Wednesday, September 8, 2010

On Consent

Vyky Staples
(professional body piercer and fierce mama)


Informed consent is something I see discussed ad infinitum on blogs, message boards and in print in magazines. Informed consent is a powerful tool to have in our journeys as Fierce Mamas- being able to make an educated decision in regards to our health and wellbeing and the health and wellbeing of our babies. We are their advocates, and it's a duty I hold with utmost importance. We choose for our babies who are not able and ready to choose for themselves.

I want to share with you an event I experienced recently that radically shook me and cemented my beliefs. I was shopping. Seeking retail therapy, actually, as a way to relieve myself of some pent-up stress and to soften the blow of leaving my baby in the care of someone else as I am enrolled in school. My shopping trip was winding down, and I was making my way to the food court to grab a coffee to enjoy on the way home. I was approaching a jewelry store and as I neared it, I witnessed something that made my heart jump into my throat.

A very young baby, I'd guess to be around 3 months old, thrashing and screaming as her mother held her arms with one arm and immobilized her head with the other as a store employee was piercing her earlobes. I noticed the mother herself had tears in her eyes.

I was absolutely shocked and appalled. The whole scene had reduced me to tears, an I quickly had to flee the building where I sat in my car and sobbed over what I had just seen. I couldn't make sense of why the mother of that poor baby would subject her to such a thing. She was clearly acting against her maternal instincts- she herself was in tears- she knew what she was doing to her child was wrong.

Yes- WRONG.

It is absolutely, without a doubt wrong to modify the body of a person unable to consent- whether it be female genital mutilation, male circumcision or piercing the earlobes of a young girl. When a child or baby is unable to make informed consent, you are violating their bodies and you are violating their trust. Children are vulnerable and inherently rely on their parents to make decisions on their behalf. And by making permanent changes to their bodies when they are unable to understand the risks, the procedure, the aftercare and the permanent affects, you are revoking their right to choose for themselves.

Furthermore, the stress respond to the stimulus in question can have devastating effects on the infant. When put under extreme duress, the hypothalamus excretes cortisol. When the brain excretes large amounts of cortisol or is forced to excrete it chronically (such as when a parent allows the child to "cry it out"), it can increase the risk of SIDS, and can, in the long term, affect the memory, attention, and emotional wellbeing of the child. Studies also suggest that this can manifest in adulthood into anxiety and depressive disorders.


This brings me to the question of why anyone would subject their child to such a procedure? Is it that important that complete strangers that you'll never speak to or see again know the sex of your baby? Children are not born with a sense of vanity- that is instilled in them by their surroundings as they grow. Baby girls have no need for bedazzled earlobes- they have a need for parents she can trust unconditionally to make sound decisions on her behalf until she is able to utilize informed consent of her own accord.

8 comments:

  1. May I respectfully disagree?
    As a parent it is my and my DH's responsibility to make lots of life altering decisions on behalf of the kids, who can not give informed consent.
    We decide first to keep or to abort the pregnancy. Or in some cases, to take or not to take a drug that will keep the pregnancy going, but would have debilitating consequences for Mother.
    We decide if our children would be born at home or at the hospital, or somewhere else. With a Doctor, Midwife or just a partner. We decide on giving the Vitamin K and antibiotic drops or not. Vaccinate or not. This year I had to deal with a 12 year-old, who had mumps. Pain, guilt, fear. Yet I am not sorry I did not vaccinate. Even though he infected all the kids and me (3 weeks before I had a baby). We decide to nurse or not. Co-sleep or not. All this in just the first few days of our baby's life.
    I have seen a medical circumcision done. It is a horrible procedure. Yet all three of my boys were circumcised in the religious ceremony. It was extremely different from the medical one. The baby is held lovingly all the time, not clamped and was nursed right afterwards. another big difference. Jewish circumcision is done on the eighth day, not the second day of life.
    With all that said I do not see why would someone do it, unless it is for the religious reasons.

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  2. I'm not sure I follow your comment. At first to disagree with Vyky, but yet at the end of your comment you agree with her?

    *A pregnancy needs to be viable...you make the choice to keep or abort, to do what it takes to keep the pregnancy
    *A child needs to be born....you make the choice on where and by whom.
    *A child needs to eat...you make the choice on how.
    *A child needs to be protected....you make the choice on who or when or how.
    *A child needs to sleep....you make the choice on where.

    These are very different needs for a child than circumcision or piercing a child's ears, which a child never needs, its a parents wants projected onto a child, before they can make that choice. How is that fair?

    To me that speaks that you think your child is born imperfect and you need to remove or add thinks to make them perfect.

    And why does your God get to choose that your son's penis is cut off? If he was meant to have a foreskin, then he'd be born with it right? I mean the child is made in God's image are they not. So if he was born with a foreskin, then on would reason that God ALSO has a foreskin. I know MANY Jewish people who have decided to leave their child intact. Let them make the choice when they are older.

    My boys are intact, and will be until they make the choice to change that. My daughter does not have her ears pierced and wont until she can reason to me why she should have them done (and when reason, I mean mature reason, not a 6 year old reason).

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  3. As a young child I was pissed off when my friends had their ears pierced and I did not when I went to preschool. When I was five my dad finally let me go with him to watch people get ears pierced at a piercing and tattoo shop. It was only after I watched, we talked about what it meant, how it was done and how much it would hurt that I decided to get my ears pierced. I had to wait till I was older, at 12 he felt I was old enough to understand what it meant that the holes were forever. I currently at 32 years old have 2 holes in each ear, a belly ring and 5 tattoos. Never got my tongue pierced after the pictures from the dentist on how much it would screw up the teeth I wore braces on. I am grateful my parents allowed me the right to choose this on my own. But I guessed early on that my parents were different, I was allowed to debate lots and always had to present a good case before my parents let me do anything. Even if it wasn't the norm with my peers I was glad my parents let me be my own person.

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  4. Vyky,
    Thank you for opening this discussion. Yes there are a lot of decisions we make for our children, most of them are very hard, but to mutilate their tiny bodies seems like an easy choice to me. The logic that people use to defend it is troubling too.
    My three and a half year old daughter recently noticed some peers with pierced ears and asked when she could have hers done. I decided in a flash of inspiration that if she still wanted she could have them done as a way to celebrate the onset of menarche, and I honestly can't think of a more wonderful right of passage for a budding young woman. She looks forward to puberty and seems content to wait until this special time to become a lady.
    Thanks again for writing this.

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  5. Lea-Ann that sounds like a wonderful idea to make her menarche even more special!

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  6. I love what you wrote. I couldn't agree with you more. And besides...why is there such a push to make littler girls so feminine and appear older then they really are?

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  7. English Revised Version
    And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
    http://bible.cc/leviticus/12-3.htm

    There is the rationale for male circumcision, it has a basis. It is for hygiene purposes.

    As to subjecting an infant girl to ear piercings, I have my suspicions about the wisdom of the mother. Tears or no tears, she knew it to be a wrong committed against her daughter. The tears cement the issue and add reinforcement/augmentation . It was a foolish thing to do.

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  8. I'm against all body modification, male and female circumcision included, but understand the difficulty if, for example, your child is born with a sixth finger on one hand. There's (generally) no reason to remove it health-wise, but it will certainly make their life easier to do so. Those are the kind of cases that stump me.

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