May 11, 2006
First Person - Snips and Snapshots
To snip or not to snip ... that wasn't the question. When my obstetrician asked me during my pregnancy what I planned to do about my son's circumcision, he wasn't referring to the health controversy that now seems as dated as whether to go Atkins or South Beach. Instead, he wanted to know whom I planned to entrust with this delicate task. I assumed it would be a mohel, but my doctor informed me that today's parents have a wide array of options. I could also pick an obstetrician, a pediatrician, a pediatric urologist or the latest in full-service circumcision, the pediatric-urologist-turned-mohel.
I didn't know what to do -- and as a single mom, I didn't have a husband around to offer some male input. It was almost like asking a father to have an informed opinion about his daughter's bikini wax. Except that while a bad bikini wax might only ruin a spring break, my decision could affect my son's sexuality for the rest of his life.
My obstetrician lobbied for the job, telling me that in more than 20 years, he only had to re-do one. The first time, he explained, he was so nervous, he barely took anything off and had to repeat the entire procedure from scratch. As frightening as this sounded, I felt reassured that he erred on the side of caution. I also liked that he had two decades of experience, but then I wondered: Has the technology changed? Maybe there was a new painless procedure, like the circumcision equivalent of LASIK? The more research I did, the more confused I got. There seemed to be heated debate about which type of anesthesia, antibiotic, and scalpel to use. Should I go with a guy who uses Elamax or kosher wine? Lidocaine or homeopathic ointments? The Mogen Shield or the Gomco clamp?
What I really wanted to see were before and after shots, the way surgeons whip out photos of boob jobs and Botox procedures. My friend Kim suggested that mohels compile photos of their work in a book titled, "Head Shots." The closest I could come were testimonials on a Web site called eBris.com, home of pediatrician-turned-mohel Dr. Fred Kogen. There I found rave reviews from parents. A Mrs. Cohen, whose son is now in preschool, wrote: "I have had many, many occasions where I have had to change the diapers of other boys. I must tell you, our son has a perfect penis. Many of the other moms have commented to me how pretty Seth's penis is compared to their sons.'" (Incidentally, for the rest of Seth Cohen's life, everyone from future girlfriends to future employers can learn with a quick Google search that his mom thinks he has a "perfect penis.")
Another parent wrote simply: "You have a great touch." (The mohel with the great touch ... hmm. It sounded a little Catholic church to me.)
Another parent wrote: "....Even our pediatrician said that you 'did a fantastic job!' We are attaching one of his photos, so you can see how much he has grown in just a few short weeks."
I eagerly clicked on the photo. Incidentally, it was an actual head shot.
Aside from Kogen's cheesy mass-market vibe (did I really want somebody with an 800 number cutting my son's private parts?), I worried about the fact that Kogen claims to perform six to seven circumcisions each week. Would all of his work have the same cookie-cutter look, the way that girls who got nose jobs at my mostly Jewish high school and all went to the same brand name Beverly Hills surgeon now have exactly the same nose? Would my son's girlfriends one day recognize a Kogen penis the way boys in my high school could identify a Glassman nose from across the cafeteria?
In the end, I decided to let my obstetrician do it. The fact that he forgot to circumcise Zach in the hospital and then went on vacation for a few days, gave me pause, but when his partner, who looks like he's about 16 years old, offered to do it, I declined. If something went wrong, I didn't want to have to explain to Zach that I let the junior guy in the practice slice and dice. Instead, my parents and I trekked over to my OB's office for what I like to call an office bris.
For the next week, friends, family, and even colleagues called asking after my son's genital region.
"I think it's fine," I'd say, and I'd report on the color of the scar tissue, the decreased use of gauze pads and the progression to a tub bath again.
Most important, Zach seemed pleased with the result. When I'd change his diaper and he'd pee against the wall, he'd laugh hysterically. Apparently, the pain was gone, and his equipment still worked right.
"Maybe that's his testimonial," my doctor chuckled at our next appointment.
"Yeah," I replied, "Or maybe the joke is on us."
Lori Gottlieb, a commentator for NPR, is the co-author of the forthcoming "I Love You, Nice to Meet You" (St. Martin's Press). Her website is www.lorigottlieb.com.