INTACTIVIST OF THE MONTH: Niki Sawyers
One of Intact America's greatest strengths is the diverse and supportive intactivist community. Our "Intactivist of the Month" series highlights some of the most ardent opponents of infant and childhood circumcision, whose tireless efforts will ensure a future where all babies are kept intact.
MAY 2016: This Mother's Day, and every one to follow, will be bittersweet for Niki Sawyers, the mother of two girls and a boy. Although her 18-month-old son is happy and healthy, she can’t forgive herself for allowing him to be circumcised the day after he was born in a Philadelphia hospital. Now she befriends other mothers — strangers who share her regret — on Facebook and by phone, to console them. They are all what intactivists call "regret moms."
Niki's transformation from mom-of-three to social change activist came when she realized the full truth about the "procedure" her son went through when he was just a few hours old. Despite her initial refusal, a doctor pressured her into signing a consent form, waking her early in the morning, handing her a pen, and proffering a clipboard with the consent form folded back to the signature page. "He'll be numbed up," the doctor told her. "He won't feel a thing."
When her son was returned to her, Niki says, "he was pale and his eyes were red. He let out a squeal that I had never before heard. I picked him up, but he didn't want to nurse. His voice was hoarse. He had a hernia from the screaming. I died inside."
Niki began to research circumcision. The next few months were very difficult. Her son seemed to recover, but she could not forgive herself. She watched videos. And she cried.
"I cried as I nursed him," she says. "I would stare at him and apologize. I felt unworthy to be his mother."
Then Niki got angry. Armed with material from the Intact America website, Niki made an appointment with senior administrators at the hospital where her baby was born. She spent nearly two hours with them, not only recounting her and her son's experience, but educating them on the foreskin, on the circumcision procedure, on infant pain (Niki had found out that her son had only been given a sucrose pacifier as analgesia), and on basic medical ethics. The administrators listened carefully.
When Niki left the meeting, she told the nurse administrator who had met with her, "Thank you, it's people like you who can make a change...." The administrator answered her back, saying, "No. Thank you for speaking out for babies who have no voice."
And they did take some action, including putting rules in place that circumcision education take place prenatally, and that mothers not be solicited after giving birth.
But Niki knew that wasn't enough. She knew she had to reach out to other mothers-to-be, so they wouldn't make the same mistake she did, so their sons would not suffer what hers did.
"I am on the phone late at night, as late as 2AM, talking to other regret moms," Niki says. "Many of them say they can't talk about this to their husbands.
"Other people don't understand. Circumcision doesn't just hurt the baby. It hurts the mother; it hurts the family. It doesn’t stop."
"At Intact America, we hear daily from parents who were ignorant about circumcision, and who were misinformed and solicited by medical personnel to circumcise their sons," says Georganne Chapin.
"Often, as in Niki's case, this takes place shortly after the baby's birth, when the mom is exhausted, and even after she's said 'no' to this medically unnecessary surgery."
The intactivist movement has been fueled by women like Niki, and of course like Marilyn Milos — herself a "regret mom" and founder of the National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers, now "Genital Autonomy-America." When Marilyn learned the truth about what had happened to her sons, she made a video about circumcision and showed it to other nurses and expecting parents. Niki is using social media to do the same thing — educate others and tell her story, knowing that she can make a difference. And, she's becoming a doula!
Niki says, "I am so grateful to Intact America and the intactivist community for giving me the information I needed to make sense of what happened to my son, and for giving me the resources to help others. My goal is to change things so that no child, no mom, no family, will have to go through what we did, and every child will be kept whole."
Visit our Intactivist of the Month Archive page to read about previous intactivists we've highlighted.