Wednesday, August 6, 2008
First of all, read this and see how you feel.
I felt relieved.
Last night I went to a farewell gathering for one of the most delightful people I discovered in college. It was so fabulous to see her and see how she is becoming more of herself. The college girl who charmed my pants off is now a married woman on her way to becoming a Doctor of Philosophy, and seeing her feels just the same, and better.
While there, I was also graced by the presence of several other women who are and have been my friends. We chatted about life, the happenings and the news. Had a few laughs, had some potluck wares. Later in the evening an acquaintance showed up whose ripe waistline belied her fate. I heard someone ask her if she knew the sex of the fetus and she said the fateful words, "Oh, yes. It's a boy."
It is always a stressful moment for me. Has the mother considered the future of her child's genitals? Does she know that he will be unceremoniously tortured unless she refuses to sign the consent that will be presented to her, coupled with absolutely no information about the procedure she is about to allow? Has she ever seen an intact penis, and does she have any idea how one works?
Because I know all about it. It nearly kills me when I know that, for the sake of my conscience and the future health and safety of an unborn boy, I have to say something.
I start gently. "Have you done much research about circumcision?"
Usually she hasn't, unless I have spoken with her previously about the subject myself. She doesn't know. Nobody has ever said anything before.
I usually give a little information, things about the important function of the foreskin in adult males, or the fact that the surgery is not medically indicated, it is cosmetic and is performed with no anesthesia. I mention the footage I have seen of routine circumcision, the babies strapped down, the screaming until the child vomits on himself. I explain that, though it may seem a minimal amount of tissue is removed, the tissue that is removed is the most erotogenic a male body possesses and that removing it is tantamount to cliterodectomy in the eyes of some experts and, besides, it is larger than a 4x6 index card by the time the boy is a man.
Then, before she gets a chance, I rebuff some of the myths she may be using to justify her decision. If hygiene is the concern, then women have frankly got men beat a thousand times over in the folds of skin department; is it baby girls we should be after? If she has heard that it will make masturbation less pleasurable or enticing and she finds this idea appealing, I invite her to consider the number of men, cut or intact, who have not experimented with masturbation and suggest that if eliminating this habit is the paramount goal, perhaps infant males should have their hands surgically removed since the removal of their foreskins hasn't been enough discourage them significantly. If she thinks the child will be ridiculed, I mention that my husband, who was born in merciful Canada, has never felt inadequate for still having all the body parts he came with, and then follow up by adding that the numbers of parents who consent is declining all the time and it won't be long before cut men are the minority and considered anomalous; in fact intact babies are already the majority in most western states and in California 80% of babies remain intact.
Whether the moms are convinced is usually more about them than me. Some look horrified, knowing their consciences will not allow them to sign the dotted line, but distressed about how to bring it up with their partners who may find the new information to be painful and threatening. Some say that they will "do some research" but that they would never be able to watch "that sort of thing" on a video; precisely the "thing" that they will shortly consent to have inflicted upon their hours-old baby boy.
It sickens me, I can't lie. It depresses me. And when that pregnant mother left last night, head held high despite all I had told her, I wanted to cry.
But then all the other women who had been listening to my pleading and cajoling from the sidelines approached me. "Tell us more" they said.
There we were, in the very living room in which we sat as college roommates, where they once listened as I shared the information I was sucking out of birth literature as fast as I could find it. And, years later, they said "We have missed you; tell us more."
Women want to know, and they have a right to know about their bodies and what they can do. They have a right to know the power they possess as mothers, and the ways they can protect themselves and their offspring. They want to know how they can avoid being transplanted into the horror stories they have heard, and how they can create something that seems different and better. They want to bring a baby into their family in the end, of course, but they also want to bring into the family a mother.
I tell my friends to find a midwife who will support and attend them, who is educated about normal birth and how to help it along. I tell them that trying for this type of birth in a hospital is like going to a Chinese restaurant and trying to order pizza: no matter how many birth plans you have drafted and how many bradley classes you have attended, you are likely to be disappointed. I encourage them to have their babies at home, and tell them they can call me every day of their pregnancy if they like and I will answer their questions or find someone who can. I tell them I will come when they go into labor and not leave until the deed is done.
Homebirth midwives do good work and eventually the tides will change, but until then I will keep shouting it from the rooftops because it is too, too important for me to sit still and keep the peace.