Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Marginalia

At first having a boy wasn't much different from having a girl, and then I took him in to be circumcised. The event itself had an oddly spectacular feel, as the room was crowded with women -- the assisting nurse, two young blonde med students, and their supervisor -- cooing over a furious Jack. The doctor himself was all business, explaining each aspect of the operation to the med students, who nodded sagely. I was prepared to be jolted to tears by a sudden shrill scream from the child as he underwent the knife, but the tone of his yells remained constant throughout. What seemed to anger him most was being strapped snugly to the baby-shaped board (trade name: Circumstraint). He exacted his revenge on me by sleeping soundly for the rest of the day, despite my best attempts to wake him up to nurse.

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I suppose that if you want to showcase a television's image quality, you let the customer see it in action. However, in that case you want to play the same movie on all the sets. The two televisions on the floor in the back corner of the Salvation Army store were out of sync. On the left glared Waterworld, the Heaven's Gate of the 90s, the saturated colors sloshing and glinting off all the shiny junk on the nearby shelves . (In an ironic twist, I recognized the box office flop because I'd been one of the few people to see it on the big screen.) The caliginous glow of Sleepy Hollow frosted all the knick-knacks on the right. The odd juxtaposition and muted sound robbed Sleepy Hollow of any terror, and I gazed on beheadings and impalements with detached curiosity, until I realized that my children were watching with the same bemused fascination.

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The same trip to the Salvation Army netted me the funniest book I've read in a good age, a novel that had me rolling on the couch weeping from laughter and gasping for breath as I tried to read bits aloud to Darwin. Yet I'm divided over whether, in good conscience, I can possibly recommend it to anyone (except Matthew Lickona). However, since I've brought it up: When Sisterhood Was In Flower by Florence King, an author to whom the overused descriptor "profane" applies in spades. Here she's skewering the feminist movement, ca. 1971. Much of it is hilariously unquotable on a family blog (at one point the narrator takes to writing cheap porn novels), but I can excerpt this bit from a women's issues talkshow:
"Now I know what your question is, " said Ms. Garrison-Talbot. "Everybody always asks it. You must be worried about the baby's soft spot."

I was worried about hers. She turned the birth bucket on its side so the camera could pick up the interior.

"You have to put something soft in the bottom for the baby to land in. Ancient Egyptian women used crocodile dung. It's not available here in Massachusetts, but if you plan to give birth in the Gulf Coast area, your husband or the father of your child can gather it for you as mine did. It's a good way to test his supportiveness. Remember, though, it must be fresh dung. The best way to gather it is to wait behind a crocodile who is moving his or her bowels. When the dung emerges, thrust a skate board under the anus to catch it. Do not use plastic bags! Their crinkly sound tends to anger the crocodile."

"Is it possible to get the dung from zoos?" asked Polly.

Ms. Garrison-Talbot's eyes hardened. "The zoos have ben totally unsupportive."

"What are the chances of setting up a meaningful dialogue with zoo directors?"

"Nonexistent," Ms. Garrison-Talbot said grimly. "We've tried to get our dung through the proper channels but we met with mockery at every turn. My car was even defaced. Someone wrote 'baby sitter' on the windshield and a male veterinarian referred to me as the 'ding-dung' lady'."

Polly Bradshaw grimaced in disgust. "We'll never be free until they stop calling us ladies. Grace, what are your plans for the Birth Bucket League now?"

"Polly, we're going to fight for our rights to crocodile dung. We're setting up a letter-writing campaign to put pressure on the zoos, and my husband is chairing the Ad Hoc Dung Now committee from his hospital bed in Everglades Memorial. We're not going to give up until every woman is able to purchase crocodile dung from the zoo of her choice."

"Beautiful! Right on!" cheered Polly Bradshaw.

"In the meantime, I can recommend some substitutes for crocodile dung. Moldy bread is the best. Crumble it and line the bottom of your birth bucket with it. It's soft, and a natural source of penicillin, which means it's sterile. And best of all, it's easy to obtain -- every active, involved woman's kitchen is full of it.

9 comments:

CMinor said...

Ugh. Thank goodness I was still below reproductive age in 1971.

BTW, in my experience a good mohel (a rabbi whose ministry is the bris) is often the best circumciser in town! (If this doesn't give me hippie birthing creds on the level of a birth bucket, I don't know what will.)

Anonymous said...

Interesting description of the atmosphere at at the circumcision. For some reason I thought Catholics were generally against circumcision although I'm not sure where I picked up this belief. I'm circumcised myself and don't think it's any big deal, but I doubt I would have the procedure performed on a son if I had one since he wouldn't live in Africa and would likely rank a zero on the promiscuity scale like his father so nothing would be gained by having increased defense against HIV.

If you don't mind my asking, what factors contributed to the decision to circumcise?

mrsdarwin said...

Anon,

I've certainly never heard any Catholic arguments against the procedure -- in fact, I believe that most of the Catholics of my acquaintance (though certainly not all) have their sons circumcised). I think it's mainly a matter of preference. All the men in my family have been circumcised, and here I think the principle of "Like father, like son" applies as well.

I actually don't have a strong opinion on the issue, and since (like you) I also rank zero on the promiscuity scale I don't have any comparables except the obvious.

Donald R. McClarey said...

We had our twin boys circumcised. I am unaware of any Church teaching on the subject.

LogEyed Roman said...

Oh my Lord God. I must have a copy of that book. I'm dying here. All I have to do to make myself chuckle for the rest of my life is to say to myself, "The zoos have been totally unsupportive."

LogEyed Roman

Elizabeth said...

Anonymous,

I don't know of any Catholic prohibition of circumcision either. We did have our son circumcised, partially for the "like Dad" reason, but also for general hygiene. AIDS didn't figure into our decision

We were surprised to learn that the OB does it in the hospital here (not the pediatrician). He too was more upset at being "restrained." But we quickly learned that she hadn't done a great job, it's not "complete" and he does need to be reminded about cleanliness (9 year old boy that he is). If he ever needs surgery for anything else, we might consider having it fixed.

CMinor said...

Anon. & Mrs. D.:
In the US during the past half-century or so circumcision has been the norm (originally encouraged for "hygienic" reasons.) Outside the US nonreligious circumcision is far less common. If a large segment of the Catholic community with which Anon. is familiar is recent immigrants, it would probably not be surprising to find that circumcision is not the norm there.

My mother used to interpret Spanish at one of her local hospitals; I recall her mentioning having to occasionally mediate a circumcision debate between a doctor who was an enthusiast and immigrant parents who were having none of it.

LogEyed Roman said...

Regarding circumcision: I got one too. But there was no religious debate about it. It is for hygenic reasons. A foreskin tends to accumulate disagreeable materials underneath it which if not cleaned out regularly will grow into a thriving ecosystem which in human terms is supposed to be exceptionally revolting.

If a man is going to spend a great deal of time naked in an outdoor environment, exposed to dirt, organic substances, and parasites, the protection offered is supposed to offset the hygenic disadvantages. These days, since the chance of needing such protection is deemed rather unlikely, circumcision is often preferred.

Interestingly, I spoke to a Chinese woman, an immigrant, who said emphatically that Chinese people generally oppose circumcision. They believe the body should be left in the same condition as it came into the world.

...Only tangentially related to circumcision: If you have seen "The Last Emperor", you may remember one poignant scene: The emperor dismisses all the eunuchs from the Forbidden City, fed up with their corruption. They assemble in a courtyard on their way out. Each one, whatever other baggage he has, is holding a small ornate sealed jar in his hands. The young Emperor asks what they are holding. "Their male organs," his chancellor replies. "No matter what their crimes, not even you can deprive them of the right to be buried as whole men."

LogEyed Roman

Shannon said...

Not to spark debate, but I do feel strongly that the biggest issue w/ circumcision is two-fold: 1) It is, like many other medical procedures, a procedure that requires INFORMED consent. In the majority of healthcare procedures, pts are given a glib list of possible drawbacks and then asked to sign an entire one page, fine print document consenting to the procedure. It is a rare and very fine physician that actually takes the time to fully answer patient/parental concerns and detail possible risks on procedures, including circumcision. 2) A baby boy can never give informed consent given his infant status, so then it is up to the parents to consent. I personally am uncomfortable consenting to a permanent genital-altering procedure for my son when he has no say yet. If he wants one when he is older and knows the risks/benefits, then that is his decision.

The American Academy of Pediatrics statement on circumcision from 1999 states that the available data is "not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision" which is what we do in America. The procedure is "not essential to the child's current well-being". There are no medical benefits, so either you are circumcising for religious or social reasons. If circ is to be done, there should be a medical indication for it, like any other surgical procedure. Many people are usually surprised to know that circ rates are dropping, nearing 50/50 nationwide, with a higher uncircumcised rate on the West Coast (around 70-80) and less so on the East or in Midwest.

Here are some resources on more info:
www.nocirc.org
www.noharmm.org
www.catholicsagainstcircumcision.org
www.icgi.org (This one is from the International Coalition for Genital Integrity and has a downloadable, free document on "Full Disclosure" for circumcision. It is a must-read for every parent of a baby boy when deciding b/c it outlines the natural, normal protective function of the foreskin, potential complications of circ, medical indications, ethical considerations, etc.)

What many parents are not aware of are the very real possible risks w/ circ which include hemorrhage, infection, urinary retention, excessive penile loss, surgical deformities, loss of part of the penis, sexual dysfunction and even death. While they occur w/ varying rates, those are risks some do not want to take.

There is no church document prohibiting circumcision, however, my husband and I travel in more natural-living Catholic circles and I would say our son (who is uncircumcised and intact) is in the majority. Again, circles we travel in...

As for the "like father, like son" argument, the baby boy is never going to be exactly like his father. While I can sympathize with that mindset, I don't personally agree with it. Let's say your husband is balding at a young age, do you continually shave your child's growing hair so he can be like daddy?

As for the "health" reasons, as long as boys are using proper body hygiene, there will not be an issue w/ funk growing. Yes, you may have to be a little more diligent but I wouldn't have any other surgery just so I didn't have to clean under another body part.

I hope I didn't come off too harsh. This is a subject that has become more passionate for me as time has gone on and I have learned more about it. We chose not to circumcise when my son was born simply b/c there was no medical indication and I am glad we didn't. I know many families who do circ and are fine w/ that decision. Again, what I want is for families to be FULLY informed before making that decision and not just make it b/c that is what everyone else is doing. Just like much in maternity and neonatal care, routine is not a reason to have it done.

Shannon