When my son Samuel was born in December 2013, my parents hosted your typical Conservative Jewish bris at their home, complete with wine, a delicious spread, and about 40 of our family and friends. It should have been a joyous occasion, a true simcha, but I was miserable. I was 10 days postpartum (the two day delay is a long story involving both local mohels being out of town and much ensuing stress) and completely beside myself over the thought of circumcising my newborn. I couldn’t bear the thought of him experiencing any pain, no matter how transient.
Beyond that, and on a purely selfish level, I couldn’t cope with the social aspect of it. I didn’t want to see, and be seen by, 40 people at 10 days postpartum. I didn’t want to put on makeup or blow-dry my hair. I felt self conscious about my body and the fact that no matter what I did, I just couldn’t seem to stop weeping (tears of sadness or joy, it didn’t really matter at that stage). On the hormonal roller coaster ride of my life, I was not capable of handling the mix of emotions surrounding that day.
It was, in short, awful for me. I sobbed in my parents’ bedroom in the hours approaching, and little Sam had to be wrenched from my arms when the time came. It took everything I had to hold it together (relatively speaking) while my husband and I gave his name and received his first blessing, and then I literally ran, clutching my baby, back to the sanctuary of the bedroom. A kind uncle followed, trying to see Sam and greet me, and I don’t think I was very kind in return as I fled from him.
So here I sit, 33 weeks pregnant with my second son, and I’ve made some decisions about this baby’s bris. Namely, there won’t be one. Not one you’d recognize anyway. A mohel will come to our home (hopefully on day eight this time!) and he will brit milah my boy. All of the blessings will be recited and the baby will receive his name, in front of our immediate family only. No guests, no food spread, and no wine. I will hopefully have showered that morning, but I can’t make any promises. I won’t be putting on real pants or makeup or fake social smiles if I’m not feeling ready. I will honor my fourth trimester as my time to heal from childbirth, to bond with my baby, to establish breastfeeding, and to do what feels right to me. I will listen to my intuition and my body.
There’s no room in this plan for 40 people (no matter how much I do love them!) putting their eyes on me at that vulnerable stage. I don’t know why the tradition of this big social gathering at eight days postpartum was started, but I know that it doesn’t work for me. We will introduce the baby to our extended friends and family when we (read: I) feel ready for those social interactions.
The story of my second son’s bris will be an intimate one, hopefully to one day be recalled with less trauma than Sam’s. At least with this new plan, I can sob without shame and there will be no forced smiles. If there are smiles, they’ll be real. And that will be a true simcha.