The Circumcision Decision
“Sure!” I respond too enthusiastically, turning away to fold some nearby laundry and leave him alone with—ahem—his thoughts.
Hallelujah! I am so excited by this unexpected request that I yell downstairs to alert my husband of the good news. Maybe, just maybe, Ethan will learn to love his pee pee. And maybe, just maybe, I will begin to let go of the guilt surrounding the fact that one of our very first parenting decisions could be so completely wrong for our little boy.
Making the call not to circumcise Ethan seemed easy enough.
During my pregnancy, I did some light research and discovered that the number one reason parents circumcise their sons is so that they match their dads. I thought that seemed like a pretty lame reason and Matt agreed. In alignment with husband. Check.
Then I queried my minister and read a few relevant biblical passages to make sure I understood how circumcision and our Christian beliefs fit together. Turns out circumcision lost its significance when Jesus died for our sins. In alignment with God. Check.
Finally, I consulted a world-class urologist and my pediatrician-to-be about any possible health risks associated with not circumcising. They both said risks were statistically insignificant. In alignment with modern medicine. Check.
Okay, so maybe I did more than light research. Let’s just say I felt like we were making a very informed, logical decision. Like so many things in parenthood, however, I would soon discover that logic doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot.
Enter the curveball.
Ethan was born with a fairly common kidney condition called hydronephrosis. Also known as kidney reflux—or “a bad backflow preventer” if Matt is explaining the plumbing problem—the diagnosis means that some urine flows back up into the kidney when it’s supposed to drain into the bladder.
The reflux really only poses a problem in the unlikely event that Ethan contracts a urinary tract infection whereby bacteria hanging around in his urine could damage his kidneys. Fine. We weren’t planning any infections because Ethan was put on a daily, low-dose antibiotic as soon as he was born.
Aside from the annoying task of giving him medicine every night (and the nagging worry that he would be resistant to all antibiotics one day), we hardly thought about it.
Fast-forward 18 months. The little man spikes a high fever thanks to his first breakthrough infection—a diagnosis that can only be made via a catheter urine sample. Two months later, another UTI. Each time, Ethan pleads with the doctors. “No touch the pee pee,” he begs over and over again. It is heartbreaking.
He suffers a total of four infections in six months (and a bunch of follow-up tests related to the reflux). The weeks feel like a never-ending fog of fevers and hospitals and catheters and antibiotics.
Doctors recommend circumcision. One month after Ethan’s 2nd birthday, we oblige. For 3 more months, Ethan reminds me of our bad decision—during every bath and every diaper change. “No touch the pee pee,” he warns. Damn you bacteria-trapping foreskin.
Until today, I have pictured Ethan still in diapers at age 8, refusing to learn how to operate his equipment because he won’t go near it. Until today, I have half-joked that he will require years of intense therapy in which he will rightfully blame his mother for all that has transpired. I’m sure Freud would have something to say about all of this. Thankfully, I don’t know what it is.