© 2011 Sarah Rockwell / Beyond the BrisAs a Jew I grew up thinking circumcision was normal. All of my younger cousins and the sons of family friends were circumcised. All the children I babysat for were circumcised. The sound of a wailing baby at a Bris was something familiar–as was the apparently peacefully sleeping baby afterward. The first time I saw an intact baby boy, I thought he looked strange.
When I was a teenager, my father started complaining about circumcision. He would say things like, “I don’t understand why, in a world full of pain, we choose to put our baby boys through even more pain.” It was only when I was pregnant with my son, and had a serious conversation with my father about circumcision, that I discovered he would not have wanted to cut a son of his own. He said to me, “There is enough pain in this world, why would anyone want to inflict pain on a newborn baby so that pain is all he knows of life?”Although I grew up as a Conservative Jew, learned to read Hebrew, had a Bat Mitzvah, and even kept kosher for a while, I gradually became more secular. I discovered a Reconstructionist synagogue in Miami and loved the Rabbi’s philosophy: “Judaism is like you grandmother’s attic–you take things down and try them for a while. You keep what works in your life and put the rest back.”
Then, I moved to Gainesville, Florida and met my husband. A non-Jew, a heathen, an atheist. Yet, he has more integrity and a stronger moral base than many of the very religious people I know. He also has his foreskin. When our relationship became serious we talked about how we would raise our children. Although he was totally on board with raising our children in Reconstructionist or Reformed Judaism, he was adamant they be left intact. I was fine with that, but I also wanted to be able to honor deceased relatives through the Jewish tradition of giving a Hebrew name. I just hoped we wouldn’t have a son.
We got pregnant after five years of marriage. I prayed for a daughter so I wouldn’t have to face criticism from my extended family or search for a Rabbi who would do a baby naming without a Bris Milah. We had a baby boy. I called the Rabbi at the Reconstructionist synagogue I had attended in Miami and discussed our decision not to circumcise and have a baby naming ceremony. He agreed to do a naming ceremony for our son. We went to Miami when Devin was 3 months old and had a beautiful baby naming ceremony with most of my extended family and many family friends in attendance. To my surprise, nobody criticized our decision to keep Devin intact.
It was only months after we had made our decision that I began researching circumcision. The videos of circumcisions looked like torture and made me sick. I think I was impacted even more by my research because I had never considered not circumcising my son until I met my husband. I made the decision to keep Devin intact so he would look like his father (as if a child’s penis could ever look like an adult’s) and to eliminate what I thought was a slim chance of circumcision complications or penile injury. How little I knew! Complications and death from circumcision are common and the procedure alone is penile injury. I wonder, what would have happened to my son had my in-laws not made the decision to keep my husband intact? Would I have unknowingly mutilated my son so he could look like his mutilated father? It frightens me to admit I probably would have. My awareness of the luck of our decision to keep our son whole makes me even more dedicated to spreading my story and promoting Bris Shalom so other children will be spared.
Sarah Rockwell is a doctoral candidate in special education at the University of Florida specializing in academic instruction for students with autism. She is also a full-time, attachment parenting mother to a spunky 15-month-old little boy. She is passionate about breastfeeding, intactivism, and babywearing. In her spare time she is co-admin of the Human Milk 4 Human Babies Florida Facebook page, runs meetings of the Gainesville Babywearers, and is on the membership and planning committee for the Gainesville Attachment Parenting group.