The morning my son was born, I became someone new, while remaining ever the same.
Just like his big sister, he was over a week late – my babies love to stay put, stubborn and strong-willed like their mama. The evening prior when the contractions crept up, my mother and I walked the neighborhood in slow motion, not really talking, just breathing.
The tension had built between me and my husband. I was spending less time with him, because any time together resulted in my tears and his frustration. We could not come to an agreement about keeping our son – our first son – intact. A time that should have been exciting was spent at odds with the man I called my other half, my best friend.
How could he not see the anguish he was causing? How could he be so determined to do this one thing that would rip my very heart out of my chest? Did he have no regard for the consequences or the damage this was doing to our relationship? Why didn’t I think to talk about this before we got married? Would I even be with him now if I had known? The questions became an obsession, swirling around between my ears all day. And this only made my anger fester. The anger just hovered in the air, in the space between our pillows, choking out any bliss I wanted to dream up by imagining my sweet baby’s face – covering up the deep hurt I felt on behalf of my son.
We had attended a hospital tour of the midwifery center where I was registered to deliver my boy. As the midwives briefly addressed the topic of circumcision, I held my breath and silently prayed my husband wouldn’t embarrass me and ask a question in front of the 20 couples there.
But I could feel him uneasily shifting around in his seat. At the elevator, he offered a compromise: “I think since we can’t agree right now, it’s better to not circumcise him because it can’t be undone later.” I almost fainted but casually replied “yeah, that’s a good idea,” keeping my poker face. The instant wave of relief washed over me and I took a long overdue deep breath. The weeks of pregnancy rolled on; I tirelessly cared for my ever-growing toddler, every day thanking God for my two miracle babies. Until one day in my 39th week.
The circumcision argument resurfaced.
But this time, surprisingly, my darling soul mate was actually on my side. My husband and I were thrust into a position of defending our collective choice to not circumcise our baby to his family. This made my husband start doubting his decision. He sought outside counsel because he didn’t agree with the sources and articles I had sent him. He still believed this was what God commanded him to do as a Christian father. Yet I cried every night and begged God to change my baby into a girl to avoid this burden that was creating irreparable division in my marriage. If God told him to circumcise our son, why didn’t he tell me too?
I looked at my beautiful blonde-haired blue-eyed daughter and wondered why she got to keep her foreskin intact, why no harm had ever come to her by my hand or any doctor’s hand; and yet because my son was ill-fated to own a sexual organ that America deems unnecessary and even unsightly, he should be subject to a harmful cosmetic surgery in the name of sacrifice to God? This just couldn’t be. I kept begging God to take this heavy burden from me, as I was now 40 weeks pregnant and emotionally wrecked.
My mother was there to calm me and prepared a warm rice sack for my lower back the morning I went into labor. I was 8 days past my due date, my body so stressed and instinctively keeping my son tucked up and away from harm. I wanted nothing more than to meet my son, yet I desperately wanted to keep him inside to protect him and his body forever. I worked it all out in my head, despite the verses my husband kept reciting to validate his gross, antiquated theology: God does not make mistakes. Every inch of this tiny body, He designed flawlessly and creatively. Who have we become, that we should decide what is beautiful or ugly, decide what we should do away with or enhance? I knew my son was perfect, every part of him intentionally crafted and useful. I resolved that no one was going to put a knife to him. Even if I lost my husband because of my choice.
Once this was settled, I was ready to labor.
Every surge of pain as I bent over the couch, I connected with my son and reassured him –
it is well, son.
Every weighted breath I gathered and gave I softly sang –
Mama is here, baby. Come down to me.
There on my knees, a familiar pose for the last trimester, pleading with God to make a way, I whispered now to my unborn –
strong baby, I need you to be brave.
It was a blurry ride to the hospital, a blood pressure check, and then I was pushing him out. His heart rate was falling quickly. My doula locking eyes with mine, saying with intent in every word, “Steph, you need to push your baby out now.”
And I fought for him in those scary seconds and I didn’t breathe until I heard him cry, his tiny bluish body up on the table and apart from my own. They cut his cord abruptly to suction the meconium, and I waited impatiently to wrap him in my arms and soak up his newness. I birthed my placenta as the nurses cleaned my son.
It was the next moment that defined the rest of my life with him as my child and will forever be etched into my memory. As I held my arms out to receive my beautiful son, I heard the midwife say “you are intact so there’s nothing for me to do.” I cried tears of joy, of relief. Of pride and solidarity. Not for myself and the easier recovery I would have, but that in this experience of fighting my husband to keep our perfect son whole as God intended, I gained a much unexpected (but much needed) deeper understanding of what this word “intact” really meant for our son. And I knew what it meant to appreciate every part of our bodies.
And just then, as the nurse placed him on my chest and we got acquainted, skin to skin, we were the same. We are both intact.
The instant I held him and thought about how hard I fought for his safety, protection, wholeness and security, I knew it was all worth it. Every tear that fell, every prayer I sobbed out, every screaming argument on his behalf – I would do it all again to save him. Maybe this seems dramatic to some, and that’s probably accurate. It was dramatic.
To imagine ending a marriage because of this impasse, to imagine marring my newborn child because our pastors perpetuate an old commandment that was never intended for our sons, to imagine forcing my son to undergo a surgery but not forcing the same on my daughter just because of their respective genders… it was all dramatic. But maybe it was necessary for me to come to this newfound respect for my children’s bodies.
Three months later, we are all better for it.
My son (and his penis) is perfect and free of scars or infections. My husband has come a long way; he loves our son and is slowly starting to bond more with him now that he is smiling and responding to our voices. I think a part of him will always resent me for not submitting to him, but that is okay with me. I will show him in other ways that I am willing to submit to him – just not when it comes to our baby’s body. When I realized that his position on this issue was more about winning the battle against my will than it was about protecting our son, I knew I had to defend our little guy in every way I could.
Our marriage is still strong and maybe stronger than ever. He commends me for being a hard-working mama of two babies under two and I commend him for working through this whole thing with me and ultimately making our children’s safety a higher priority than our differing opinions about the necessity of circumcision.
Praise be to our God, we are intact.
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