Open Letter to Future Parents
An Angry North Dakota Mother
Cut first, ask later
Emails from an Unhappy Reader
Baby Died after 9 months
Jamestown, ND, Couple's Open
Letter To Future
When I was
younger I thought boys had to be circumcised. No one ever discussed it
with me. I just thought, well, I'm Christian and that's what you do if
you're Christian. I even had the most ridiculous thought that boys might
somehow die if it wasn't done. I didn't know how it was done. Just that
it was done.
When I was
in labor [in 1985] with my first child, I was presented with a
circumcision [consent] form by the nurse (I would like to stress that my
labor was difficult in that it was all back labor) She wanted me to sign a blank
form between contractions. I read the consent form. The form stated I
had been advised as to the nature of the procedure and the risks
involved. "What risks?" I asked the nurse, Ruth Diede. I
haven't been advised of any risks.
"I have never even discussed this with Dr. Lucy. I will not
sign this." I gave the form to my husband. He read it and said,
"I don't think it is really necessary that we sign this right now.
We don't even know if the baby is a boy or girl yet."
to get me to sign it the next day. But I told my husband that since it's
a boy and that he's the father, he should decide. My husband again asked
the nurse about the risks involved. Ruth Diede told him that the form is
just a formality. There are virtually no risks involved. That is all we
were told. So he signed it.
later, I had another son [born under extreme stress: Apgar scores of 0,
4 and 6]. This time they gave me the consent form after my son was born,
I never questioned it this time. I just signed the blank consent form.
It was filled out later by the staff. I still never discussed it with my
doctor. The doctor had circumcised our first son using the bell cap
method. So that is what we thought they would do this time. We didn't
know there were different procedures. We weren't given a choice.
next morning, I heard a baby screaming and wailing down the hall. For
some reason I became very anxious, and I could feel my breasts drip
milk. When the nurse came into my room I asked, why is that baby crying
so much? The nurse answered, "Oh, that baby is being
circumcised." I said, "Boy, it must really hurt them."
The nurse said, "Oh, it doesn't really hurt them that much. The
baby is probably just cold."
half hour later, my son was brought to me to breastfeed. The nurse said,
"He is really hungry. Babies are usually hungry after being circed."
I was the only mother in the hospital with a baby boy.
cap procedure was not used to circumcise my second son. My doctor didn't
even do the circumcision. Dr. Johnson did. We weren't given a choice of
procedures or even a choice of the doctor.
Three and a
half years later I had a new doctor, James Torrance. During a prenatal
visit, he asked me if I wanted to have the baby circumcised if the baby
was a boy. I said, "I'm not sure, I read in a magazine there are
some risks involved. Can you explain them to me?" The doctor asked
hesitantly, "Well, are your other boys circumcised?" I said,
"Yes, but no one has ever told me about the risks involved."
His answer, totally avoiding my question was, "Well, you had better
circumcise this one or your other boys will make fun of him. I was so
amazed at his answer that I never asked anymore questions.
When I was
in labor at the hospital, the nurses Maret Petrek and Darlene Struble
brought the form in. Again it was blank.
I told my husband, "Here, you want this done, you sign it,
because I won't sign it." My husband signed it at 3:30 PM, and our third son was born four
hours later. Again we were
presented with the consent form during labor before we even knew whether
it was a boy or girl.
This time I
insisted I wanted to watch the circumcision. The doctor tried to talk me
out of it saying mothers
don't really want to watch this. It makes them upset to see the baby
cry. I said, "I don't care. I am going to watch. I never even got
to look at my other sons before they were circumcised, and I did not
like that. This time I am going to watch. He is my baby."
though I had insisted on watching this time, I heard the nurse tell the
doctor outside my hospital room door, "She's probably still
sleeping. Let's just get it over with." The doctor stuck his head into
my room and was surprised to see me awake. He told me that he was going
to do the circumcision if I still wanted to watch.
I went down
to the nursery. The nurse was already holding my naked son. Right before
the doctor came in, the nurse whispered to me, "It takes Dr.
Torrance a damn half hour to do a circ. It takes every other doctor five
minutes max. He doesn't know what he is doing." I never said anything.
put my son on a blue molded plastic board and placed a blue cloth over
the lower half of his body. The cloth had a hole in it for the penis.
The doctor looked at me and said, "Usually we don't let the parents
watch this." "Why not?" I asked. "He is my son. A
parent should be able to watch if they want to."
doctor separated the foreskin from the end of the penis and cut a slit.
Then he clamped it and cut around the clamp with a blade. While the
doctor was doing this, I saw my son quivering uncontrollably and watched
his eyes roll back in his head. I asked the doctor, "Why is my baby
shaking so much?" The doctor answered, "Oh, he's probably
cold." I remember thinking, "How can he be cold? It's hot
outside, the air conditioner isn't on. We're on the fourth floor and
everybody know heat rises." But being the obedient and cooperative
patient, I said, "Oh."
doctor took the chopped-off foreskin and threw it in the garbage like he
couldn't wait to get the foreskin off his hands. I was surprised that he just
threw it in the garbage. I wondered if that was the proper procedure to
dispose of human flesh. Somehow it just didn't seem right.
doctor finished, he said, "Gee, I guess I should've asked you which
procedure you wanted." At this time I didn't know there were different
procedures. So I asked. This is how I found out that my first son was
circumcised differently from my other two sons. I told the doctor,
"OK, that's OK. I guess it really doesn't matter." But in my
mind I was angry, and I thought, "A little late to ask me after
you've already done the procedure you obviously prefer." The doctor
left and the nurse said, "My, your baby took the twenty-five minute
procedure remarkably well. He didn't even cry." I felt sad and tired.
months later, I discovered you
don't even have to circumcise your boys. I read a section in the 6th
edition of Dr. Spock's Baby Book. that
I found in K-Mart. So, I finally found the information I had asked the
doctor about during my prenatal visit; the information he couldn't or
wouldn't tell me. I had to find the information in a book at K-Mart (of
all places!). I also read a chapter out of Mother's Favorites by Catherine
to do more checking into this. I read where serious mistakes have been
made. Yes, I realize it's rare. But if it happens to your son, it's not
rare! Obviously, my doctor was inexperienced. A twenty-five minute
procedure! My poor son. I thank God the doctor didn't slip. I supposed
everyone needs to practice. Anybody want to volunteer their son for a
guinea pig?! Then I found out that the males lose some of their sexual
pleasure because it has been cut off. It's like cutting the clitoris
from the female.
I showed my
husband all of this and asked him why we did this to our sons. My
husband said the only thing he had considered was that they should look
like him, even though our oldest son was circumcised differently.
to our parents about this. My husband's father, upon hearing my
husband's reason, laughed and said, "That's ridiculous. I'm not
circumcised and you and your three brothers never even noticed." My
husband's father is seventy-three years old and has never had a problem
being uncircumcised. My mother told me, my father wasn't circumcised and
never had any problems either.
our parents why they weren't circumcised, and they thought it was
probably because they were all born at home. Then we asked, "Why
did you circumcise your sons?" and our parents told us, "We
never had a choice back then. The hospital just did it."
Learning all this after the fact, my husband and I
are very angry because if we had been informed, we would never
have circumcised our sons. And you can be sure that if we have another
son, he will not be circumcised.
hope our sons will forgive us.
Kathy and Paul Burkle,
A Mother and Father of Three sons,
Jamestown, North Dakota
have heard about the possibility of penile cancer as a reason for
getting circumcised. But
breasts have the possibility of getting cancer. Should we cut off those
is not my doctor anymore.
* * * * * * * * * * *
The following edits and comments made in 1992 are by Duane Voskuil,
to this letter are three consent forms
The form for the first baby includes the following: "I
have been advised as to the nature of the procedure and the risks
involved and I realized that neither the physician nor Jamestown
Hospital can guarantee any result."
initial part of the second son's form before the parent signs the
consent for circumcision reads, "I hereby consent to necessary medical care
of...." Emphasis added.
form for the third baby also reads, "I consent to necessary
medical care... and for use of such surgical procedures and anesthesia
as may be necessary...."
The complete Operation Report written in 1992 is as follows:
Informed and written consent was given to the mother for a circumcision.
Bleeding, possible infection were listed as possible complications of
this procedure. The patient was prepped and draped under sterile
technique with mother in attendance. Adhesions were removed and an
anterior slit was made. 1.5 large Gomco was placed over the glans penis
and excess foreskin was removed with a 14 blade. There was less then
[sic] 5 cc. of bleeding. The patient tolerated the procedure well.
Procedure performed by Dr. Torrance." Signed: "James R. Torrance,
* * * * * * * * * * *
Circumcision is not a Christian rite. The mother is having a painful
labor which is aggravated by laboring on her back, a birthing posture which decreases her pelvic capacity,
increases her pain and is more dangerous for the baby. She is
ill-prepared to deliver her baby the easiest and safest way. She experiences
discomfort as her choices are limited and communication with her is
minimal or lacking. The technological birthing system is assuming
control of the mother and her child even as she sees it displaying
indifference to pain. Yet, her body knows the appropriate response is to
The second baby was born in extreme distress and yet circumcised. The Jamestown Hospital Progress Notes dictated 11/5/88 and typed three days
later read: "Burkle,
Baby Boy--Attending physician, Larry
E. Johnson, M.D.-- Baby boy had Apgar's of 0-4 and 6. I explained
to mom essentially the scoring of the Apgar and that the infant had
cardiac compression and oxygenation by mask. I explained to her that the
infant was essentially dead and brought back to life. This was discussed
a couple of times so that this information was pressed upon her." Signed: Larry E. Johnson, MD.
The doctor's reason to circumcise her third son, namely, to avoid
teasing, probably says more about his own state of anxiety than the real
state of the newborn's siblings. It certainly is not a medical reason
which a surgeon ought to be concerned with. Yet his response, coming
from one who should know, succeeded in causing doubt in her value
system. He did not answer a direct question about the risks.
Though she herself is working hard to deliver her child, she uses the
passive voice appropriate in the medical setting. The doctors assume
they deliver the child. Her courageous reassertion of her parental right
to be with her child, if only to observe, during the circumcision is a
direct challenge to the system which assumes it is their baby to birth
and control. Historians point out that the rite of circumcision is one
loyalty oath parents give to the dominant system. A parent is saying, in
effect, that he or she is willing to bow to the will of the system when
asked, even when it is dangerous and painful to do so. The vulnerability
of the exposed glans and the life-long scar are the oath's exacting
symbols and constant reminders that the amputee has also been pledged to
the system. Against this wide emotional background, the real
circumcision debate is carried out, not on the so-called medical
The hospital staff conspires to circumvent her assertiveness. Perhaps
one reason the nurse suggests going ahead without the mother is the
difficulty of handling her own pain. The nurse's pain comes out in her
comment to the mother about how long the doctor takes to do a
circumcision. Every moment is a felt or suppressed pain for all
involved. The mother continues to question the system's procedures, but
is eventually silenced. A frightening thought would be that the doctor
really thinks the baby is doing well when it seems likely that he had
lost consciousness, "checked out.".
The modern circumcision
ritual which trashes the foreskin, even fails to treat the valuable
sacrifice with respect as it once did. Sadness is the only appropriate
emotion apart from anger. Her comparison of circumcision to
clitoridectomy is not far off and an observation most Americans are not
yet able to make. Female forms of circumcision are desensitizing for the
100 million girls who have this procedure performed on them for many of
the same reasons given for male circumcision.
Believing the violation done to us is OK is how we protect ourselves
from facing our own pain. The older generation knows the
pro-circumcision rationalizations are propaganda but has also been
silenced by the prevailing medical myths. Time has come to stop
propagating the myths which make parents carry or suppress so much
guilt. She is, fortunately, still able to think clearly about the pros
and cons. Twice as many men die from breast cancer as from penile
cancer. As many babies probably die from the complications of
circumcision as old men do from penile cancer (1 in 100,000). There are
no justifiable medical reasons.
Though the parents signed the consent forms, it is obvious they were not
informed even though they tried to get information. A most disturbing
document is the Operation Report which states that the parents were
given information when they claim otherwise. Even if the information
about bleeding and infection had been given to the parents, this would
be completely inadequate information considering that there is much
pain, scarring, often disfigurements in addition to the amputation
itself, the possibility of loss of the penile shaft and even death.
There is also loss of sensitivity and long-term psycho-physical trauma
according to many.
The so-called "adhesions" that "were removed" was
the natural attachment of the foreskin to the glans that seldom
separates, nor is expected to separate from the glans which the foreskin
is protecting, for several years. What is the "excess
foreskin" that was removed? What medical term is this for what kind
of pathological problem? It must have been a normal foreskin or it would
not be "routinely" amputated as physicians well know. Men's
mammary glands are far more excessive. The presumptuousness of this
expression is unbelievable.
The editorial comment by the doctor about the baby tolerating well the
violation to his penis can only mean that he didn't fight back. Of
course, he couldn't since he was totally restrained physically and in
isolation from any human comfort. He did what he had to do to survive,
namely, become unconscious or nearly so.
One thing the Operation Report has correct, however, is who the "patient" is. This is not a
trivial matter since the head of the Fargo Clinic's neonatal intensive
care unit and many others say the "patient should have the right to
chose" circumcision. Who has heard of a newborn male that has
chosen to have the foreskin of his penis amputated?
One can only hope more parents will be as open and brave as these two so
fewer males will be unnecessarily harmed by the small, radical
pro-cutting minority. Hopefully, the US will get in step with the 85%
worldwide majority, including all of Europe, and stop this unnecessary
and dangerous amputation?
Those of us who have been violated unnecessarily by this ignorance,
including physicians, feel at some level the loss. I can only hope we
can be strong enough to deal with the pain rather than denying it and
passing it down to others, with the belief that since "I'm OK, I'll
make you OK too."
the questionable reasons these parents were given for the operation and
the sentiment of the parents' last
sentence, physicians would do well
to reconsider their beliefs and approaches to this issue before
more harm comes to their reputations and incomes.
An Angry North Dakota Mother
Dear Mr. Voskuil,
You recently came to
our college to educate us on circumcisions, male and female, and why
they should be stopped.
I am behind you 100%
because I had this cruel surgery performed on my two sons. Both were
done for "hygienic" reasons and my second son's circ. was not
performed "properly" and had to be medically corrected after
he turned one year of age. He is permanently scarred. Both my babies
screamed and cried from the pain in an IHS [Indian Health Service]
hospital. I pray they will lead healthy and productive lives as they
What I want to know
is where the hell was all this information nine years ago when my first
son was born?!! I am so sorry my first two babies went through this
unnecessary procedure but never will my future babies experience this
Thank you for educating me when no other would.
Mother of three, 2 boys and 1 girl
United Tribes Technical College
Criminal justice Student
"it was already done"
It's been a while since we talked. My sister had her baby--a boy on
November 21st . She had a c-section because he was a footling
breech. I was able to go home since it was Thanksgiving. She was to
the point that she did not want to circumcise her baby, but her husband
told her not to fight him on this one--he wanted the baby to look like
him. I gave it one last try the night before the circumcision was to
take place. With my sister's permission, I talked to my brother- in-law
and described the circumcision procedure in great detail. He didn't say
anything except goodbye and hung up the phone. At my sister's request,
I went in to be with her at the hospital. She and I reminded the nurse
that she wanted to talk to the doctor before it was done. The nurse
said she knew and that there was a note on the chart. The doctor came
in a little while later and when my sister started to ask questions he
told her that it was already done! I wanted to punch him! My sister
broke down crying. I can't believe he would do that. There are many
other horrible events that day-like the doctor telling her to "stop your
fussing." It's been over a month and I can't get it out of my mind.
What horrible memories my sister will have of the birth of her baby for
the rest of her life. I have been trying to think what I should have
done differently. I think I should have never let the baby out of our
sight. My sister did hold him all night the night before since I told
her not to let him out her sight. I guess I foolishly thought the nurse
and doctor would actually answer her questions beforehand. I realize I
have to reach people BEFORE they are in the hospital to know about their
choices and rights in childbirth. I hope many of them will be able to
do the hard work it takes to birth outside the hospital. Thanks for
letting me vent in cyberspace! Barb
Emails from an
May 19, 2002 6:24 PM
I am sick and
tired of everyone telling me that my circumcision is a seperations of
me...and that I am lacking as a man in the sexual department. You can
tell the ladies group who started this nonscence that they are dead
I see men who
are "intact" as you put it. The head looks nasty and red and wet all the
time. And from what I have been told smells. I am a clean cut american
male who is more than proud to be "seperated" as you put it. So is my
I think you
are full of rederict that make no sense whatsoever. I am fully and
happily sexually active with a great deal of sensitivity....
So, put this
in your letters
Proudly a "cut" above the rest.
Subject: SO STUPID!!!
Date: Friday, November 1, 2002 8:31 PM
I AM FULLY SEXUAL AND HAPPY. BETTER THAN THAT
DANG NASTY LOOKING THING IN YOUR PHOTOS. YOU NEED TO STOP LIEING TO
EVERYONE ABOUT MEN BEING BUTCHERED.
UNLESS YOU GET "CUT" YOU DON'T KNOW. SO DON'T
SIT THERE AND TELL ME I AND MY LADY ARE LOSING OUT ON SEXUAL
You are posted, as you requested. There are
many cut as adults who know what life is like with and without all of
one's body parts who say there is loss. We also know
what is anatomically lost.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for people like you, those cut as
infants have no experience of a whole body, so they cannot, as you say,
know the difference. I am not the one who is using "normal"
and "mutilated" in strange ways.
Everyone says it won't happen to them, what
if, just what if you do become that statistic how would you feel. My
God-brothers son he was born on January 15th, 2004 he was a perfect, and
healthy baby boy. When he was three days old they had him circ'd and he
was in and out of hospitals with an infection in his genitals and body
for the next 9 months. They almost lost him twice in that time. Every
doctor told them the infection was a 'side effect' of his circ, it was
not mentioned as one to them before hand. They swear they will never
circ again. The doctor who did my God-brother's son was the most highly
recommended in the area they live, they talked to many people, doctors,
nurses and other patients to find a good one. He has many circ's under
his belt, yet still the baby has almost died twice from the infection
and spent the majority of his life in hospital.
On September 18th this little boy lost his
fight and passed away. His body was just to
small to fight of the infections, his organs slowly shut down, my mom
said she could see the pain in his eyes those last few days. Do you/why
would you want to take chance that this could be your son?? Is any
child's life worth the risk of a medically unnecessary surgery? Don't
say this won't be you, that is exactly what my god-brother told me
before he had this done, and guess what, it was him and his family.