Before our son was born I cannot ever recall wondering whether or not we should have him circumcised. The issue simply never came up. It was 1972 and amputating the male foreskin was automatic, reflexive, like breathing or eating food. Growing up, the only boys I ever remember not being circumcised were Mexican-American and Asian and one or two poor white trash kids from the wrong side of the tracks. None of them was envied.
My wife and I had dutifully and enthusiastically gone thru the Lamaze training and I was excited to participate with the birthing. Circumcision was never discussed. So when the doctor asked shortly after my son's birth, "You want him circumcised don't you? So he'll look like you?" I was unprepared for the question and wasn't quite sure why he had asked. I sort of stammered, "Sure. I guess so. Why not?"
He didn't answer the "why not?" but it was soon apparent to me. My newborn son was taken from his mother's warm, nourishing breast and placed naked on a cold, plastic board called a Circumstraint. His little legs were spread-eagled and strapped down with Velcro bands and his arms were strapped to his sides. He immediately protested and began to cry. The doctor draped a thin cloth with a hole in the center over his shivering body and drew his little penis through the hole. The doctor washed my baby's penis with an antiseptic solution. He took a pair of steel hemostats and, holding the penis in one hand, inserted the tip of the hemostat into the opening of the foreskin and began pushing it between the foreskin and the glans, ripping the two structures apart. The foreskin and glans were tightly fused together by the normal balanopreputial membrane called the synechia, similar to the membrane that attaches the fingernail to the finger. It's the body's way, in part, of protecting against harmful bacteria.
My baby was shrieking now, his protest going from a simple cry to what sounded like screams of sheer terror. His body was rigid, contorted as he strained against the straps and the pain. If the Circumstraint had not been bolted down, it and my child would have crashed to the floor. Every instinct I had told me this was not right, that I should be protecting my son instead of acquiescing to the barbaric spectacle before me. But I am a "civilized" man. I have been socialized to accept what the doctor is doing. It's the right thing to do. Right?
The foreskin did not easily give up its hold on my son's glans. The doctor continued to rip the skin with the hemostat. My son was shaking, tossing his head from side to side, his fists and eyes were clenched, sweat beaded on his brow.
The doctor finally got the glans and foreskin separated, then clamped the foreskin tight with another hemostat and cut the skin vertically with scissors. The wound was bleeding profusely. He tried to insert a steel cone into the tissue but had to force it because the incision was too short. My son stopped screaming. His eyes were glazed and rolled back. He appeared to be sleeping, but he was really in a state of complete and utter shock.
The doctor put a large metal clamp around the bleeding foreskin, the cone supposedly to protect the glans, and he proceeded to crush the nerves, the blood vessels and tissue of the foreskin with the clamp. He took a knife and sliced around the clamp, letting the foreskin drop onto the cloth. My son lay motionless on the board, completely disassociated into some other, more hospitable space. The doctor looked at me and winked. He left the room. A nurse gave my son back to his mother. Welcome to America, little man.
There are decisions we make in our lives that haunt us til the end. Allowing the most sexually sensitive part of my son's penis to be amputated, without anesthesia, for no medical reason whatsoever, is one of those haunting decisions for me. I still see the look of terror and betrayal on his little face as he was strapped down and coldly prepared for the assault upon his innocent, unsuspecting body. I still hear his high-pitched scream, unearthly, ungodly, coming deep from some primal space within his soul. I wish I had power to call it all back, to start again, to be more informed, thoughtful, skeptical of a medical establishment that "knows better" than nature what is in the best interest of sexual experience or hygiene, more mistrustful of a doctor who said "It's just a little snip of skin. It won't hurt much", more responsible in finding out the truth of a surgical procedure that maims for life and diminishes sexual fulfillment throughout.
I am grateful, however, I was present when my son was cut, that I may give testament to the routine mutilation of our boys, often done behind closed doors, secreted away from view or ear shot of parents or others who would know the damning truth.