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Finding Meaning in Declining Circumcision Rates

I was living in Berlin when I found out that I was pregnant. My doctor there, a very exuberant Chilean woman, was doing an ultrasound around 14-weeks when she suddenly paused near the baby’s abdomen. “Oh! I see a tiny, tiny, oh so small little penis!” she exclaimed. This, of course, did not thrill my husband. About six weeks later when we were back in the office, the penis had disappeared and it was announced that we were having a girl.

But those few weeks were enough time to get us thinking about (un)pleasantries like circumcision. We had several discussions with friends and my husband’s cousin who had decided not to circumcise his two sons. He said he felt that Jewish tradition had lost its meaning with so many other people circumcising their children.

After deciding to have the baby back in New York, we recently moved back from Berlin. Last week, I attended an informational session at a hip pediatrician’s office in Tribeca. The assembled crowd consisted mainly of very pregnant trendy women and their very anxious partners. After a litany of predictable questions (What’s your policy on vaccinations? Your view on breastfeeding? How late can I call?), one dad wanted to know the practice’s philosophy on circumcision.

“It’s a very personal decision,” the perky nurse practitioner explained. “But only 10% of our patients are circumcised.”

Ten percent!?

My husband and I were shocked. I had imagined that figure would be closer to about 75%, especially given New York’s large Jewish population.

Suddenly, I realized there was a strange feeling welling up inside of me. It was something like pride. If I was ever on the fence about whether to circumcise my son (should I one day have one), this pushed me over the edge. The practice might be somewhat barbaric, but it’s our barbaric practice. It marks our men as a member of a tribe, and I like the idea that it could once again mean something.

While I was busy filling with Jewish pride, I did some research and realized that — sigh — the high-number of foreskins at this particular practice might just be a fluke or represent a trend among a certain subset of New Yorkers. The national circumcision rate is in fact dropping, due in part to changes in insurance policies, a rising number of Hispanics, who are less likely to circumcise, and a general shift in attitude — but more than half of boys born in the United States are still being circumcised.

For now, though, I’m mostly happy that I’m having a girl and don’t have to think about foreskins at all. A baby-naming ceremony washed down with some bagels and lox is a lot easier to handle.


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