post.

  25. I also left my youngest son intact even though his father and three older brothers were all circumcised. I deeply regret that I had little awareness when my first three sons were born. There is a certain purity and perfection in an intact baby that is totally special and (sadly) rare. Thanks for sharing your incredible story.

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