The Circumcision Decision

Feb 23, 2011 by     11 Comments    Posted under: The First Year, Toddlerhood

Male Gender SymbolI am standing at the changing table about to grab a fresh diaper for my toddler when he matter-of-factly declares: “Mama, I want to touch my penis.”

“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.

11 Comments + Add Comment

  • Oh the poor kiddo. Glad to see he’s recovering physically and mentally! On the plus side, at least you did it when he’s still pretty young, and not when he’d really “really” remember it, like age 5 or 6. I suspect he’ll forget all about it by year’s end.

  • Oh man, my heart aches for poor Ethan having to go through all this — and you! But I second Nancita’s observation that at least he’s young and will likely forget the whole escapade. I’m so glad he’s touching himself…and can’t wait to hear what he thinks about you blogging on this when he’s older. 😉

  • I agree that the unpleasant events took place early enough in Ethan’s life where they will have no lasting memory or effects.

    Like all healthy growing boys, I am sure he will grow to be exceptionally fond of his pee pee.

  • We had a very similiar situation. Although our son didn’t have reflux, he had two UTIs that came with very scary prolonged febrile (fever induced) seizures. After the second terrifying trip to the ER, we met with a urologist who confirmed (by VCUG) that there was no reflux, but his tight foreskin was likely trapping bacteria and causing the UTIs. We had him circumcised at 16 months. Luckily he wasn’t really old enough to know what was going on, but it was still very hard on my husband and I. We felt guilty for choosing not to circmcise him at birth and for having to do it to him at 16 months. It was difficult, but ultimately our son’s health and well being drove was our priority. It has been 5 months since his last seizure or UTI so we are hopeful that the circ solved the problem.

    The decision to circumcise is much more complex than those for and against circumcision would have us believe. I am sorry for all you had to go through. I know how hard it is to have a sick baby. Glad to hear your son is doing so much better!

  • I’m so glad your son, and Erin’s son, are doing better!

    Please don’t feel guilty for choosing not to circumcise at birth. You made the best decision for your family, given the information you had at the time. You had no way of predicting that in your sons’ particular cases, there would be a physiological problem leading to infection. After all, we don’t surgically insert tubes in every kid’s ears at birth, just in case they are prone to ear infections!

    My 2yo son is intact and in his first year of life, had one mild infection (balanitis, not UTI). Fortunately there was no talk of a “tight foreskin” nor attempts to retract it by the ER doctor, and it cleared up with bacitracin. He too told us about “booboo” every time I had to apply the “booboo goo”, and didn’t want anyone touching it for a while, but he forgot the whole thing very quickly!

    If your son had been circumcised at birth, he might have felt the same way (“no touch”) but simply unable to tell you about it in words. I don’t think you made the wrong decision at all, to delay circ until medically necessary.

  • Bad decision, IMO. What if it was a girl? Would you consent her to surgery to remove skin from down there?

    • If it solved another, more serious medical condition, yes I would. Circumcision is not a black and white issue.

  • You consent to whatever the hell makes the ER visits stop.

    …as with any medical procedure, on any child.

    • Yes, you do, and you are grateful that doctors have identified the cause. My son has been UTI-free ever since.

  • who ever does this to a child is an abuser in my opinion.

    • Happy to report that he hasn’t had a single UTI since the circ–it was absolutely the right call to make given his circumstances. Quite the opposite from abuse in my opinion.

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