There’s nothing quite like the experience of watching your child become a member of the Jewish people through the most ancient of covenants: circumcision. It’s an incredibly emotional day. Leaving aside the facts that 1. You’re eight days postpartum and incredibly hormonal; 2. There’s a billion people in your tiny house; 3. You’re supposed to feed them something, and 4. They all want to put their germy faces right near your brand new baby, there’s the main event: someone is about to take a knife to your baby’s penis. The baby that you just worked so hard to carry for nine months and deliver to the outside world.
It’s not an easy day.
The thing that makes it easier is trusting in the mohel who is going to actually do the circumcision (and, also important, making someone else deal with cleaning your house/renting a space and ordering the food). When we were looking for a mohel, I wanted a doctor—someone who had gone to medical school and had extensive training and knowledge about the human body. I trust doctors, and it seemed like a really smart idea to use a pediatrician as a mohel. I also wanted someone who’d been vetted by the Jewish establishment, and for me, that was the Berit Mila Program of the Union for Reform Judaism. And, I wanted someone experienced—who’d been doing this for years and knew exactly what to do.
When we added all of those things up, and looked around town, the person who most met our qualifications was a woman. I’d never really thought much about whether the mohel should be a man or a woman. I’ve grown up with woman rabbis being just the same as male rabbis—I’d even contemplated (for a very brief time!) becoming a rabbi myself. So to me, a female mohel seemed just as qualified as a male mohel. Perhaps she can’t quite empathize with the pain of circumcision the same way a man could—but considering that the baby was only 8 days old and they were using a pain relief cream, I didn’t think that was our biggest concern.
And the thing is, the way in which a female mohel, if they are also a mother, can understand what you’re going through, as the mother who just birthed this child—that’s invaluable. My husband and I are both committed to Judaism, and for us, there was really no question as to whether or not we would have a bris for our son. But even with all of that, we didn’t love the idea of the actual circumcision. Our mohel talked to me, mom to mom, about her own children, about her parents, about the connections between our ancestors and our children. Her words were inspiring and moving, and made the day meaningful rather than simply overwhelming. She understood what I was going through (after all, she’d had those same hormones coursing through her veins a few times) and she empathized, supported, and was so incredibly kind. Her demeanor, her medical knowledge, and her prayers—in Hebrew and in English—made the day special for everyone (maybe not my son as much, but he doesn’t remember it!). It’s not a bad thing to have a maternal force with you on the day of the bris.
If I ever have another boy, I would hire our female mohel again in a heartbeat. In fact, I told her that right after the bris, as she was reviewing all of the after-care with us. She smiled and gave me a hug. It was perfect.