By M. Pickard-Ginsberg
Jesse’s circumcision was such a powerful experience for Elizabeth, Jesse and me that I want to share it to help us and others deal with the issue. I have not gone into any historical or technical information about circumcision as MOTHERING had a thorough and detailed article on it.
I bent over to pick up Jesse’s diaper off the floor and saw the spots of blood. Falling onto my knees, sobs and tears shook my body as I clutched his diaper to my face. I looked up at Elizabeth who was sitting on the bed holding Jesse sitting on the bed he had been born in eight days before. I felt we had violated a blessed new soul.
Before Jesse was born, Elizabeth and I talked many times about …”If it’s a boy, should we circumcise him?” Elizabeth felt strongly that “Nature knows best”. “Leave the baby the way God created him”. I was in conflict. In my heart I agreed with her, but coming from a strongly traditional Jewish background I feared that if Jesse was not circumcised I would be “exiled” from my family and closed to or alienated from Jesse. Why had Jews been circumcised for thousands of years? I felt too many traditions had been cast off mindlessly. We read what little information we could find about circumcision and talked with a few people. The impression we got was that it was a “simple, quick procedure” and the baby only “cried for a few minutes” and that “it’s much more painful later on” if infection or other complications occur. We finally decided when Jesse was three days old, to arrange to have him circumcised at home.
On the eighth day after Jesse’s birth, the sun shining on a crisp winter morning, Sharon, Amy and Steve arrived for the circumcision. Seeing Sharon and Amy, who had been present at Jesse’s birth reminded Elizabeth and I of the warm, wonderful beginning Jesse had had. The first two nights he slept soundly on my bare chest – 7 ½ pounds of raw being. A delicate cadence had grown in our family as we became acquainted with our new “visitor.” Elizabeth and I were amazed and delighted by every sound Jesse made. We shared our excitement with Sharon and Amy and proudly showed them the mandala on the back of his T-shirt which my sister, Janna, had embroidered. Perhaps this symbol of unity helped the little soul through this bitter trial.
Steve, the urologist from the university hospital, empathized with our wish to have Jesse circumcised at home as he was from a Jewish background also. He suggested we lay Jesse on the kitchen table, but agreed to let Sharon hold him on her lap in the bedroom. I am forever thankful that Jesse had this contact.
Even as I write now, two years later, the memory of those moments make it difficult to continue. I can still hear Jesse’s crying … begging for someone to stop the pain … screaming of being violated. Elizabeth soaked a wash cloth in wine which he intermittently sucked, tears streaming down her face. His little hands clutched my thumb. Sharon’s “oms” occasionally drifted between screams – bless her. Steve was explaining that Jesse’s foreskin was unusually tight, a dorsal slit was necessary. He asked how we were while holding the hemostat on Jesse’s bloody penis after each cut. Hemorrhaging was important to avoid.
Why didn’t we stop him? Shock?
He cut again. Pulling back the foreskin, Steve revealed the tip of Jesse’s penis, the color of raw liver. This was a circumcision? Finally, he put the bell clamp around the tip of Jesse’s penis and clamped it. Jesse let out a scream we will never forget. It crescendoed up and up until his mouth hung open, face distorted, and no sound came out. Pure anguish.
Twenty-five minutes had passed. A sacred boundary had been crossed. Never again will a son of mine be circumcised without medical reason.
As was traditional, we said a few blessings and served cake and wine. To me this seemed barbaric. What had Jesse gained from this “tradition?” What meaning could it have for him? How could Elizabeth and I justify violating his body? We couldn’t and can’t? Ignorance?
I urge you to attend a circumcision if you are considering it for your son. Feel what he feels. How would you feel being tied down and cut? Foreskins are often tight and may take a few years (up to 3 or more sometimes) before they are fully retractable.
Perhaps the circumcision shocked me into the reality of importance of the responsibility a parent bears for these delicate (though strong) souls we help bring into this world.
To all those babies yet to be born.
PEACE and SHAL-OM
Reprinted with permission from Mothering, Vol. XI, Spring, 1979, p. 80.
An in depth interview of Elizabeth and Marsh Pickard-Ginsberg appears in Circumcision: The Painful Dilemma by Rosemary Romberg.
Elizabeth and Marsh have since divorced. Elizabeth has given birth to another son, Eli, who has been left intact.