December 14, 2011

The One That Offends Everybody

Anybody that knows me knows that I have very strong opinions about parenting. Sometimes I alienate people because I come on too strongly, and some people feel that I am being judgmental. I am writing this to come clean. I want to explain what I think and why. Very importantly I want to state that I do not think I'm better than any parent that chooses differently than I do. In some cases I wish that different choices were made, but I am not trying to elevate myself in any way. My goal is to spread true information, maybe a new perspective on a subject, and encouragement.

As parents we all have choices, and in most situations the choices should be our own to make - after all, each family runs a little bit differently and a parent will know their child better than anybody else, so they usually are the best suited to make decisions. One thing that I always advocate for, though, is that parents make informed decisions. Decisions based on fact, after researching all of the sides and arguments, and taking into account their gut feelings and the feelings of their spouse and child. Informed decisions sadly do not seem to be the norm any more. Even with the wealth of information available at our finger tips, an astounding number of people are still making decisions based on what their parents did, or what seems socially acceptable, or what their pediatrician recommends, or what is convenient. Let me say this loud and clear: Just because your parents did it, and you turned out relatively normal, does not make it right. The choices our parents made were not based on the information that we have now, 20+ years later. Please remember that many things that are deemed socially acceptable in certain areas of the world are considered horrific and unjust in others. And if you go to five different pediatricians in any given city and ask about breastfeeding a newborn, you will almost certainly receive five different answers on topics from how often they should eat, how long on each breast, and if it's okay to incorporate bottles and when. In my experience, pediatricians answers very often have to do with convenience to the parent or doctor, and not medically sound information.We live in an age of information, and we need to take advantage of it! Parents are hard-wired with instincts, and when you look at the biology behind our instincts and line it up with medical studies, they compliment each other! As long as your desire for your child is based on love for him, never go against your instincts. But don't confuse instincts with guilt or common beliefs from the majority. 

There are areas of parenting that I am passionate about, but they are areas that I understand are up to the parents. While they work for me, they might not work for everybody for many different reasons. 

I advocate for natural, vaginal birth, because it's the safest and most efficient way to birth for both the mom and baby in 96% of cases. Any drugs given to the mom in labor do cross the placenta barrier and reach the baby, often resulting in a drugged, sleepy baby. They also very often hinder mom's natural abilities during the labor and pushing phases, necessitating more interventions. Pitocin starts labor when the baby is not ready, and causes frequent, intense contractions that can harm the baby. C-sections are a major abdominal surgery that should never be considered harmless. Babies that have not been squeezed through the vaginal canal often have a more difficult time breathing initially and are far more likely to have respiratory problems throughout life. I could go on and on. Basically, I encourage women to birth naturally whenever I have the chance, because it is safer in every way. However, I still understand and respect that birth is a personal choice, and while I may feel that one way is better than another, I don't judge anybody for choosing the birth that they think is best for them. I do get very frustrated when women are not educated about birth choices and don't stand up for themselves. I do get very frustrated when they place all control into the hands of their hospital, because if anyone does the tiniest bit of digging you can find that the United States is doing terribly in maternal care compared to most other developed countries. So I hope that moms will do their research and choose safe, healthy options for delivery, but it's not really a huge deal if they don't. It's not my right, or the government's right, or a doctor's right to tell anyone how to birth. 

I strongly advocate for breastfeeding because it is the absolute best way to feed your infant. There is no comparison between breast milk and formula, and babies that receive formula are absolutely missing out on the many benefits of breastfeeding, such as antibodies that protect against illness, infection, and allergies. The mother benefits as well, since our hormones are directly responsible for milk production, lessening the chances of postpartum depression and also reducing our risk of developing breast cancer and heart disease. There are very few women who do not produce enough milk. Breastfeeding is the way we were designed to feed our babies, and if we were unable to do it our species would have died out long ago. So many women give up on breastfeeding early on because they "aren't producing enough", but little do they know that there are many ways to increase supply, the simplest being to nurse your baby more often! Just like birth, I hope and pray that women do their research on the benefits of breastfeeding and then get physical support to help them from the very beginning, be it LLL or an IBCLC. I get frustrated when women give up early, and more so when they don't try at all. But, this is another area that is the parent's choice, and I respect that. I understand that there are many reasons women don't nurse, be it pressure from family members, false information, or psychological pain from the past. I will always encourage breastfeeding, and I will continue to share breastfeeding resources. 

But I do not think that parents that formula feed are bad parents. I do not think that parents that plan c-sections are bad parents. I do not think that I'm better than them. I think there are better choices out there! And having been a formula feeding, drugged-out birthing mom, I'm even more strongly compelled to share about the better ways I've fed and birthed my babies after learning a little more. The medical field is doing us such a disservice. There is so much incorrect information being circulated by the people we are charging to keep us safe. That is why I have and will continue to post as much positive information that I can about the wonderful ways our bodies work in their natural state. I was hugely uninformed when I had my first son, and I wish so badly that someone had been telling me the things I am now telling you. That is why I share. 

Having said all that, there is one decision that parents make that I do not and cannot respect. That is the choice to circumcise. Please bear with me and read through this. Right now, circumcision is fairly normal. It is falling off the curve though, and in 2009 only about 1 in 3 baby boys was circumcised in the United States. But it is still routinely done and not given much thought by many people. We can't be so arrogant to think that we know everything. We can't be so arrogant to think that the choices we are making right now won't be mocked in 20, 50, or 100 years. It wasn't so long ago that slavery in the United States was normal and accepted. It wasn't so long ago that women weren't allowed to go to college. Society has shifted, and with a new eye we were able to look at these situations, see that they weren't right, and work hard to change them. I believe that circumcision of infant boys is just as wrong as slavery. And I'm not alone. I don't want to bash your parenting choices and make you feel bad. I don't want to make myself out to be superior. I only want to share information, and maybe help to change your thinking about something that has been considered normal and acceptable for so long. There are people around the world that are mutilating the genitals of little girls, and we look at that and scream about the injustice of such backward-thinking abuse. There are slight differences between the practices of male and female genital mutilation, but they are similar enough that the similarities need to be noticed and contemplated. 

The first reason that I oppose infant circumcision is the pain. This procedure causes the baby extreme pain. It is not quick, it is not a snip, and it is not "a bit uncomfortable". If you don't believe me, watch a video on youtube. Whether the video is a of a child that has received pain medication or not, you can't tell the difference. The screams are the same. Most parents don't watch a video of the procedure before they make their decision, and they assume the things that I mentioned above. If you have never watched a video before, please watch the one I am linking below. It is not done on a baby, so there is no screaming or blood. It is an educational video done with props. This is a good place to start getting information, because the way the procedure is done is important. As I mentioned, it is not a snip, and it is not just pushing back a little flap of skin. It is a substantial amount of skin that is cut off, and then pushed back. The procedure takes minutes to complete, as there are many steps. The whole time, the baby will be screaming. This is not something like a shot that is done in under a minute. This is not something like a blood draw with medical necessity to a sick child. This is intense, constant pain to a tiny, helpless child that has no need. The foreskin is attached to the glans in the way that your fingernails are attached to your nail bed. They have to separate that skin, and yes, it is unbelievably painful. Please do not perpetrate the idea that circumcision is a quick little snip of a flap of useless skin. Watch the video, and if you aren't convinced watch videos of the actual procedure on a baby. I cannot and will not respect the choice to put a helpless newborn through this horrible pain for 5 or more minutes when it is not medically necessary. Which leads me to my next point.

Is circumcision medically necessary? No. The foreskin is a functioning body part. It has a purpose. There is no reason to remove it from a person that cannot consent. This isn't like any other choice a parent makes for their child. This is permanently removing a healthy, functioning organ that they can never get back. It is not our choice. It's not our body! There is no other instance where a body part is removed as a preemptive strike. Removal of a body part is always a last resort in a very sick person, such as frostbite or breast cancer. We simply do not cut off body parts on a whim - it doesn't make any sense that we are cutting off healthy body parts from healthy people! There may or may not be some potential benefit to circumcision in the adult male in terms of disease spread. The American Academy of Pediatrics themselves say "Existing scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits of newborn male circumcision; however, these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision." I am not going to get into the possible benefits and the counter measures, because I don't think it's relevant. The newborn is not sick. His foreskin is not sick. He is not having sex. If it is one day found that circumcision greatly reduces the risk of STD transfer during sex, then the grown man should be able to decide for himself to make the choice to get circumcised. Circumcision has no merit during the childhood years, so it should not be a parental choice.  

The argument that it is better to do on a newborn when they won't remember the pain is absurd. This is a brand new human being. He has no clue what is going on. All he knows it the smell and sound of his mother. He is completely and utterly helpless. And nobody can tell me that it makes sense to put him through excruciating pain just because he won't remember it when he's grown. As my husband says, "Why don't we just punch them in the face, too? Since they won't remember it!" Lack of memory does not take away from the fact that they are experiencing it right then and there, and it's terrible. If anything, I'd rather do a painful procedure on an older child who is able to understand and communicate with you. An older child won't feel alone and abandoned, and the same sense of fear that I'm positive an unsuspecting newborn feels. 

Lastly I will touch on the issue of appearance. The most ludicrous argument for the procedure is so that the baby will "look like his daddy", or classmates. My daughter looks nothing like me, and while I'm a tiny bit saddened by that, I certainly don't plan to take any steps to change her appearance, let alone surgical ones. And more than likely the child will have other characteristics of the father, like his eye color or nose shape. For those concerned about teasing, please tell me if you also plan to get your 7 year old contacts if they need glasses and your 15 year old breast implants if she is small-chested. Teasing comes with childhood, and if it's not one thing it's another. I have asked around, and all of the men I know say that in the locker room, nobody looks! You'd get teased more for looking than for the state of your penis. And in the event that my son actually is teased for being whole, I pray that we will have equipped him properly and that he will stand up for himself. A good friend told me a hilarious story about her brother, who would respond to critical onlookers, "You're actually making fun of me for having more penis than you?" Really, I think one major goal in parenting is to raise children that feel loved and confident. If we are raising our kids to worry about what everyone else thinks of the way they look, we are already doing something wrong. Circumcision shouldn't fall into this discussion at all, taking into account how painful and life altering the procedure is. 

Parents should not have the right to perform cosmetic surgery on their child without the child's consent. That is why circumcision is truly a human rights issue. Something got messed up along the way, and our children are being cut up because of flawed thinking and money-hungry doctors. People will say that I am being dramatic and emotional. Yes, I am! It's not a bad thing to feel pain when you see injustice. Just like slavery. Just like the sex trafficking. People are being hurt, and I can't stand by and be quiet. Just because our parents, or our doctors, think it's a good idea, that doesn't make them right! Over 100 children die yearly from complications with circumcisions. Die! And we're still choosing to do it, this elective, cosmetic surgery on a helpless infant? I refuse to accept it as okay. 

Now, if you're still with me, thank you! I appreciate your hearing me out. I am very tough on this subject, but to be honest it's not me, it's the procedure. The procedure is tough. The videos are tough. The facts are tough, and we all need to know them. What I want to end this with is very important. I do not think that parents that circumcise are bad parents, although I think they are making a terrible mistake, and I have cried for their babies. So many women that I talk to refuse to hear anything of value that I have to say, because they feel that they have to defend the decision they have already made. That is the kind of thinking that is dangerous. We have to be able to admit when we've done something wrong. We have to feel the guilt, and then move on. We have to feel it! Guilt is not a bad thing. Being wrong is not so terrible that you have to live in denial and pretend it never happened. Guilt enables us to look at things through new eyes, with our hearts, and make new decisions. If you still think that circumcision is fine, and you don't regret your choice to do so, I don't know what else to say. I know that I have many friends that circumcise and probably resent me for writing this. I don't think that you are a bad parent, and I'm sure you love your children. But I will never agree with you, and I am going to live the rest of my life with the intention of seeing an end to infant circumcision around the world. Because to me, and many, many others, it is illogical, unnecessary, and unethical. And as a parent that circumcised her first son based on a false understanding of the procedure, I am angry at the amount of misinformation out there, and I will do everything I can to stop its spread and save as many precious babies as I can.