SEPTEMBER 2015: September’s Intactivist of the Month is Rosemary Romberg, mother, grandmother, author, and pioneer of the intactivist movement. As a young mom in California during the 1970s, Rosemary felt “giddy with excitement” over the births of her babies and the sisterhood with other new mothers. She embraced natural childbirth and breastfeeding and became a childbirth instructor, happy to share these joys.
Her first two sons were born in the hospital. “The entire new baby experience was filled with soreness, exhaustion, and a flurry of new sights and sensations. A sore episiotomy, adjustment to a non-pregnant body and lack of sleep, breastfeeding, a new baby — this strange little character, belly-button stump drying up, and sore circumcision site (“must apply petroleum jelly till it heals”). A whirlwind of sensations, sore and achy but honey-sweet, mixed together in this awesome concoction.”
As her family grew, so did Rosemary’s awareness of the “vast disparity between our ideals for birth and the medicalized/ritualized hospital experience.”
Baby number three, also a son, was born at home. “Here he was — peaceful, perfect, snuggling by my side, sometimes squeaking, total uninterrupted bonding. I’d finally discovered how it should be.” But then, scarcely remembering her other babies’ circumcisions in the hospital, Rosemary believed this new little boy “had to match his daddy and his brothers.”
“Why didn’t I fight?” she asks. After handing him over to a doctor to be circumcised, Rosemary and her husband returned to find their precious newborn bloody and agonized. “My world had gone gray, changed forever.” She began to wonder, “Why on earth are we doing this to our babies?”
After moving to Bellingham, Washington, Rosemary began to research circumcision, finding that most books on birth gave it only a vague sentence or two. She interviewed friends, and published an appeal in Mothering Magazine. Slowly, others came forth with ideas, medical articles, and personal stories.
In 1985, one intact son and daughter later, Rosemary’s book Circumcision: The Painful Dilemma, was published. Her sixth child, a daughter, was born in 1989 in Anchorage, Alaska, where Rosemary still lives.
Like many newly awakened intactivists, Rosemary had been “quixotic enough to believe that once all of the information was out there, infant circumcision would quickly come to an end.” “Sadly, I found that while many agreed with me, the concept of circumcision has a great stranglehold on the American public.” Feeling that “every circumcised baby was a personal failure,” Rosemary took a break from the work in the 1990s.
Ease of the internet and the encouragement of friends brought her back. “An advantage of being a writer is that one’s work keeps doing its job long after the author has gone on to other things.” She is updating her book and other writings, but she says her main role is to encourage and support others who are advancing the cause. “My love and support go out to them, especially the newer generations who will get this job done when, once and for all, doctors, mohelim, and others put down their knives and spend their energies helping and healing, while the rest of us love and nourish our precious babies.”
“Intact America is a powerful organization that has done much to educate the public about the highly questionable, traumatic, and dangerous practice known as circumcision,” says Rosemary. “After once believing that my written words and efforts alone could open the eyes of the world and eliminate this cruelty, I’ve long realized that I am just one bit player in what is turning into an avalanche of outraged voices and actions. My deep appreciation goes out to Intact America for being a major part of this avalanche.”
“It’s impossible to quantify Rosemary’s influence,” says Georganne Chapin, executive director of Intact America. “Her early writings about circumcision sowed the seeds for so many others, including myself, who then became intactivists. When we look back on this deplorable custom as ‘something people used to do to babies,’ the name Rosemary Romberg will feature prominently among the credits.”
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.