One night over pitchers, my buddy Sean confessed that what he wanted most in life wasn’t to publish a novel or even to find a serious boyfriend. What he really wanted was a foreskin. “They took it without asking! My glans’ best friend,” he said. He was only half joking, and by the end of the night, I promised that if I ever had a son, I would leave his tool-kit intact. Then I met and married Ed, who, from the moment our baby boy-to-be flashed us his stuff on the sonogram monitor, began contacting every practicing Mohel in the greater Tri-State area. Recalling my no-cut pact with Sean, I said, “No way.””You don’t get it,” Ed said. “I’m Jewish. We’re talking five thousand years of tradition.”
It took awhile, but around the millionth time he said this, something in me clicked. Sure, I wanted to keep our baby uncut – I couldn’t imagine inflicting any unnecessary pain on my own child, and, as Sean had suggested, I did not want to rob my son of a potentially erogenous accessory. But there was something else at work, too: namely, my desire to be a crunchy, we’re-leaving-him-natural mommy, the kind whose long-haired progeny sport hemp ponchos and worship at the foot of redwood trees. Ed was talking serious cultural tradition, though, which made him feel deeply connected – and guilty over taking a gentile wife. Technically, our kids could never be Jewish. But with circumcision and a Hebrew name, our son – should he ever wish to – might pass. Then there was the whole look-like-dad thing, which scores of parenting websites and magazines, along with several overly curious, well-meaning friends, claimed was key to countering any I’m-a-freak factor in young boys. These pro-cut arguments, along with my respect for Ed’s cultural identity,The eighth day coincided with the climax of my physical and metaphysical postpartum woes. eventually compelled me, after much rumination (and rightly determining this was the sole battle in my married life I would never win), to apologize in advance to Sean and tell Ed to plan the bris.
In order to demonstrate my support (and belie my lingering ambivalence about what I felt, at some level, was my having had to choose between Ed’s psychic welfare and our son’s), I vowed from the outset to participate in the affair, details about which, unfortunately or fortunately, I knew zero. Ed filled me in, explaining it was done in the home, that the godfather, or sandak, would hold the baby during the procedure, that many Mohels are practicing pediatricians (whew). Here is what he failed to mention: that the bris often occurs atop a dining room table, the same place we’d just carved our Thanksgiving turkey. That it falls eight days after a boy’s birth, symbolizing the metaphysical realm.
Whatever the significance, the eighth day, in my case, also happened to coincide precisely with the climax of my physical and metaphysical postpartum woes, including, but not limited to, Sybil-worthy hormonal swings; chronically molten down-under stitches; and my newborn’s toothless gums, which, when clamped around a nipple, felt uncannily like blades. I also did not know that a gaggle of relatives and distant friends would attend, all of whom I had no desire to have witness my post-birth maxi-pad shuffle. This flock happened to include a pair of second cousins from Long Island, engaged in hot debate over the virtues of hearing aids; a La Leche-obsessed aunt who constantly referred to my newfound ability to feed “any child, anywhere in the world – even Africa!”; and my father, fresh off the plane from northern California and who, like Sean, considered circumcision a “barbaric rite.” This in addition to an inappropriately giddy Westport, Connecticut, Mohel who, upon peering into Zev’s diaper, loudly proclaimed, “Good thing I brought the large-sized instruments!” I was ready to medicate.