Earlier this week, Eytan Bayme wrote about tasting Kornbluh’s tracklements for the first time and celebrating his third Christmas in Europe as an American Jew. Eytan is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.
I said it so many times that first trimester, it almost became a mantra: “If anyone’s gonna do it, it should be us.” We learned that some parents, with a little practice and a guiding hand, performed the ritual themselves. If we were going to circumcise at all, we should be the ones making the cut.
It’s easy to feel bad for an eight-day-old baby undergoing an invasive cosmetic procedure with no apparent medical benefits, but circumcision is like a dream: they cry for the few minutes then taste their first drop of wine before falling asleep and forgetting the whole thing took place. Some claim circumcised men suffer PTSD and intimacy issues later in life, but no one I knew — myself included — seemed to be dealing with stuff like that. My son, if he was anything like me, wouldn’t miss his foreskin; he’d take for granted that it was never there in the first place.
But I would remember.
I would remember the nine months my wife carried him, six of which she couldn’t walk without pelvic pain. I would remember the safety measures we took to keep him out of danger — the healthy food we ate, the insurance we purchased, the vaccinations we researched, the fireproofing of the house, the organic cotton pajamas we bought. We were so concerned with our unborn son’s health and safety that the impending circumcision felt like sadistic torture. For us.
Circumcision is a test, just like God tested Abraham with Isaac, and circumcising my son was a test to see how committed I was to Judaic tradition. If I was as honest as I strived to be, the people making the commitment should be the ones holding the knife. The test was for us, not the mohel who circumcises three kids a week.
“Make sure you don’t mess him up for life,” my wife told me. She preferred not to do it at all. She found the whole thing anti-feminist. Here we were making a big fuss over a boy, talking about caterers and flying relatives in from overseas, yet none of it would be relevant if we had a girl.
“I wish we were having a girl,” I told her. We never asked the ultrasound technician the sex, but she kept referring to it as he, and asked us if we could see the sex. “I wish none of this was relevant.”
As the due date got closer, I lost my nerve. I was too worried about the birth. I needed to make sure we had everything in place for our planned home birth. I needed to inflate and fill a birthing pool without flooding the flat. When was I supposed to learn how to perform a circumcision? Who was supposed to teach me? Also, the more I thought about it, I didn’t like that my son’s faith would be measured by the way his penis looked. It was no one’s business. I spoke with our Rabbi. I wanted some air-tight argument for it, something along the lines of “There is no stronger connection to Jewish Peoplehood than bris millah,” but I knew there was no such argument that would speak to us. “It’s a personal decision,” our Rabbi said.
“Maybe we’ll just get a doctor to do it,” I told my wife. “We’ll wait till he’s nice and strong, forget the eight-day thing, and then take him to a clinic. No relatives, no bagels.”
Two weeks late, we went into labor. My mother-in-law and I took turns pushing a two-foot-by-four-inch piece of lumber into my wife’s back to release the pressure off her pelvis. Eight hours in, the midwives showed up; ten hours in, my wife told me to take the clock off the wall; at eighteen hours we called the paramedics to wait outside; and after twenty hours she delivered a healthy and bold, eight-and-a-half-pound baby girl, on the left side of the couch.
It took us six weeks to agree on her full name, which we announced at a small synagogue near our house. We’ll probably let her share our bed one or two nights a week up to her first birthday. Most days of her life, we try making as big a fuss over her as we can, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved.