Attempting an Unbiased Post about Circumcision
By M.M.J. Gregory on January 08, 2014
There is a skeleton in the back of my skeptic closet. A gnarly thing, decrepit and long dead. It lived when my daughter was but a babe. During that time, I came across a storm of information about how harmful vaccines could be.
Now, dear reader, I need to take a step back and let you know about the mindset that brought me to such misinformation and why I was gullible enough to swallow it. The women in my family are warriors of the natural health movement (otherwise known as medical pseudoscience). As a matter of fact, they've all worked in health food stores (myself included). They spend their hard earned money on homeopathic water tablets to fight the flu and consult their reflexology charts when they have a particularly nasty headache. My mother can swallow a dozen vitamins without a drop of water.
A distrust of the medical establishment is rooted deep in my brain and will probably never be fully eradicated. So when I started hearing things like 'autism linked to MMR vaccine' in the hazy days of early (teenage) motherhood at a time when I had limited internet access, I freaked. I liked Dr. Sears' parenting books and decided to follow his modified vaccination schedule. My daughter would get her vaccines, just delayed a bit.
My family applauded my "informed" decision. Looking back it was all confirmation bias and fear mongering. Thankfully, my atheism kicked in around that time and a skeptical worldview followed soon after. I know better now. Vaccines are safe and autism is probably not a disorder at all. I caught my baby girl up on her shots pronto. I still worry how much the vaccines' efficacy was hindered by my stubborn, misinformed self. Still, I have to admit that part of me cringes internally when we go to get flu shots. I guess the 'crunchy' is just too ingrained.
We did a lot of moving around at that point in life and as a result Boots had several pediatricians. One of the last she had before reason took hold was aghast that I would endanger my child's life in such a way. She was visibly angry and her tone was insulting. I understand now why she behaved in such a way, but I can't help but wonder if I would have seen the light a little sooner had she sat me down, showed me the evidence, and tried to convince me of the truth rather than getting emotional.
I might never have listened. Still, I wish she'd tried. With that in mind, I'd like to talk about something that I've been avoiding like the Black Death on this blog: circumcision. It hits a lot of major themes I muse on: kids, science, religion, society, and culture. The consequences of this post feel overwhelming in their reality. I am not facing the faceless billions of faithful, the ubiquitous media, or humanity at large. Oh no. I'm facing my friends, my family. The mothers, fathers, and sons that I know and love. Many are intelligent, informed individuals that disagree with me on this. Given the intimate nature of circumcision, tensions rise quickly.
For a while I wondered if my views on circumcision would soften as my views on breastfeeding did. They didn't. (For the record, I think breastmilk and donor milk should be the norm. Those aren't always viable options in today's society and I totally understand the many reasons mothers use formula. I just hope we keep improving our methods and lose the stigma on both sides.)
While I would prefer to leave this whole topic alone, I feel I cannot. When I was a mother to a daughter with a son on the way, I scoured the internet for a complete, unbiased post about circumcision. I never found one. Looking today, Google doesn't offer much. You either get a few measly sentences on a medical website, hit a pay-wall, or enter the staunch pro or anti circumcision sites. Those sites have reasons for existing and can be helpful. Still, I desired a comprehensive list of the risks and benefits. I hope this post can fill that gap.
I have no desire to enter the 'mommy wars' arena that often pops up around posts about circumcision. I want to have an honest conversation about why we routinely circumcise infants and what science has to say about the practice. This article will be about non-therapeutic neonatal male circumcision unless specifically stated otherwise. Sources not linked to in the article can be found at the bottom.
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