Jewish law states that a newborn boy will be circumcised on the eighth day of his life at a religious ceremony, known as the brit milah or bris. Jewish tradition (at least in my family) dictates that said ceremony take place in front of every single family member and close friend of the new mom, dad, and grandparents and is followed by what marks every Jewish occasion: obnoxious amounts of food. Because who wouldn’t want to stuff their faces full of bagels, cream cheese, lox, cookies, and cake after watching an infant have part of his penis snipped off?
But Jewish law and tradition say nothing about a mom attending the bris of her new son while experiencing the beginning stages of postpartum depression, without having found a therapist yet, and drugged up on strong anti-anxiety medicine. Klonopin to be precise, prescribed by my OB/GYN while it was decided if I in fact did have postpartum depression or just the baby blues, which should really go away after two weeks.
Do you remember how you looked and felt at eight days postpartum? I do—still pregnant. Fat, swollen, and pregnant…maybe even more swollen than when I was actually pregnant. I didn’t have anything bris appropriate, which actually fit me, to wear in front of 80 of my family members and closest friends. Postpartum depression or not, I strongly doubt any new mom is ready to greet this many people so soon after the birth of her baby.
How was I supposed to wear makeup when I couldn’t stop crying? I didn’t think I could pretend to be happy and in love with my son in front of so many people who knew me so well, because I wasn’t either of those things. I could barely get out of bed since getting home from the hospital. So far, my husband, sister, mom, and mother-in-law spent the majority of their time caring for my new child. I spent most of my time feeling anxious, detached, and sad.
Before my son was born, we met with the rabbi (a very good friend) performing the ceremony. He said that the bris was a day for Mom to bow out if needed, and it was Dad’s responsibility to greet and socialize with guests. It would definitely be needed.
I remember a few things very vividly from this day. The mohel, who performed the circumcision, was both a mohel and a pediatrician. She also happened to be the breastfeeding police. Breastfeeding was her answer to everything. Breastfeeding would make me feel better. Breastfeeding would bring me closer to my baby. Breastfeeding would help my son’s penis heal faster after the cut. My husband, who is a man of few words, actually raised his voice to her and shouted, “SHE IS NOT DOING IT! SHE IS NOT BREASTFEEDING!”
I was so thankful for him in that moment. I had decided two days prior that I would stop trying to breastfeed or pump, but I was too much of a mess to advocate for myself yet. I didn’t have to. He stepped up and took care of it—and me.
I also recall the prepping of my son’s penis before the ceremony. As the mohel injected it with lidocaine for numbing, he began to scream and cry and tears welled up in my eyes. I felt terrible he was in pain and I didn’t want anyone to hurt him. I ran into the kitchen, right into my best friend and mother-in-law, and shouted, “I HAVE FEELINGS!” We all laughed. It was the first time I really felt something that resembled love for my son. It was also the first time I laughed since coming home from the hospital. It felt good to laugh.
My final memory is of the actual cut during the ceremony. The mohel began to circumcise my son and I ran right back into the kitchen. I couldn’t watch. I couldn’t bare it. Later, lots of other moms would tell me they had to do the same thing, and it made me feel better.
After the ceremony ended, I followed my son to the back room of my father-in-law’s house, where I spent the rest of evening. Friends and family came in and out to chat and see the baby up close. There was so much love and laughter in that room. Maybe it was the medicine, but laughing helped me breathe that night.
It was also after these moments, when most of the guests cleared out, that I noticed I had an appetite. So I stuffed my face with bagels, scallion cream cheese, lox, sturgeon, tuna salad, and more black and white cookies than I’d like to admit. Because again, what Jewish, depressed, anxious new mom doesn’t want to stuff her face after her baby son just had part of his penis chopped off? Not this mom… especially not when the food was shipped down south from my hometown, New York!
It would still be a long journey back to the happy, postpartum depression-free woman everyone knew and loved, but my son’s bris provided the first glimpse that I could eventually get back to my normal self again.