My Son’s Circumcision

When our second child, a boy, was born, my (Jewish) husband was adamant that he be circumcised. Everyone has their own baggage, and I’m far from exempt from that.  I grew up without a dad; I was dead certain that I wanted my children to have an active, involved and dedicated father.  I didn’t want them to have just one parent, so it was vital to me to respect him as a parent.  This was his son as much as he was mine, and it was that absolute for him.  He would be circumcised.

It’s one thing to blithely agree to something and then realize how incredibly hard it’s going to be.  Like daycare – of course, my kids would go to daycare and I’d work full time, right up until I actually HAD a child and the thought of leaving them for eight to nine hours a day was devastating.  It was the same situation with the circumcision.  Yeah, sure, we can do that, right up until I’ve got this tiny little boy – AND YOU WANT TO CUT OFF HIS LITTLE PENIS?!?!  And if I was struggling with the concept, explaining it to my non-Jewish family was even harder.  The whole idea of having a party where we’d cut off the tip of his penis and then have bagels was beyond their comprehension.

But cut it off we did.  I reminded myself over and over again that this was my husband’s child as much as mine.  That I had to respect Marc’s traditions and his right to make decisions for our child if I truly wanted him to be an equal parent with me.

First let me back up.  My son was a challenging baby.  To this day, six years later, I know of no other child who was as miserable as my little baby was for the first several months.  Colic and reflux were a part of it, but part of it was just who he was, he doesn’t like change – and the whole concept of starting his life here just made him furious.  He cried all the livelong day, unless he was nursing.  Or in the swing – he loved his swing.  But mostly he cried and nursed. He only slept when I held him, and only stopped crying when he nursed.  He was horrified if anyone other than me tried to hold him, screamed unmercifully if people looked at him for too long, and being the center of attention made him nuts.

So I was a wreck on the day he was going to be circumcised.  To put it mildly.  I was an experienced mom, he was my second baby, and I’d had literally decades of childcare behind me – but I was worn out, sleep deprived, and out of mind with confusion and frustration and this overwhelming love for this boy child.  Voluntarily hurting him (and that’s the only way I could see this) was so hard.  So incredibly hard. My mother, sister, stepfather and cousin had all come early to our house.   We lived in a second floor apartment, and it was literally the hottest day of the summer so far that year.   We had no air conditioner, and the apartment was wall to wall people.  I couldn’t stop crying.  The baby couldn’t stop crying (because the mohel didn’t want me to nurse for the two hours before the ceremony, and he was furious at the thought of a pacifier).

All of my husband’s female relatives assured me that I shouldn’t be there, the mothers never watch.  But I couldn’t NOT be there.  This was my child.  This was my baby, and if I was going to allow this to happen to him, I couldn’t let him do it without me there to support him.  So I sat in the room just off of the dining room, where everyone had gathered.  My father-in-law held the baby, and my poor confused stepfather gave him little bits of a sweet wine and it was over super fast.  They handed him back to me immediately, and he stopped crying the instant I touched him.  He nursed gratefully and went immediately back to sleep.

The man who performed the circumcision passed away a few months ago.  It wasn’t that I knew him well, I had never met him before and only saw him a few times since then.  But he was there, on one of the most challenging and painful and ultimately rewarding days of my life.  You know how sometimes you bond to your baby the first time you meet them, and sometimes it takes a bit? I loved my baby from the beginning, but on the day that he was circumcised, I knew absolutely and without question that I was his mother and he was my son, and that when he hurt, I felt it more than I could have imagined.  It was the beginnings of a relationship that, to this day, continues to shock and amaze me, to teach me and stretch me and astound me.  Rest in Peace, Stuart Jaffee, and thank you for your part in my son’s life.

That being said – when we found out that our next baby was a girl, the first thing I thought in the ultrasound room was thank God we don’t have to have her circumcised.

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3 thoughts on “My Son’s Circumcision

  1. My son’s Bris was definitely one of my more challenging moments as a parent thus far. And aside from the custom seeming alien to me, who was only recently-converted, we lost good friends as a result. The type of friends who you ask to read a poem at your wedding, the kinds of friends who drop you off at the airport even when your flight leaves at 6 a.m., the kind of friends who you consider as emergency contacts when family isn’t around. We were going to ask these friends to be our parental back-ups if anything happened to us, but we never got the chance. They found the circumcision, the ceremony, the party afterwards “barbaric” (their words) and we haven’t spoken in 5 years. I often think of all the ways I should have prepared them (and maybe it would have made a difference), but honestly I wasn’t prepared myself.

  2. My oldest boy had his Bris on my parents kitchen table. His father was deployed, and I flew home when he was 5 days old to be with family for his Bris. My twins were born when we were stationed in Albany, GA. Not a mohel to be found. When they were 8 days old, my husband, our 3.5 year old and I drove over 100 miles to have a Rabbi and a Jewish Pediatrician preform their circumcisions/Bris. When my grandson was born almost 15 months ago, we stood 4 generations together on Shabbos morning, as that was the 8th day of his life, for his Bris. As musingsofawritermom said, my daughter too, wondered what they were going to cut. She said to me “Mommy, there’s nothing there for him to cut!”. I told her not to worry, the Mohel knew what he was doing. Turns out Momma was right :-) I pray, that should I be blessed with more grandsons, (and all of my children are in interfaith relationships) that they too, will be consecrated to G-D on the 8th day as my first grandson was, as their fathers/uncles were – also the products of an interfaith marriage. My husband has been most supportive me raising our children, now 32, 29 (X 2) and 23 as strictly Jewish children. My daughter was named in my daddy’s hospital room mere days before he passed away.

  3. The bris is the hardest thing that I’ve run into thus far, in terms of converting. Because it’s so absolute for people who grew up Jewish, in my experience. It was inconceivable to my husband that his son not be circumcised. And other Jewish moms that I’ve talked to are the same way – but me, it was very much a choice that I was making, to continue this tradition and it had real ramifications – my little baby was hurt (although I really think the two hours without nursing hurt him a lot more), and it was so hard.

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