Memories of my infant circumcision
"Babies can’t feel pain. And even if he does feel pain, he won’t remember it anyway!" A rather heartless justification for causing pain to your son.
My memories of circumcision:
Although I was raised in a family that didn’t talk about sex, or our bodies, and even used made up words to talk about bathroom behaviors and body parts, I had questions. I was very young when I started asking my mom about my penis. Of course nobody had ever mentioned it, but I knew that I had been "CUT" down there. I actually believed at the time that the doctor had carved the groove behind my glans (what I now know as the sulcus). I wasn’t sure what had been done, but I knew it had been an act of cutting. I knew I had been hurt. I learned later that I was missing something. I was missing something important.
I was in college when I had my first intact boyfriend; it was then that I figured out what, exactly, I was missing. When I first saw him without clothes, I was excited to see what a “normal” penis looked like—the way they’re supposed to be. What I didn’t expect to see is how he got pleasure from things that would have had no effect upon my scarred, diminished penis. Compared to him, I had to go to extremes to get even a little pleasure. I knew I had been robbed . . . I just hadn’t realized the extent and value of what had been taken.
This wasn’t my first knowledge of the intact penis. I learned about the intact penis and foreskin in school and had already developed the intactivist spirit. But it was my first "hands-on" experience with one.
As I dealt with issues of my childhood, I briefly saw a therapist to get in touch with my feelings of vulnerability, grief, and loss. Talking to a therapist, I brought up my feelings of loss and grief related to my circumcision. She listened closely. As I talked honestly for the first time about my feelings about being circumcised, I started to go into what I can only describe as a state of shock. I remember her asking: “Walt? What are you feeling right now.” She said I went pale and started shaking. She saw terror in my eyes.
“I don’t know,” I told her. “I don’t have words for this. My hips hurt like they are being crushed and my elbows ache and my penis is burning.” My heart was racing. I was dizzy. I wanted to run away, but I couldn't move. I was re-experiencing a childhood trauma—circumcision. We discussed that and I decided to learn more about it.
This happened in the early 1990’s. Shortly after my therapy sessions, a friend and I went to several NOCIRC events in the Seattle area. During one event, we marched to the front door of the company that manufactures the Circumstraint board—the board they use to strap down the new born. (I enjoyed picketing them). Somebody brought a Circumstraint board, which we filled with blood-red carnations. But when I saw the Circumstraint board, I realized that its straps cross mid-thigh and across the upper arm. Such a design would not put pressure on the hips or the elbows, that is, the places where I felt the pressure in my re-experience. I started to question if those feelings were just my mind filling in what I had imagined had happened to me. Maybe they were just my interpretation of infant circumcision. I was confused. It had felt so real.
Later, I was talking to an intactivist nurse about the Circumstraint board, and if there were different designs that maybe strapped at the arms and hips. She explained that the board was not yet used when I was born. It didn’t come into use until 12 years after I was born. So I asked her how they restrained the babies when I was born. I’ll never forget what she said.
She told me that the nurse stands at the head of the infant and holds the thighs of the child in each hand. She spreads the infant’s legs and forces the femurs down pinning the hips to the table. The nurse then uses her forearms to pin the child’s elbows down.
This explained exactly what I felt that day! Hips=pressure, Elbows=Pressure, Penis=burning pain.
I have no doubt that my body remembers my circumcision on the second day of my life. I relived it that day almost three decades later. I had no way of knowing that it involved my hips and elbows, but that’s exactly what came up when I let myself feel the memory that was in my body. I would probably not believe this myself, but I was there. I felt it. At the time I did not know how I had been restrained when I was circumcised, so I couldn’t have made it up. Something in me remembered—remembers.
I know exactly why I’m crying as I write this down.