My husband Marc was Jewish, I was not. We hadn’t decided, not entirely, what that would mean for our kids. We already had a 3-year-old daughter, and she was happily celebrating Christian and Jewish holidays with both sides of our extended family. But having a son made any theoretical discussion suddenly incredibly real.
For Marc, the idea that we wouldn’t circumcise our infant son wasn’t an option. It was an absolute. This wasn’t a topic for discussion, not like whether or not we’d have a Christmas tree or should we not give our toddler cheerios during the week of Passover. I had to honor Marc’s right to make this decision. I had known he was Jewish, I had chosen to create a family with him. I had to respect his feelings on this topic, but I was surprised at the strength of his conviction.
I knew about circumcision. All of the little boys in my family had been circumcised in the hospital before coming home, so it wasn’t a foreign idea for me. Having it done at home was new, but my husband (and a Jewish friend who was also a resident at the local hospital) convinced me that having it done by an experienced mohel, as opposed to an exhausted and inexperienced resident, would be the best choice. If we had to do it, at least it would be done in a loving and gentle environment, by someone who was incredibly experienced and competent.
That being said, it’s one thing to blithely agree to something, and a whole other thing to actually see it out. Like daycare–of course, my kids would go to daycare and I’d work full time… right up until I actually HAD a child and the thought of leaving her for eight to nine hours a day was devastating. It was the same situation with the circumcision. Yeah, sure, we can do that, right up until I’ve got this tiny little boy… AND YOU WANT TO CUT OFF HIS LITTLE PENIS?!?! And while I was struggling with the concept, explaining it to my non-Jewish family was even harder. The whole idea of having a party where we’d cut off the tip of his penis and then have bagels was beyond their comprehension.
I reminded myself over and over again that this was Marc’s child as much as mine. That I had to respect Marc’s traditions and his right to make decisions for our child if I truly wanted him to be an equal parent with me.
I was a wreck on the day he was going to be circumcised, to put it mildly. I was an experienced mom, he was my second baby, and I’d had literally decades of childcare behind me–but I was worn out, sleep deprived, flooded with post-partum hormones, and out of mind with confusion and frustration and this overwhelming love for this boy child. Voluntarily hurting him (and that’s the only way I could see this) was so hard. So incredibly hard.
We lived in a second floor apartment, and it was literally the hottest day of the summer so far that year. We had no air conditioner, and the apartment was wall-to-wall people. I couldn’t stop crying. Sam couldn’t stop crying (because the mohel didn’t want me to nurse for the two hours before the ceremony). I wasn’t holding him, because when he was in my arms, he was rooting and desperate to latch on, and I couldn’t nurse him.
When the moment came, it was strongly encouraged that I not be in the room. Everyone told me that the mother never watches. But I couldn’t NOT be there. This was my child. This was my baby, and if I was going to allow this to happen to him, I couldn’t let him do it without me there to support him. I sat in the room just off of the dining room, where everyone had gathered. My father-in-law held Sam, and my poor confused stepfather gave him little bits of a sweet wine. It was over so much faster than I would have thought possible.
They handed him back to me immediately, and he stopped crying the instant I touched him. He nursed gratefully and was asleep in minutes.
Sam’s bris turned out to be one of the most challenging and painful and ultimately rewarding days of my life. You know how sometimes you bond to your baby the first time you meet them, and sometimes it takes a little more time? I loved Sam from the beginning, but on the day that he was circumcised, I knew absolutely and without question that I was his mother and he was my son, and that when he hurt, I felt it more than I could have imagined. It was the beginnings of a relationship that, to this day, continues to shock and amaze me, to teach me and stretch me and astound me.
That being said, when we found out that our next pregnancy was a girl, the first thing I thought in the ultrasound room was “Thank God we don’t have to have a bris.”
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