Vaccinations: Listening for Wisdom

January 19, 2012 § 2 Comments

Vaccinations are among the most polarizing of topics ever discussed by parents.  Most people will vaccinate their children following the recommended CDC vaccination schedule without question.  Yet more than one parent has told me they wished they had learned more about vaccinations before they vaccinated their first child.  I will attempt to offer a middle road for consideration, as well as insight into what it means to not vaccinate your child in NYS.  My own beliefs are heavily influenced by my intuitive understanding that Mother Nature is wise and whenever possible it’s best to let her do her work undisturbed.  Taking time to listen to your own wisdom will usually yield the right path for your family.

One obstacle to a parent’s quest for a balance of information about vaccines is a dearth of objective information.  Current state mandated vaccination schedules and requirements are strongly influenced by the recommendations of the pharmaceutical companies that stand to profit from the large scale vaccination of our children.  Even if you believe scientific research that favors vaccinating all children for every disease possible, and are confident that vaccines pose no risk to a child’s development, you may still have questions about when and how often you want to provide vaccinations to your child.

As with every concern your baby will face beginning with conception, parents are the decision-makers.  If the vaccination schedule presented to you by your pediatrician doesn’t feel quite right, ask questions, do research, and follow your gut.  You know your baby better than anyone.  Hospitals and pediatricians have an obligation to provide you with medically sound information.  They also have an obligation to remain in good standing with their insurance companies and attorneys.  Decisions about your baby’s well being are ultimately your responsibility.

Many of the diseases that we vaccinate for do not kill otherwise healthy children. In NYS there is no option to pick and choose your vaccinations.  You cannot only vaccinate for, let’s say, polio but not chicken pox.

If you are concerned about the potential impact that vaccinating your newborn may have on the healthy development of her/his immune system, there is a middle road.  For starters, don’t accept a hospital’s offer (or expectation) to have your newborn given a hepatitis B vaccine.  Your newborn is not participating in high-risk lifestyle behaviors. Allowing a newborn to instead bond with her/his parents and establish a healthy breastfeeding relationship is of far greater importance during these tender first days.  Interrupting that connection for a painful injection, that offers no immediate health benefit, and may inspire a reaction, is not in the best interest of most newborns.  The reason it is offered at this time is an attempt to reach the largest swath of the population possible.  By virtue of the fact that you are reading this blog, you are a parent that will ensure your child has access to any healthcare options you deem necessary at an appropriate age.

Some parents who are wary of inundating their newborn with all the standard recommendations of vaccines for babies, may focus their research on diseases such as whooping cough and rotavirus.  Some parents, particularly those with breastfed babies that are not in daycare, conclude that the potential interruption to their baby’s overall immune system development, outweighs the potential for protection against any particular vaccine-addressed disease at young age when their exposure is limited.

If you aren’t sure about what you’ll do regarding vaccinations, don’t vaccinate your child against anything until you know your intentions.  In many states, including NY, a religious exemption is your only long-term justification for not providing vaccinations.  Parents who want to consider this path must understand that, while you needn’t prove membership of Amish or Christian Science religious orders, you must demonstrate a sincere spiritual belief that is your grounds for not vaccinating your child.  If you intend to enroll your child in school (public, and usually private as well) you may need to hire a lawyer to help you draft a letter expressing your sincere spiritual beliefs.

Girls appear to be at lower risk for the potential damage vaccinations may cause to the neurological system.  It’s my understanding that this is because their neurons are better protected by a sheath of estrogen than their male counterparts’.  This may offer an explanation for the higher rates of autism, ADD, ADHD and other neurological conditions that may be triggered by vaccinations, sonograms, or other environmental intrusions.  While this information helps some parents of daughters feel less concerned about a decision to vaccinate, unless a family has eliminated the possibility of having more children and has no sons, parents must come to a decision that can be applied uniformly to sons and daughters.

Many parents wait until their child is 2-yrs-old before beginning any vaccinations and then break up the vaccines and the shots.  It’s my understanding that under ideal conditions (breastfed, no serious illness, healthy environment…) a child’s immune system takes about two years to develop.  That’s part of why breastfed babies are usually healthier. They benefit from their mother’s lifetime of immunological development. It may also be why the World Health Organization recommends all babies be breastfed until at least the age of 2.  Here’s a piece by one parent who chose to delay vaccinating her child.  It includes statistics on infant mortality rates and SIDS that influenced her decision.

Waiting to introduce foreign antibodies into a not yet established immune system gives it a chance to develop normally without interruption.  The most common go-to book about alternative vaccination schedules is Dr. Sears’ The Vaccine Book.  You may need to find a new pediatrician if your current doctor doesn’t support a delayed vaccination schedule.  Also, if your child will be attending a state-funded daycare program, you may not be able to wait to begin vaccinating.  That said, some program directors are flexible and may be comfortable with a pediatrician’s note that your child receives regular care.

This is a polarizing issue, and a difficult one to navigate.  Nearly every large-scale study of vaccines is funded at least in part by pharmaceutical companies.  Couple that with the fear and hysteria surrounding vaccinating and not vaccinating, and it’s sometimes difficult for parents to pause and listen for their own inner wisdom.  Good luck with finding the path that is right for your family.

Rockin’ & Swayin’

December 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

Sometimes birth is quiet.  Always birth is moving.

I’ve recently become aware that any time I meditate, go within, let go of deliberate thought, or just even consider doing these things, I rock and sway.  I’ve also discovered I breathe in a rhythmic pattern that reinforces my rocking.  And my heart beats in concert with my breath and sway.

In recent years my family and I have begun attending Quaker meetings each week.  After many months of sitting together quietly listening for a voice within, my husband called to my attention that I rock for our entire hour of silent worship.  Though I knew I sometimes rocked, I hadn’t realized it in this context.

I don’t know if I did this as a child.  I know rocking is a common way for girls to soothe themselves.  I noticed I was even doing it while simply rereading a draft of this post.

When I gave birth, I wasn’t so keenly aware of this behavior of mine.  I probably rocked for many of those hours.  I wonder if my husband, doula and midwives noticed.  Did they recognize this concert of breath, sway and beats was an outward expression of internal quieting, coping, and opening?

Why This Class?

September 14, 2011 § 2 Comments

“Do we really need to take a childbirth preparation class?”

Throughout most of human history, women attended the births of their nieces, nephews, siblings and neighbors before they ever got pregnant.  Young women knew what it felt like to be in the room with a birthing woman—the sounds, the smells, the patience, the fierceness, the gentleness.  They witnessed what the experienced women in the room did to support the laboring mother.  Today, most women are inducted into the birthing world when they give birth to their own child.  So, Yes.  Parents-to-be really do need to take a childbirth preparation class—a good one.

“What if I just take the class at my hospital?”

Then you will learn to be a good patient.  It’s possible you’ll get an excellent instructor.  It’s possible you’ll get a nurse just grateful for the extra paycheck.  It’s certain you will get information presented through the prism of what is normal procedure at that hospital.  Each birth is as unique as each baby.  To prepare thoughtfully for your birth, you must have a broad understanding of how a birth may unfold.

“Why should I take a Birthing From Within course?”

Birth is a rite of passage, not a medical event, even when medical support is part of the journey.  As a Birthing From Within mentor my only goal is for you to look back on your birth as a positive experience.  A woman’s degree of satisfaction with her experience is more greatly influenced by how supported she feels throughout her birth than by any particular choice she makes.  Parents in my classes learn to stay connected to their babies and their bodies, regardless of what path their birth takes.

“All that matters is that I have a healthy baby, right?”

Mamatoto is a favorite word of mine.  In Swahili it means “MotherBaby”, indicating they are one interconnected unit, rather than separate beings.  What is good for the mother, is good for the baby.  A mother who feels good about her birth has an easier adjustment to parenting, breastfeeds more easily, and has a baby that sleeps more.  A mother’s birth experience impacts the health and happiness of the whole family even months after the birth.  A woman who prepares wisely for birth is setting the stage for a healthier baby, a healthier body, a healthier relationship, and a healthier future.

“So, what do we get when we take your class?”

Comprehensive childbirth preparation classes, in a small group setting; access to my lending library; email support throughout your pregnancy and postpartum; a Pain-Coping for Parents CD to support your practice beyond class time; and a reunion class as a new parent.  Birthing From Within requires that all mentors attend a handful of births a year.  I am not a certified doula.  I am honored when parents I teach also consider hiring me to provide labor support.

“What do parents you’ve worked with say?”

After each series I ask parents to complete an evaluation form.  Helping partners discover their role during the birth is a core focus:

Victoria facilitated such a sacred space for Jack and I to prepare for our birth.   Her caring, confident and knowledgeable manner guided us through our process in a way that we desperately needed…Jack really liked how the class defined his role as the gatekeeper of the experience.  I think that before we met with Victoria he was nervous about what his role might be, especially with a doula present…It was invaluable.  I am so excited for our birthing journey to begin and we feel confident that we can orchestrate a beautiful birth using the skills we acquired. 

Each week couples learn a new breathing practice.  Co-chanting was one practice that this woman turned to during her labor:

Breathing exercises were an incredible resource.  Victoria was an excellent instructor—always available and approachable, very easy to talk to and full of helpful information.

I was honored to have the following expressed in a birth announcement:

Thank you, too, to Victoria, our Birthing From Within Instructor.  Your preparation helped us to make the right choices and continue along the path at each crossroads without losing sight of the beauty and wonder of the experience.  

One mom sent me this message a few months after her birth:

I’m not sure if there is anything I could say or buy that would express just how thankful I am for everything you have done for me.  I’m scared to think of what my pregnancy and birth would have been like if you hadn’t given me so much confidence and knowledge. Without sounding too corny, you were my “guiding light”…  Your presence the days after [my son’s] birth was so appreciated.  Brian and I were so grateful to share our story with someone who was really listening.

Gentle Birth, Home Birth, Empowered Birth

September 5, 2011 § 2 Comments

My second son was born at home.  During each contraction of early into active labor, I silently performed a breathing practice I’d learned during my birth hypnotherapy sessions.  I released tension from specific parts of my body with every exhalation.  Early in labor I was usually standing and would lean onto whatever piece of furniture was closest.  Later I sat for hours on my birth ball, which was the only place I found comfortable for sitting.  Often my doula or husband would run a back massager along my spine.  This coping strategy wasn’t a plan, but I had been using that breathing practice every night for weeks to help myself fall asleep, so it came easily to mind.  The back massaging was my doula’s idea.  She always had great ideas of things I didn’t even know I wanted during labor.

I took a couple of baths followed by naps.  Sometimes women find a bath or shower can kick labor into high gear.  For me, each bath slowed my contractions from about 4-5 minutes apart to about 7 minutes apart.  The longer pauses allowed me to rest for the long night ahead.  When I was preparing to enter my bathtub the first time, I was just a few hours into early labor.  I remember being overwhelmed by fear of the pain that might be ahead.  Suddenly, contractions that had been totally manageable, even mild, were excruciating.  The terror only lasted a few moments.  Thankfully, I was able to let go of those debilitating fears and continue down the path of the gentle, calm, even sensual birth, I’d prepared for.  But in that instant I understood how women in our culture who are unprepared for the intensity of labor often experience birth and why they choose medications to remove the pain.

After 16.5 hours, my midwife performed my first (and I think only) internal exam.  She found I was 7+cm.  My doula and I were both surprised I was already in transition labor because the sensations had not appeared to increase in intensity and they were still 4-5 minutes apart as they had been most of the day.  My midwife then suggested I focus my mind during each contraction on opening my birth canal and encouraging my baby to move down.  I trusted my midwife, so followed her advice.  This wasn’t something I’d practiced before, so it took a lot of mental focus during a stage of labor when it is often better to surrender to your body and instinct rather than activate your mind.  In hindsight, I wish I’d ignored her, or that I’d practiced that visualization during pregnancy so it was something I could do easily.  I never did reach that Gate of Great Doubt that most women pass through on their journey.  Perhaps it was the hypnosis where I learned the mantra, My body and my baby know how to birth, and I am safe.

About 20 hours into my labor there was a long pause between contractions.  By this point I’d been in the birth tub for a few hours, napping between contractions.  My husband and doula made sure my head didn’t slip below water, but that I still got much needed rest.  Following that long pause, was a giant burst.  My water broke.  Eight minutes later, while I sat on a birthing stool in the tub, my baby boy swam into my arms.

Levon, two days old

My little fella had passed through the birth canal so quickly, he remained blue for a day.  I experienced a couple of tiny tears.  My midwife recommended not sewing them up due to their location, as long as I agreed not to leave the second floor of my home at least until she visited me two days later.  That sequestering was a gift.  Even now, my heart sings at the memories of those first days snuggling, feeding, and loving my newborn.

Riding the Waves

August 21, 2011 § 5 Comments

On my summer vacation to Block Island I rode a boogie board for the first time.  I knew nothing about riding a board of any kind.  On our second visit to the beach I decided to just swim out, lie on my belly, and ride the waves to shore.  It took a few runs before I trusted my ability to stay on the board well enough to allow my arms to float freely, rather that grasp the sides of the board, when a wave was suddenly rushing me along.

The rhythm of the waves never failed to carry me back to my boys playing in the sand.  On my first few runs I sometimes kicked my feet or paddled my arms to go a little faster.  Sometimes, I felt the waves were artificially influenced by a recently passing boat.  Always, they were a surprise because I faced the shore.

As my confidence grew, so did the distance out into the Atlantic that I’d swim before turning to ride again.  Sometimes, the final pushes to shore filled my board shorts with sand.  Always, the arrival at the end of ride was a thrill and the waves beaconed me back.

My faith that the waves would carry me safely to shore, with my only effort being to ride them, brought me greater joy with each ride.  Imagine if this were the kind of metaphor our culture most often used to describe childbirth…

Labor is Intense: How to Naturally Respond to Sensations and Help Labor Progress

July 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Throughout nearly all of human history, women learned how to prepare for and cope with the intensity of labor, by witnessing and supporting other women during birth.  Today very few women ever attend a birth until they are having their own child.  Most of the images and birth stories women see in the media depict either excruciating, hysterical agony accentuated by anger and vulgarity, or quiet medicated births.

Today nearly all media depictions of birth represent a patriarchal system with a practitioner directing the birth.  Until recently, nearly all births followed a matriarchal system with the laboring mother guiding the birth.  The role of her support team is to respond to her signals.  Every form of medical support exists because it can make instances of birth safer for the mother or baby.  Relatively few of the instances when medical support is implemented today serve to improve the health or safety of the mother or baby.

The sensations of labor can sometimes be orgasmic, and most always are more intense than any prior physical, emotional or spiritual experience.  Even a woman who has an epidural can experience labor for several hours.  The growing practice among doctors today is to delay administering an epidural until a woman’s cervix is 5cm dilated because waiting until labor progresses to this point significantly reduces the chance of a cesarean birth.

A woman who prepares for labor confident that her body and baby know how to birth, may draw from a range of coping practices.  Different practices will work at different stages of labor, and what works best during one birth will be different from the next.  Birth is most likely to be perceived as a positive experience among women who prepare for the depth of intensity birth, and have faith that they will find the right path for their birth—one breath at a time.

Birth is not a medical event, even when medical support is part of her journey.  When a woman copes with the intensity of labor naturally, she eliminates the risk of the unknown response her body may have to medication or medical intervention.  There may come a time when medical support is the best, safest or most compassionate next step.  This piece focuses on how to naturally manage the sensations of labor during a normal, healthy birth.

A partial list of methods for managing the intensity of labor includes:

Mindfulness & Breathing Practices

Movement & Positioning

Water Therapy

Massage, Acupuncture & Acupressure

Mindfulness & Breathing Practices

A woman who has incorporated breathing practices into her daily life will have a wealth of options to draw on as she progresses through her labor.  Breathing and meditation quiet the mind and bring focus to the moment—helping women experience labor one breath at a time.  A laboring woman may most easily cope with her labor by doing exactly and only what is necessary in that moment, nothing more.  And then do it again and again.

Below are some of the mindfulness practices couples learn during one of the Birthing From Within classes I teach.  This list was developed initially as review for couples who have completed my BFW childbirth preparation course.  Explanations of some of these practices may be found in Pam England’s book Birthing From Within:

Breath Awareness

The simple act of focusing on each outward breath is a powerful first step toward quieting a mind that has grown anxious about what unknown pain might lie ahead.

This is a helpful reminder that just as your body knows how to breathe, your body knows how to birth.

Non-Focused Awareness

This may be practiced alone or with a partner’s prompts of seeing, hearing, touch, breath.

This may be conveniently practiced anywhere anytime, bringing your focus to all that is happening in your world at that moment without judgment.

Ovarian Breathing 

This may be practiced alone or with a partner.

This may be done walking or stationary or while tracing a labyrinth with eyes or finger.

It is both relaxing and rejuvenating, making it an especially helpful practice after many hours of tiring labor.

If it is done with a partner, be sure the front hand pauses just above the pubic bone to draw energy down the birth canal.

A prayer/intention/heart question/mantra may be repeated silently or audibly with each exhale.

Because it may be done while walking, a helpful time to prompt a mother to do ovarian breathing is while transitioning between physical locations which often be stressful and thus slow labor.

Head-to-Toe

This practice is a helpful reminder of the power your mind has over your body.

Following prompts in your mind to methodically release tension from the whole body from head to toe is a helpful practice when transitioning from daily life to sleep, especially during the third trimester.

When practiced during an intense labor sensation, a woman will likely only get as far as her arms or spine.

Sacral Breathing

A partner’s presence, deliberate touch, and perhaps slightly slower breath can connect the couple to each other and the baby, as well as invite a mother down from her head to her body.

Moan, Growl & Entrain

A study by a midwife in AZ found that among women who wanted to make noise during labor, those who were discouraged from being loud had labors an average of 2 hours longer than those who were either encouraged to make noise, or neither encouraged nor discouraged.

Many labor and delivery hallways in hospitals today are quiet because such a large number of women have medicated births.  Partners can make a mother feel safe in her noise making by co-chanting/moaning/growling.

Entrainment is an effective way for partners to help labor progress by inviting a laboring woman out a place of fear where her voice is coming from a place physically high in her body, causing her muscles to close and grow tense, to a place of openness where her voice vibrates down and out her bottom.

Building a Partnership with Your Baby

Many women talk to their babies during pregnancy, sharing hopes and fears about the birth, or dreams of their life together.

If a mother already has a foundation for communicating with her baby, the act of talking with or praying for her baby in a given moment may help her make difficult choices when facing a gate of great doubt, for example.

Remembering that her baby is also experiencing labor may be inspirational during challenging moments or if a mother ever feels disconnected from her birth experience.

Meditation & Visual Focus

Following the path of a labyrinth with her eyes or finger quiets a woman’s mind and lowers her heart rate.

Movement, Positioning & Tools

During a hospital/birth center tour parents may ask what tools are available on site to support a laboring mother.  It can help to ask specifically about a birth ball, shower, tub, hot tub, birth bar, labor stool, labor chair…  Parents birthing at home may purchase, borrow or rent many of labor support items.

Birth Ball

A not-fully inflated exercise ball provides what may be the only comfortable seat for a laboring woman whose baby is putting pressure on her perineum.

The action of rocking her hips back, forth and around opens the birth canal and invites the baby to progress downward.

Massager

A partner or doula running a handheld manual massager up and down a laboring woman’s spine during an intense labor sensation can help her feel calm, especially during early stages of labor.

Rebozo Hammock

A partner or doula that provides a supportive rocking hammock for a laboring woman on all fours may alleviate discomfort during “back labor”.

The hammock may also shift the configuration of the womb enough to invite a baby to move into a more optimal position.

Tennis Balls

Tennis balls or the heels of a partner or doula’s hands around a laboring woman’s sacrum can provide relief during or between intense labor sensations.

Ice Pack or Ice Filled Washcloth

Holding a freezing cold pack on a woman’s neck during especially intense labor sensations may overwhelm her senses, diminishing discomfort in her birth canal.

Walking, Squatting, Dancing

Any movement where a laboring mother is alternately moving her hips opens the birth canal, allowing labor to progress as her baby has room to move down.

Slow dancing with arms wrapped around a partner’s neck and with the partner’s arms supporting the laboring woman under her shoulders, may be especially helpful when a mother has grown tired of walking independently.

Supported squatting with her back against a wall, and/or while seated on a birthing stool or a yoga block, may provide a laboring mother with a comfortable position that also encourages labor to progress.

All Fours, Kneeling, On Her Side

There are as many variations of supportive laboring and birthing positions as there are births.  None of them involve a woman lying on her back.

Mothering magazine recently ran a guide to positions for labor and birth that provides a good foundation of options.

Even if a woman has an epidural, her partner or doula prop her on her side with her legs supported by pillows in a runners stance to give birth.

Women who give birth lying on their backs often describe birth as “pushing up hill”.

Upright birthing positions use gravity, create a birth canal up to 25% larger, reduce the likelihood of tearing, episiotomy and cesarean birth.

A baby is less likely to “get stuck” if (s)he has as wide a pathway as possible.

Drink & Pee

A full bladder is an obstruction to labor progress.  A partner or doula can prevent this by supporting a laboring mother to the bathroom hourly.

A partner who offers a laboring mother a sip of water (especially with a splash of juice), after each intense labor sensation, is increasing the likelihood of a normal birth.  Bendy straws can be especially helpful.

A woman who stays hydrated during labor is better able to endure a long labor without medical support.  IV fluids may provide rejuvenation and strength after a prolonged labor or if a mother is vomiting too much to remain hydrated.

(Please note:  IV fluids do carry increased risks of postpartum recovery issues such as bloating, engorgement, and an artificially elevated birth weight, which can undermine a successful introduction to breastfeeding.  Meeting with a lactation consultant can be extremely beneficial for all breastfeeding mothers.)

Water Therapy

Studies have shown that water therapy can be as effective at alleviating discomfort during labor as drugs—without the risk, and while maintaining the ability to sense and guide her birth.

Tubs, Birth Tubs, Hot Tubs & Showers

Taking a warm bath, perhaps with candles, a glass of wine and soothing music, can be especially wise for a woman whose labor begins late in the day.  This action may invite her to sleep so she can build strength for the labor ahead.

Birth tubs usually have a system for maintaining the water at a comfortable temperature for hours.  Periodically adding pots of boiling water can turn any inflatable tub into a birth tub at home.

Some hospitals have at least one hot tub available to laboring mothers.  Sitting with her back to a water jet can offer relief during intense labor sensations.

Showers with a handheld extension allow a partner or doula to alleviate discomfort during intense labor sensations by pointing the spray toward particular spots on a laboring mother’s back.

Many people believe giving birth in a warm tub provides the newborn baby with a gentler transition from the womb.  Remember that a baby whose cord is pulsing does not need any other access to oxygen.

If a woman’s water has broken, some practitioners may discourage her from sitting in a tub because it may introduce a risk of infection.  Some people believe it is safe for a woman to take a bath in her tub at home because the bacteria present is already part of her system.

Massage, Acupressure, Acupuncture

Doulas bring tools, training and experience to your labor including the ability to relieve discomfort with massage and acupressure.

Partners who hesitate while touching a laboring woman may be met with resistance.  If instead a partner touches her with confidence that the touch will feel good, it will likely be better received and appreciated.

Some hospitals have an acupuncturist available to laboring mothers who arrange in advance for this service.  Phelps in Sleepy Hollow is one hospital in our area with an acupuncturist on staff to support laboring mothers.

Acupuncture is often used to kick start labor in women eager for the birth to begin.

Chiropractors trained in Webster Technique have also been shown to help labor begin in women with full term pregnancies.

Prenatal massage therapists are trained to avoid inspiring labor for most pregnant women, but a woman having a prenatal massage at 40+ weeks may want to ask if her therapist has any techniques for inspiring labor.

A women who feels safe and well supported is able to surrender her mind to the wisdom of her body and her baby.  If she can feel and intuit her way through labor she can open her mind, spirit, and body and greet her baby with joy, confidence, and awareness.

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Penis: To Snip or Not to Snip

June 23, 2011 § 5 Comments

Every parent of a son has an opinion on this topic.  I am no exception.  My husband’s penis is circumcised and he is very happy with its ability to enjoy and inspire great pleasure.  Before I was pregnant, my husband and I had no strong opinions on the matter.  If anything, we thought, “Yeah, we probably will because that’s what our parents did.”  Circumcised penises seemed “normal” to us.  There must be good reasons why everyone does it.  Right?

There is a lot of heated rhetoric on both sides.  I know and admire many loving parents that chose to circumcise their sons.  I don’t use loaded terms like “genital mutilation”. It’s difficult to find objective accurate information.  This reasonably accessible medical paper on the subject is a good place to start your research.  Another of the most balanced articles I’ve read on this topic studied the life expectancy of men with circumcised vs. intact penises.  They live equally long.

When I was pregnant with our first son, we read all kinds of pro-circumcision arguments, but the other side of the story always rang more true for us…

“So he’ll look like his dad.”

The differences a young boy notices are size and hairiness—not foreskin.

Also, the circumcision rate in the US is dropping (down to 32.5% in 2009, excluding religious rituals not reimbursed by insurance) so my boys’ penises will look like most of their peers’.  Internationally, intact penises are the norm in most developed countries and have been for generations.

“Circumcised penises contract fewer STDs” as was suggested by a study done a few years ago in Africa.

Maybe, but condomed penises contract even fewer STDs.

“We’re Jewish.”

I understand some Jews who oppose circumcision, and still want to celebrate their culture with a bris, perform only a very small ceremonial cut.

“Intact penises have higher infection rates because they’re dirty.”

Proper hygiene by parents, and then by boys as taught by parents, prevents most potential infections.

Avoiding retraction is very important because when foreskin is forcibly retracted on young boys it can cause tiny tears—thus introducing the chance of infection.

A young boy’s foreskin rarely retracts on its own.  Fortunately, washing in a bathtub will do most of the work.  If you want to take extra cleansing measures, gently spray the tip of his penis with a handheld shower attachment.

Avoid bubble baths.  They encourage infections.

If your son does get an infection, bathe the penis 3-4x a day and put a drop of Neosporin on the tip. (I’m sure there are other more holistic options than Neosporin.)  It should clear up very quickly.  (As a baby, one of my sons developed an infection soon after a bubble bath.  We followed this regimen as recommended by his pediatrician.  My son never appeared to be in any discomfort, and it cleared up in a day.)

“It’s a very simple procedure.  There’s no risk.”

Risks are inherent in every medical procedure.

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that any “benefits of circumcision are not significant enough to recommend circumcision as a routine procedure… [and that] circumcision is not medically necessary.”

Fortunately, the rate of complications for circumcision is low (0.1 to 35.0% depending on where you look).

The type of complication ranges from infection to hemorrhage, permanently altering the length and shape of the penis, and in very rare cases, amputation.

“It’s so quick, the baby doesn’t feel anything.”

Today some physicians provide anesthesia, usually by injection into the penis.  This usually relieves most of the pain during the procedure, though it will wear off.

Studies of newborn cries, heartrate and cortisol (a hormone released during severe stress) indicate that circumcision is extremely painful during and after the procedure.

During circumcision the baby is strapped spread eagle onto a board, a special clamp is used to forcibly separate the foreskin from the glans and cut it off from the end of his penis.

After circumcision babies demonstrate more irritability, often scream for extended periods of time, and have more difficulty with feeding and sleeping than their intact peers.

Psychology Today recently published a surprisingly graphic and disturbing article about circumcision.

I cherish my memories of those first days following each birth.  Feeding, snuggling, caressing my perfect little boys.  I wouldn’t replace one of those moments with even the most generously gentle description of circumcision you could present to me.

“It’s just a little bit of extra skin.  It serves no purpose.”

Really, Mother Nature/God mistakenly put foreskin on every baby boy?

The foreskin of an adult male penis is 12 square inches.

Beginning at about 16-weeks gestation, the glans (head of the penis) is covered by the foreskin.  It is almost always still fused to the glans at birth.  The fusion naturally dissolves during childhood.

“My penis is circumcised, and I feel plenty of pleasure.”

Most men have strong positive feelings about their own penises.  Thankfully, my husband is one of those men.  It’s good to feel good about your own sexuality and all that it entails.

Yet, when foreskin is removed, 20,000 nerve cells are cut.  That high concentration of nerve cells must have evolved there (or been put there by God) for some purpose.

Perhaps, pleasure?  Mutual pleasure?

Yup. Foreskin is very sensitive.  Guys love touching it and having it touched. (Just ask my 3-year-old who freaks out his dad by pulling on his own foreskin during bath time, “It feels good.”)

And, foreskin provides built in lubrication inviting his partner to enjoy easier longer lasting pleasure even when natural lubrication does not come as easily for some women, such as during postpartum, while breastfeeding, or as women age.

Once we did some reading and thinking, keeping our sons’ penises intact was not a hard choice for our family.  We are opposed to any unnecessary medical procedures.  We have unwavering faith in the wisdom of Mother Nature.  I understand that all parents bring their own history and beliefs to this decision.   Some parenting choices don’t call for much researching or soul-searching.  This one does.

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