I never felt ready for children, not the kind of ready where you long for them, eagerly await their arrival, and delve into parenting with an abandoned love. I wanted children, three of them, but just one year after converting to Judaism, getting married, and moving to Israel, I did not feel ready.
Love and nature’s time constraints persuaded me to compromise—my husband was eager for a family and I was 29, so I pushed out of my comfort zone knowing the benefits would be worth it. When I held our creation in my arms, nature would take over and I would be ready.
I was ready for the easy sleepy baby that our friends had just a year before, but not for my high-maintenance model, who took 20 minute power naps, nursed continuously like a milk leech, and refused to be anywhere other than in my arms.
Though I loved this boy—he was cute and he was ours—I did not feel that overwhelming tear-producing heart-swelling unconditional love that they promised. I could not get past the way my life had been appropriated and turned into a 24/7 bleary eyed puzzle of how to get this thing to sleep so that I could rest, eat, and shower.
But then, on his eighth day of life, the mohel came to welcome my son into the Jewish faith. Though I had never been to a bris, I knew about the ritual and accepted my son’s fate, but as the ideal turned into reality, to inflict pain on this tiny soul so soon after he had arrived felt barbaric.
As the mohel blessed Abraham’s tiny ancestor before performing the sacred rite, I felt the love of a crazed lioness when her cubs are threatened. I wanted to protect my son from the slightest pain, however much it was part of his journey. I finally had it, the most basic instinctual feeling of motherhood—the fiercest love.
“Don’t worry, Ima,” the mohel assured me, no doubt used to emotional mothers, “it will be over in a second. We survived it,” he smiled in brotherhood at my husband, “and so will he.”
So as the moms and grandmothers wrapped me in empathy at the bris, I found the strength to honor the ancient covenant in the knowledge that it would reward my son with a sense of belonging that we all need. I learned that sometimes, the compulsion to insulate our kids from discomfort needs to be reined in to allow for experiences which will eventually make them stronger.
My boy’s initiation into Judaism birthed the mother in me; it set my instincts free and molded my parenting. I became the mother who puts her children first, the mother who keeps them safe while letting them go, the mother who knows that raising children is the hardest but most rewarding work I will ever do.
That fierce mother love has arisen again regularly throughout my son’s life—in the park when that bully pushed him down; at school when the teacher treated him unfairly; and recently when his heart was broken for the first time. With every trial I instinctually wanted to rush in and fight his corner, just as I did at the bris, and sometimes (especially when there was no soothing empathy around), I gave way to the lioness. When he was young, I could justify that. As he grew up, however, backing off and letting him take his own stand was the best mothering that I could gift him with.
Today he is 16 and he neither wants nor needs me to fight his battles. That fierce mother instinct still keeps me awake at night sometimes though, as I worry if I have done enough to build my son’s emotional armor so he can protect himself. The concern is part of that never-ending unconditional love that both scares me with its intensity and fills me with life and thankfulness.
That mohel was ultimately responsible for shaking me out of auto-pilot and into a more connected place, a place where I truly became a mother.
Looking for a mohel? Consult our guide here.