By EMILY KAPIT
I was not scared of labor and delivery; in fact, I was looking forward to it. I had a great team of supporters (husband, doctor, a doula), was prepared to labor using hypnobirthing, and really excited to meet our little one. I was, however, utterly terrified of a piece of paper, tucked inside an envelope with three simple words on an index card: It's a ____.
I was 22 weeks pregnant, sitting in my OB's office as her assistant checked my vitals and my husband waited patiently in the hallway. I'd had—and would continue to have—an easy pregnancy: no morning sickness, good energy, strong test results. Until a few weeks prior, the biggest issue was whether I should buy stock in a cheese company (I really craved dairy throughout my first two trimesters). That was, up until the bris
discussion, originally between the two actual parents-to-be
, spilled over to our families and led to some very difficult, eye-opening discussions.
The "Great Cutting Debate " started long before I got pregnant. At some point in 2009, I read a story about a Jewish couple with a new baby boy; the mom learned from a friend that a circumcision was not only unnecessary but considered barbaric by an increasing number of Americans, most foreigners, and several international health organizations. Ever the curious researcher, and since I had never considered anything other than doing a circumcision if I had a boy later in life, I looked into it. Reflecting back now, a quick Google search was just the first domino falling.
My husband knew early on in our pregnancy that I felt very strongly about not performing a circumcision if we had a boy; but it was a hypothetical question until we were expecting a baby. At that point, I distilled my argument down into three key areas: moral, medical, and religious.
, I said, it is not our right to remove a part of someone's body without his consent, unless there is a true medical need.
, I continued, literature points to the foreskin as having truly healthful benefits and removing it is totally unnecessary.
, I concluded, I have a hard time rationalizing cutting a baby because "that's what we've always done" with, "Yeah, but we ate shrimp the other night...while watching a movie...on Shabbat." I may not be the most religious of Jews, and I do treasure our culture and traditions, but have a hard time with picking and choosing what I want from a buffet of Jewish customs.
Also, it should be noted that these are surface arguments; there are countless more points, many backed by extensive research.
Back to our pregnancy, the dialogue stayed between the two of us until the questions started coming from family around Week 16. They started out as normal questions but turned, quickly.
"Are you going to find out the gender?""No, I think we are going to wait and be surprised.""So, if it's a boy, we'll wait until Day 6 or 7 and then fly into Miami so we can be there for the bris
.""Um, I'm not sure what we're going to do regarding a bris
; we are...undecided.""What do you mean 'undecided'? We'll come in, do the bris
, see the baby...it will be great!"
The words "bris
" and "great" do not belong in the same sentence. Besides that, though, I didn't know what to say; my husband and I were still conversing and had not come to any conclusions about what we would do (well, I had; I was encouraging my husband to continue researching on his own until he felt comfortable with my stance). The conversation stalled until after I had my anatomy scan at Week 18 and asked the tech to not tell us the gender.
A few weeks later, while relaxing with family on vacation, the topic reemerged with a vengeance. Knowing that parents were getting a little suspicious, we had decided in advance to be a little more honest about our ongoing dialogue. By this point, my husband was getting more comfortable with the idea of leaving a hypothetical son intact and truly recognized how strongly I felt. I loved him—and still do—for that. We had already endured a number of challenging conversations up to this point; I just didn't know how tough it would get. I'll spare you, kind reader, from the details but will tell you it was...discouraging. For every rational and well-researched point (so I felt), the responses were infuriating:
"I know things were different back when you guys were having kids but the research today is so strong in indicating that a foreskin has a true function—I just can't justify making that kind of decision for a baby."
"You have to make all kind of decisions for a baby; are you going to let the child pick where you live and where he goes to school?"
"Medical research proves there is a function of the foreskin; I'd really like to keep it intact unless there is a true reason to remove it."
"I don't care how much 'medical research' you show me; I'd still do it and you should too."
"I understand there is a 5,000 year-old tradition of us doing this as Jews but we don't feel that we can pick and choose customs like that. We're not very religious; why THIS custom? It doesn't feel right."
"You are going to create so many problems for this boy; he is going to be made fun of and no one will date him."
That visit resulted in several more tough conversations, a trail of tears, and distraught parents-to-be. I felt as strong as ever about not doing a circumcision but saw myself wavering as I witnessed my husband suffer from the Gumby effect: he felt pulled in so many directions and simply didn't know what to do.
I started to think of different options: Could we do a little pin-prick to get a drop of blood and leave it at that? What about doing a circumcision in the hospital with lots of anesthesia? Can we wait until he is 13 and then let him make his own decision?
We decided to speak with rabbis, hoping to get some religious guidance. Two rabbis said they were happy they themselves never had to make the decision. One tried to tell us that doctors recommend it (clergy, please stick with what you know; this was beyond incorrect). Another said he would support our decision but still recommends it as he feels he should. Needless to say, we still felt very stuck.
At some point in this process, I took countless hours from life to continue researching the topic, speaking with people, and tracking my sources. The Internet, it seems, is overflowing with articles, research, support groups, guidance, and an array of people hoping to educate, help, deter you from circumcising. Some of these organizations quickly became my solace from the storm of controversy that I had inadvertently created.
Chief among these was—and still is—Beyond the Bris. As a practicing Jew, I felt especially drawn to this particular site as it provides extensive resources to Jewish readers and I felt that several of the contributors truly understood our struggle. There are other options out there and countless people to support parents struggling with this decision. As such, I urge such parents to look, research, contemplate, discuss, and, truthfully, struggle.
In many ways, when faced with the latest research (and a dose of common sense), choosing not to circumcise can be an easy decision. That said, when others are jumping into the fray, the conversation can become bogged down with emotions, judgments, frustrations, and anger. You can arm yourself with rational, well-thought points that are often lost but please continue questioning, discussing, and ultimately making a decision that is right for you. I should also mention that though I am happy to discuss the topic with friends who are interested to learn more about circumcision, I also respect their individual decisions to have their own infant boys circumcised; each parent needs to do what is best for him/her.
Back to that fateful day in the doctor's office, I finally mustered the courage to open that envelope and face the truth. I had promised myself ahead of time that if it was a girl, I would continue down my own road of questioning circumcision, even if it were unnecessary. Years from now, I can tell my daughter about that time, that promise, and she'll know I kept it. Maybe she will have a brother and maybe she won't but I am proud to call myself a Jewish intactivist.Emily Kapit, mom to Hali Reese (and dog-ter Shaina), lives in South Florida with her husband. When she is not reading to or playing with Hali and Shaina, she runs a career advisory firm. She is happy to discuss any crunchy parenting topic with anyone who will listen. She doesn't recall when or how she actually became so crunchy but loves it anyway.