The intensity of my grueling 35-hour-long labor is eclipsed by a joy beyond description.
I rest upright in the hospital bed and cradle my newborn son in my arms. He sleeps and I am transformed. His perfect, tiny features; his soft skin; his newness: All of this incomprehensibly catapults my being into a limitless love.
The room is quiet. My husband is out with my sister taking a walk. Peace descends. I watch my newborn son breathe.
Then, a nurse knocks on the door. “Hi. How are you? I have a few papers to go over with you before you go home,” she states, walking briskly into the room.
In America today, only one sex is protected from forced genital cutting. After all, that is what the circumcision of children is — forced. There is no way a minor can give informed or meaningful consent to the elective procedure.
“OK,” I slowly reply, struggling to shift my attention to hospital protocol.
The nurse pulls up a chair. She takes out her pen and the questions commence. Who is our pediatrician? Do we want to authorize a hepatitis B vaccine? Did the lactation consultant come by?
I watch her check off her to-do list. Then, without looking up at me, she asks, “Do you want to have your son circumcised?”
I look at my little boy, not even 12 hours old.
Do I want this nurse to take my newborn away from me, expose his privates, strap his arms and legs onto a “best-selling” circumstraint board and be witness to his agony while his foreskin is forcibly separated and cut from the glans of his penis?
I instinctively hold my son closer to my breast. I search the nurse’s face for any sign of emotion, any sense of the magnitude of her inquiry.
Yes, as the parent of a minor, I act as medical proxy. But this power isn’t unlimited. If my child were a girl, no American nurse would even think to ask such a question. But for boys?
While the cutting of boy genitals has yet to be criminalized, I firmly assert that I have no moral right to authorize this painful elective surgery — too often performed without anesthesia. Less than 20 years ago, 96 percent of circumcisions were performed without any pain relief at all.
A 1997 study set up to determine the effectiveness of anesthesia on circumcision was quickly terminated. Why? Those being cut without pain medication suffered far too much trauma. Today, pain medication — offering partial relief — is more common but still far from universally employed.
Even if the procedure were completely painless, who am I to sculpt and mold my son’s penis? Who am I to authorize the surgical removal of the most erogenous part of my son’s genitals for religious, cultural or aesthetic preferences? Outside of pressing medical need, authorizing the circumcision of boys or girls is not a “right” any parent should have.
I answer the nurse’s question with clarity: “No, absolutely not.”
She looks up at me. I look into her eyes. There is a pause. She softly smiles and nods her head in affirmation. …