My Biggest Parental Regret


Until three days ago, I would have said that my biggest parental regret, hands down, was that my daughter, who was just about a year and a half old at the time, got into an ant hill on my watch and was bitten more than 15 times. I don’t think I’ll ever forget stripping her clothes off, with ants falling all over the floor, and the shrieks she emitted for two hours straight.

But that was then. Since then, I have a bigger regret. On Tuesday, I had my not yet two-week-old son circumcised.

My husband and I wanted to be surprised by the sex of our baby. Before it came, though, I had asked my ob/gyn about circumcision, just in case that was a decision we’d have to make. She said that that was really more of something you’d talk to the pediatrician about after birth, not an ob. She gave me some cursory information, though, and told me her experience with her own son. She had told her husband, “You have a penis. You decide.”  I laughed, but I actually really liked that philosophy. Later, I told my husband that I didn’t have any strong opinions either way and that I’d leave it up to him.

It was true, at the time. I really didn’t have strong opinions. And it felt good to put a decision in his lap that I would certainly have overthought. It seemed to make things simpler.

He decided to have it done, and that was fine with me. I had done a little research and listened to what the doctors said—I knew there were pros and cons to each. Medical staff seemed rather blasé and cavalier about the whole thing.

So we took him in on Tuesday. As I said, I know the facts:  that there is a slightly increased risk of urinary tract infections in circumcised boys, but a significantly lower risk of STDs later in life. But what I didn’t know, and no one prepared me for, was what the circumcision was like and how I’d feel about it. I didn’t know until right before they took him that he’d have his little tiny legs strapped down or that they’d forcibly reach into his penis with forceps to draw it out. Or that we would be expected to care for it at every diaper change for SIX MONTHS (which I found out today, two days after the circumcision). If only I’d had the gumption to speak up as they explained the procedure and stop it before it started.

I didn’t go back in the procedure room with them. The regret really set in rather slowly. But now, two days later, I haven’t been able to change one diaper. I can’t look at the raw, swollen, and bloody stump that he has, and the few times I’ve been forced to see it, I have to fight to keep from retching. I choose to leave the room instead. I am mortified and repulsed—not by his little body, exactly, but by what we’ve done to it. Luckily, my husband has picked up all the slack of diaper changing and caring for the wound, because I can’t stand to even look at it, much less take care of it.

My son is so chill. The circumcision—and every diaper change since—are about the only times I’ve heard him cry. But the little sound breaks my heart. I know that he won’t remember this, but I also know that we hurt him…and for what?

His little body was so perfect before—he was so perfect before—and we’ve mangled him. Permanently. It’s totally irreversible. I’ve even wondered, with some hope, what would happen if we didn’t take care of it. Would it grow back?  Google and common sense assure me that this is wishful thinking. I want so badly to go back in time and make the other decision. I want to put him back in my belly—I’d gladly go through another 22-hour labor if only I could start over. But I can’t, and it kills me.

Why do health care providers treat this decision so lightly?  Why is it a decision you have to make so fast, without any information in writing, right after giving birth?  Why does no one prepare you for the emotional toll of it?  With my daughter’s ant bites, she was fine and she’s even forgotten about the whole incident. In contrast, this will affect my son for the rest of his life.

I say all this in a postpartum haze. Maybe—hopefully—I’ll feel better about it in a few days, or weeks, or months. And I don’t judge circumcision as a practice or people who choose it for their sons. I just wish I hadn’t chosen it for mine. I wish someone had told me I’d feel this way.

Today, I took him back to the doctor’s to get his tongue tie released. Before they did it, though, I backed out. If it’s not necessary, and isn’t going to improve his quality of life, I didn’t want it done. I was too traumatized by the circumcision. The doctor assured me that with the tongue tie, we could reassess later and do it then, if need be. I felt glad and empowered to have called it off. If only I could have done that on Tuesday. Instead, I’ll have to live with this crushing weight of parental regret.