If It's a Boy
We parents hear lots of advice about how to raise our children. Breastfeeding good, formula OK. Cloth diapers vs. disposables? To circumcise a newborn boy or not?
One study published on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web site referred to circumcision as the oldest controversial surgical procedure.
Male circumcision clearly is an American practice, and it is also an important part of Jewish and Islamic cultures. Rates in other countries, and continents even, are below 50 percent, if not much lower.
Circumcision is usually performed in the hospital by the obstetrician before the newborn boy goes home. The relatively quick procedure consists of administering some anesthetic to numb the area (either a topical cream or a shot of anesthesia, and a pacifier dipped in sugar water to help reduce the baby’s stress) before removing the foreskin from the penis.
According to one CDC study of 6,174 adult men in the United States, the rate of circumcision reached its highest point in the 1970s (91 percent) and started declining significantly in the 1980s (84 percent). According to the study, which was published in 2007, the overall rate of circumcision was 79 percent.
These statistics fit with the pattern witnessed by one Syracuse gynecologist who used to practice obstetrics also. She says at least 90 percent of her practice’s patients select circumcision for their boy babies. Hispanic parents seem to be the most likely not to choose circumcision, and some immigrant parents say they want their sons circumcised so they will be more American, she notes.
Some parents without religious traditions guiding them often choose circumcision based on whether the father is circumcised; that way the son will “look like” his father and not ask questions about a difference. Or they fear the “locker room” situation when boys may see that they don’t all look the same.
Several parents interviewed (none of whom wished to be named) said they chose to have their sons circumcised after having read or heard of an increased risk of urinary tract infections among boys with intact foreskins. However, medical sources indicate it is a myth that circumcised penises are “cleaner.”
But other parents decide to keep their sons “intact” or “natural” and forego circumcision. Jody Brown of Syracuse says she chose not to have her three sons circumcised because “you make the choices that give your children more choices later.” Two of her three sons—now ages 30, 28 and 22—have actually thanked her for that decision. Brown, a Suzuki piano teacher, is a member of the Holistic Moms Network. She gave birth to all of her children at home; home birth generally doesn’t include circumcision, she says.
Heather Scanlon, whose sons are not circumcised, says it seemed to help her older son understand that there are differences, even in what penises look like, by reading the book It’s Not The Stork! A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends by Robie Harris (Candlewick; $11.99). The book includes a picture of a circumcised and an uncircumcised penis. She says that when her son was a preschooler in Syracuse, he and his friends had noticed a lack of similarity.
It’s important that boys realize that they are all normal, she emphasizes. “I think uncircumcised penises will be more popular in the locker room as we go on,” adds her husband, Chris, a licensed physical therapist.
The American Academy of Pediatrics presents circumcision as a complex issue and the group of physicians leaves the decision up to parents. The AAP’s official stance is that there are not enough data suggesting potential benefits to circumcision, so the group cannot endorse it. On the other hand, the group does not argue against it. Its extensive review is on the AAP’s Web site.
Heather and her husband researched the tradition and the history of circumcision before having their first son six years ago. They were lucky, she says, because they agreed to skip the circumcision. Other couples have a more difficult time if they disagree about what to do.
At least two organizations are prominent on the anti-circumcision side of the controversy: Mothers Against Circumcision (http://www.mothersagainstcirc.org/) and the Holistic Moms Network (http://www.holisticmoms.org), which has a Syracuse chapter that serves Onondaga County. The Circumcision Resource Center at www.circumcision.org argues that even our language favors circumcision by using the term “uncircumcised.”
Muragan Pandian, of Clay, will encourage the New York Legislature to consider a bill outlawing what he calls “male genital mutilation” this year. “The main idea is if a female infant has the right to be protected, shouldn’t the male infant?” Pandian says. “It’s a violation of the equal rights for both sexes,” notes the father of two, a boy and one girl.
As with any medical procedure, parents need to be involved in the decision-making process and should make sure to discuss circumcision with their pediatrician and obstetrician before the birth of a child.
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