Oh my God, we’re going to have to get him circumcised.
That was literally my first thought when the ultrasound tech told us we were having a boy. There I was, laying half exposed, covered in goop in a glorified closet, watching my husband practically jump for joy, and all I could think was that I’d have to have a surgical procedure performed in my living room on my newborn eight days after giving birth. Congratulations, new mom!
There was never any question that we would circumcise our son. My husband and I both agreed for good Jewish and good medical reasons the procedure would have to happen. My only hesitations involved the how’s and when’s of it all. For a moment I considered the clinical safety and ease of having his circumcision performed in the hospital on his second day of life. I even took a friend’s suggestion of hosting the requisite family party weeks afterward at our local synagogue rather seriously.
Most of all I was confused about how I was supposed to handle this ritualistic quagmire. Should I politely excuse myself? Should I hide in the bathroom? Should I bury myself on my mother’s shoulder and burst into tears?
The logic and fear behind these ideas all wound up giving way to tradition. Exhausting, emotionally painstaking tradition. In-laws crashing your house the day you arrive home with the baby, keeping you awake until 10 p.m. to make the guest list for the bris—tradition. Slathering makeup over the dark circles under your eyes so you don’t photograph like the hag you are—tradition. Agonizing over how your sweet, perfect little man will handle his upcoming surgery on his oh so tiny, what are they possibly going to cut—tradition.
Speaking of tradition, who the hell ever thought it was a good idea for a new mother to welcome up to 100 people into her home eight sleepless days after giving birth? Seriously, whose idea was that? Maybe that’s the real reason Sarah laughed when God told her she’d be having a child. “99 and pregnant? Sure. You’re God, you can do anything. Welcoming everyone and their uncle into my house after giving birth? Are you kidding me?!”
But, welcome we did. Every mother in the family met my eyes with a newfound regard coupled with a sense of impending doom. “Take my advice and don’t look,” one cousin remarked. Another emailed from Israel advising me to down a shot of scotch beforehand. That’s how she made it through the circumcisions of both of her sons. “It’s not a big deal,” my mother-in-law remarked. “It happens all the time. He’ll be fine.” My husband’s aunt simply shook her head and said, “It’s awful. We should just be Christian.”
The 11th hour came and went, and without a conversion in sight, we proceeded. Watching my mother walk my son into the room, I suddenly became very aware of the fact that I was not going to take a backseat to this procedure. I was not going to hide in the bedroom whimpering over a bottle of Manischewitz. My inner Jewish mother that had started whispering the day I found out I was pregnant stood firm. She told me this was my son, and I would be there from beginning to end right by his side. And I knew she was right.
So, when the crowd all at once took a giant step back, I took a small step forward.
I handed my baby to the mohel. I remained next to him, holding his little hand as he was strapped down. When the mohel advised to administer as much wine as the baby would like, I helped my husband’s only slightly paled-out grandfather keep up with the honors. My mother turned her back. Most of the men, including my husband, looked away. But I was there, watching my son’s face, doing what I could to soothe the pain and reassure him that he was safe in spite of this shocking experience.
Parents who choose not to circumcise their sons often do so because they can’t handle seeing their child in pain—and I totally get that. The truth is, whether you circumcise or not, your child will encounter pain in his life, and it will never be easy to handle. Perhaps one of the reasons circumcision exists is to remind us that while we have no ability to prevent pain in our children’s lives, we can at least stand by their side and help them through the painful times the only and best way we can—with utter devotion and love.