19 February 2007 Read this first
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I’m 30 years old of Senegalese descent and I live in Paris. I have a well paid job which allows me to live comfortably. I live with my partner in the south of the city.
When I was 4 my mother had me circumcised. It ruined my life
The circumcision I underwent I don’t remember at all. It was my cousin who told me my age when it happened. I know I was circumcised at the same time as my big sister. My mother thought we would no longer remember ("children forget" she said). Nevertheless, although I don't remember that day nor what happened to me, I knew well before questioning my cousin that I had been circumcised as well as my big sister.
For a long time I didn’t ask myself the question, it’s something that you did at les Mandingues in Casamance. That's how it was, that's all.
When I was taken to a psychotherapist 6 years ago, I didn’t think any more of it. I was suffering, I had difficulty in living, I was always afraid something was going to happen to me, fear of dying or going mad. And I especially didn’t understand what was happening to me , why life was so difficult. I had been a good child, obedient, almost invisible. I had completed my engineering studies and had looked conscientiously for work. I had always done everything to perfection, I was always a good person, and kind, so why had I this strong impression that I was risking my life doing anything, be it as unexciting as going to the post office. Why was I so afraid? Why was I so sad? Why did I feel so alone?
It was my psychiatrist who spoke about it first to me. One question, after several months. “Have you been circumcised?” I told her yes and then went on to other things. I had problems to solve and the circumcision seemed totally unconnected to my fears and the gulf in which I was trying to survive.
Several years of therapy were needed before I could credit what my therapist was saying, that the circumcision was one of the causes of my problems. It took still more months for me to realise she was right.
As well as my individual therapy, I attended group therapy every Saturday for a year and a half. Since the January session I have been wanting to work on "a tendancy I needed to rid myself of". When anyone speaks to me about a situation they have had to face, or even one they were going to have to face, it’s too much for me: I ask myself if I would have been able to manage if I were in the same situation. I think anxiously about how I would do it. And I don't stop until I have worked it out. Once a friend said he was going to buy a car. My brain whirled into action: “and what would I do to buy a car? Who would I ask for help?" Even though I had no need for a car, I didn’t even have a driving licence! I wanted to get rid of this incessant need to extract myself from never mind what situation.
In clarifying with the therapists, I had just asked them to help me to get rid of the anxiety of one day finding myself in a situation I couldn’t escape from. And that started of a flood of tears….I had not explained to the other members of the group but I immediately thought of my circumcision.
That was what I wanted, a way of assuring myself I will never again be in a situation similar to the horror of my circumcision.
Little by little I faced up to the circumcision which had ruined my life, this monstrosity which I had wanted to forget, this savagery which had such a significant impact on me, so very significant.
I searched on the internet for women’s accounts of circumcision. I couldn’t talk to my mother, it’s a subject that’s completely taboo. My sister refused to discuss it. Up to now, there has only been my cousin prepared to talk to me about it. I’ve searched the internet for several weeks with little result, very little. So I decided to write this blog, to give you this account, to help perhaps a woman or a young girl who has been circumcised and who is looking on the internet for other women who have undergone the same thing. I also need to set out on the road I took this year, the road to my reconstruction.
When you look for information about female circumcision on the internet, you inevitably find a reference to Docteur Pierre Foldès, the first surgeon to attempt successfully the repair of an excised clitoris. I had read an interview with him on several websites during 2005 while I brought up the question of my circumcision in therapy. Curiously I hadn’t enquired any more than that. To make an enquiry, to make an appointment seemed to me to be too hard, too complicated. I wanted to be able to manage without it. At that time I used to minimise the importance of my circumcision. “I don’t need it”, “I can live without it”, “Besides, an operation! That’s something serious”. I ended up forgetting this possibility.
With hindsight, what bothered me most I believe, was not being able to hide an operation from my parents. I would have to talk to them about it and that was impossible. I couldn’t do it without their consent, and I could never get their consent, I was sure. Not worth trying even. I had never even imagined them giving their consent.
At the time of the group therapy in January, 2007 during which my circumcision came into my mind, I said that I believed that that had happened when I was two and a half years or three years old. My therapist mentioned it to me during an individual session. To her I had said four years old.
So I wanted to know. To know as much as possible what had happened. I didn’t dare speak to either my mother or my father. My sister refused to speak about it and got stressed when I bought up the subject. One morning on the metro I had the idea of calling my cousin. She had been brought up by my mother and was living with us at that time, I was sure. I was apprehensive (“And what if she won’t speak to me?”) and I was very surprised at how easily she spoke to me. I had been circumcised at four years, at the same time as my sister, in my father’s village at the instigation of my mother and my paternal grandmother. My father wasn’t there that day. He had gone to find my cousin at her father’s house. It was done behind his back. When he returned, my cousin told me, he flew into a terrible rage. He said he wanted to divorce my mother. Had it not been for the pleas of my grandmother who claimed all responsibility of our circumcision, he perhaps might have.
My cousin did me a service by telling me all that. For years I had believed that my father, if he hadn’t been in league with my mother, had at least shown some indifference to “women’s troubles”. I had also believed that it had happened in my mother’s village and it was my maternal grandmother who had arranged everything. That was completely wrong. I held it against my father, convinced that he didn’t love me, and I hated my grandmother all these years. All these years…
My cousin also told me about her circumcision, of the anger which had never left her and then she asked me if I was thinking about an operation. It was from then that I started to research information on circumcision and reconstruction on the internet.
I spoke about it to my man, who encouraged me to enquire directly by making an appointment. I hadn’t yet decided to have an operation but I had noted the contact details of Dr Foldès’ clinic.
And then a week later, nervous and anxious, I called to ask for information about the operation.
The woman who answered the phone explained to me that I needed to make an appointment for a consultation during which the doctor would examine me and tell me if a reconstruction would be possible. Then he would schedule me for the operating theatre. Several days to several weeks before the operation, I would meet the anaesthetist (the operation is done under general anaesthetic in order not to bring back memories of the circumcision). The stay in hospital for the operation is 48 hours. Then there would be appointments at two weeks, one month and six months I believe. I said I was going to think about it a bit; the woman said to take my time and I rang off.
I was happy to have called, to have dared to do it. Yes, I was proud of myself, and especially relieved to know that a reconstruction was possible and within my grasp. From that Friday evening I was afraid. I saw on the internet that Dr Foldès had received death threats. And I was afraid he would die before being able to operate on me, afraid that having realised and dreamt about it, the hope of one day finding my clitoris once again would vanish. At the time I thought he was the only surgeon to carry out this operation in Europe. I reassured myself by telling myself that he had trained Burkinabe surgeons and I could, if the worst came to the worst, go to have the operation in Burkina Faso. But I thought about it continuously, about his death. And I was really afraid. I daren’t hope too much.
It was perhaps this fear that he would die soon (I went as far as finding out his age) or the fact that I read in a newspaper that ARTE [TV channel] was that very evening having a programme dedicated to the theme of circumcision, or perhaps it was something else, I don’t know. But 6 February 2007, I called the clinic to make an appointment for a consultation with Dr Pierre Foldès.
In therapy I found out that I didn’t need my parents consent. I was not obliged to tell them about it. It’s about my body and my life. My therapist had set me free to make the decision which allowed me to live my life as an adult.
I have an appointment for 2 March 2007 and I’m counting the days until next Friday.
[original in French]
Next post 28 February 2007