Infant Circumcision: What I Wish I Had Known


I didn't know what circumcision was when I consented to have my
three sons circumcised.  My doctor had told me the surgery was a
necessary health measure, that it didn't hurt, and that it only took
a moment to perform ... like cutting the umbilical cord, I thought. 
I certainly wasn't prepared when, in nursing school several years
later, I saw the surgery for the first time.

We students filed into the newborn nursery to find a baby strapped
spread-eagle to a plastic board on a counter top across the room. 
He was struggling against his restraints - tugging, whimpering, and
then crying helplessly.  No one was tending the infant, but when I
asked my instructor if I could comfort him she said "Wait till the
doctor gets here." I wondered how a teacher of the healing arts
could watch someone suffer and not offer assistance.  I wondered
about the doctor's power which could intimidate others from
following protective instincts.  When he did arrive, I immediately
asked the doctor if I could help the baby.  He told me to put my
finger into the baby's mouth; I did, and the baby sucked.  I stroked
his little head and spoke softly to him.  He began to relax and was
momentarily quiet,

The silence was soon broken by a piercing scream - the baby's
reaction to having his foreskin pinched and crushed as the doctor
attached the clamp to his penis.  The shriek intensified when the
doctor inserted an instrument between the foreskin and the glans
(head of the penis), tearing the two structures apart. (They are
normally attached to each other during infancy so the foreskin can
protect the sensitive glans from urine and feces.) The baby started
shaking his head back and forth - the only part of his body free to
move - as the doctor used another clamp to crush the foreskin
lengthwise, which he then cut.  This made the opening of the
foreskin large enough to insert a circumcision instrument, the
device used to protect the glans from being severed during the

The baby began to gasp and choke, breathless from his shrill
continuous screams.  How could anyone say circumcision is painless
when the suffering is so obvious? My bottom lip began to quiver,
tears filled my eyes and spilled over.  I found my own sobs
difficult to contain.  How much longer could this go on?

During the next stage of the surgery, the doctor crushed the
foreskin against the circumcision instrument and then, finally
amputated it.  The baby was limp, exhausted, spent.

I had not been prepared, nothing could have prepared me, for this
experience.  To see a part of this baby's penis being cut off -
without an anesthetic - was devastating.  But even more shocking was
the doctor's comment, barely audible several octaves below the
piercing screams of the baby, "There's no medical reason for doing
this."  I couldn't believe my ears, my knees became weak, and I felt
sick to my stomach.  I couldn't believe that medical professionals,
dedicated to helping and healing, could inflict such pain and
anguish on innocent babies unnecessarily.

What had I allowed my own babies to endure? and why?

The course of my life was changed on that day in 1979, I have now
dedicated my life to bringing an end to this horrendous practice.

Copyright 1988, Reprinted with permission of the author Marilyn
Milos is the mother of three circumcised boys, grandmother of one
intact child and is the Director of the National Organization of
Circumcision Information Resource Centers.  She has spoken widely
and is frequently featured on radio and television shows across the
United States, including the Phil Donahue Show.  Her work has been
covered by numerous newspapers and magazines, from the New York and
London Times to small-town papers

On April 9, 1988, the California Nurses Association, Region 9,
presented Marilyn Milos, R.N. with its highest honor. The Maureen
Ricke Award, "for her dedication and unwavering commitment to
righting a wrong" and for her work on the behalf of children "to
raise public consciousness about America's most unnecessary

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