Expectant parents spend nine months agonizing over decisions big
and small. Where to register? What kind of car seat to buy? What to
name the baby? But parents of baby boys face a difficult decision
that parents of girls do not, namely whether or not to
Because the procedure is usually done shortly after the baby's
birth-either in the hospital or at home as part of a religious
ceremony-expectant parents can't wait until the last minute to
Once almost a given for American parents, circumcision has in
recent years become one of the most controversial topics in
pregnancy literature. Also in recent years, more American parents
have chosen not to circumcise their infant sons.
The American Academy of Pediatrics announced in August 2012 that
after a review of scientific evidence, the health benefits of
circumcision outweigh the risks but not enough for the academy to
recommend the procedure for all newborns. Their official policy
statement says the final decision should be left to parents to make
based on their ethical, religious and cultural beliefs.
Dr. Erin Taback of Oak Park Pediatrics echoes the AAP's neutral
stance. She tells undecided patients that circumcision is a
"You're not going to go wrong either way," Taback says.
The majority of her Chicago-area patients still opt to have
their baby boys circumcised, she says.
Anti-circumcision activists view circumcision as a form of
genital mutilation. These are by no means a fringe group: in San
Francisco, they gathered enough signatures to get an initiative on
the November ballot that would have allowed residents to vote to
ban circumcision within city limits. Ultimately the initiative was
taken off the ballot, but the controversy brought this
anti-circumcision view into new prominence.
One of the reasons the proposed ballot initiative was so
controversial was that it did not allow any exemptions.
Circumcision of male infants is a religious sacrament for both Jews
Jewish male infants are usually circumcised at home eight days
after their birth by a mohel, a person who has undergone
specialized medical and religious training, in a ceremony known as
a bris. Islamic ritual male circumcision, khitan, is not so
strictly mandated and varies widely across the Muslim world.
Real parents' decisions
Oak Park parent Courtney Abrams said it was important to her to
have her now 6-month-old son, Gavin, circumcised because "this is
what Jewish men do to form a covenant with God. His father
underwent this ritual, and his father before him…."
Abrams noted that while it was hard to hear Gavin crying during
the ceremony, "it was over quickly and he stopped crying within
Overall, her son's bris was a very meaningful experience for
Abrams, especially because Gavin was named for her husband's late
father-a fact the mohel, Chicago pediatrician Dr. William Barrows,
spoke about movingly.
Circumcision, like any surgical procedure, is not without risk,
as Erin Krex of Glenview learned. Krex's son was circumcised in the
hospital shortly after birth, but the procedure was not performed
correctly. She raised her concerns with her pediatrician, but he
dismissed them. When her son was 2, Krex sought a second opinion
from a pediatric urologist who recommended surgery.
Krex says she would opt for circumcision if she had to do it
over again, but wishes she had trusted her instincts sooner.
Concern about an improperly performed procedure was only one of
the reasons Chicago mom Katherine McHenry elected not to have her
now 19-month-old son, Tai, circumcised.
Katherine and her husband researched the pros and cons of
circumcision when they were expecting. Ultimately they decided that
"medically, there really (was) no reason to perform the
McHenry says she feels lucky she and her husband came to the
same conclusion because she says she knows other couples who
McHenry, who is pregnant again, says if the baby is a boy, they
will not even consider circumcision.
In the end, the decision whether or not to circumcise a newborn
baby boy is like other important parenting decisions. The best
decision is the one that feels right to you.
Updated on Aug. 27, 2012 by Alaina Buzas.
Emily Paster is a freelance writer and mom of two.
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