It has been almost a year since I made it my choice as a doula not to work with parents choosing circumcision for their baby, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately. What are the consequences for me professionally and personally? Was it the right thing to do? Do I stand by it? How will my business look in the future?
The consequences for me professionally have been interesting. I usually set out hoping to work with around twelve families in a calendar year: in the past twelve months I have had nine clients. That dip in business is probably at least partly due to my policy: I have certainly had two or three people cancel interviews with me after learning about it (although of course they might not have hired me anyway). It might also be due to the natural ebbs and flows of this kind of work, or a reflection of just how many talented and in-demand doulas are working in and around Richmond these days. In any case, when I discussed this boundary with my family, we agreed that we would view any resulting drop in numbers as an acceptable cost.
A second professional cost has been the loss of opportunities to provide evidence-based information on circumcision to clients who initially plan on circumcising, in the hope of changing their minds. However, it is not a doula’s job to persuade or advocate for any given choice surrounding birth. It is a doula’s job to support parental choices. I am much freer in my advocacy as an ‘intactivist’ now that I have separated this work from my doula work.
A more interesting professional shift has been the types of families I have worked with this year. Almost without exception, I have worked with Americans having girls, and families in which at least one parent is foreign, having boys. I’ve had clients from England, China, India, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands and Germany. How about that!
The key consequence for me personally has been a light heart. I can serve my clients with total commitment and support their choices as a doula should. I am a better doula for it.
That being so, the answer to my questions ‘was it the right thing to do?’ and ‘do I stand by it?’ should be obvious. For me, yes, absolutely, it was the right thing to do. I have received nothing but support from my community – although some friends and co-workers who shared my original post took some heat, unfairly since they were sharing my views, not their own. I continue to review new research on the practice of routine infant circumcision as it is published, and to participate in activism to end the practice. Increasingly for me it is simply a question of human rights: either we are entitled to the full integrity of our whole healthy bodies, or we are not. If girls are protected, so too should be boys. One indirect critic of my original post said it seemed like I cared more about genital integrity than parental choice, and my response was ‘well yes, of course I do!’ When we replace the words ‘genital integrity’ with ‘human rights’ the relative weight versus ‘parental choice’ is even clearer. I continue to note that no medical association in the world recommends non-therapeutic circumcision. I still reject the flawed research, faulty reasoning and incorrect perception of risk behind the supposed ‘potential medical benefits’ of routine infant circumcision. I continue to advocate for a change in the law to protect our baby boys in their most vulnerable days, just as we protect our baby girls.
For the future: I am working on a class about the foreskin. What it is, how it works, what it means to remove it. I’m tempted to call it ‘The Cons and Cons of Circumcision’, but I think I will find a wider audience with a quieter title. I will offer it wherever I can: hospitals, parents’ groups, doula collectives, individuals. As I continue through my own school (prerequisites, nursing school and midwifery school) I will keep on striving to walk a peaceful, gentle path. When I qualify and find work as a hospital midwife, I likely will not be able to maintain my current boundary – although I will be in a good position to offer evidence-based information. School is going to take me long enough that who knows, by then perhaps the law will have been changed!