I received an email from a reader asking me my advice. She is currently towards the end of her pregnancy with a baby boy, and is preparing herself for his bris (circumcision). Seeing as she knows I have been through a bris four times, she wanted to know my “tips” (I know, groan) to help her son heal from his welcome into the faith. Her whole family is populated with girls, so she welcomes any and all advice to help her chart this unfamiliar territory.
I emailed her back with my advice, which basically boils down to “Polysporin is your friend” and some of my experience. I wanted to open the subject to you my readers, so we can help her emotionally and physically on this important day.
We all know that our baby boys must be circumcised. It’s a rite of passage for every Jewish baby boy. But even though we know this has to happen it’s tough for the mommies who have just given birth. The baby will have to go through some pain, and as a mother that really hurts, it brings fear to our hearts. It does get easier with each subsequent boy, I will say that. With the first I was loathe to give him over to the men to carry into the shul. I wouldn’t let him go. I huddled with a girlfriend in the back of the library in the shul during the bris so that I wouldn’t have to hear anything. I think I cried the whole time. (Before I get bashed for not saying that it hurts the fathers too, I am not a man, cannot see the whole thing through a male perspective). By the time the fourth bris rolled around, I was as close as I could be to the action. I won’t say his cries didn’t bother me, but I knew he would be ok as his brothers had been. I dosed each one of my babies up with Tylenol beforehand, so that the pain would be minimized, and we chose experienced mohels who knew what they were doing.
It is indeed a very emotional moment. Welcoming your child into your religion, into your community, into your family. Seeing him become one of us in front of all the community. Having the members of the family and the rabbis bless him and heap good wishes onto him and all the family. For me, the most awesome moment, indeed very spiritual for me, was Kriat Shem, the calling of the name. When the actual bris itself is over one of the community/family members is given the honour of calling out the new baby’s name. There have been so many stories about a couple deciding on the boy’s name, and when it came for the father to whisper it to the honoree, something different came out. Not a name they had thought of, but one that fit perfectly. A name is a holy label. Much thought needs to go into it. Many have the tradition not to mention the name they have chosen for their son until he is circumcised. All of our sons were named after family members who had passed on. Both grandfathers’ names were given; one was name for my favourite man in the whole world – my Saba, my grandfather, the baby’s great-grandfather; and one was named for a great-grandfather and a dear friend.
The recovery time depends, in my experience, on whether or not a clamp was used during the procedure or not. I had 3 sons circumcised using a clamp, the last was not. Some rabbis permit it, some don’t. I really do not understand all the issues involved, but I know my own experience. The 3 boys who were circumcised using a clamp healed faster and bled less. The other one seemed to bleed a lot more, and take a lot longer to heal. I will say, however, that other than sleeping more than they had been used to, they didn’t seem to be too much in pain. I kept giving the Tylenol every 4 hours for the first 24 hours, but they didn’t seem to need it after that. They just needed warmth and snuggles and to be fed and changed regularly, like any newborn.
So, parents of boys, can you give my friend any suggestions how to handle the emotional and physical sides of the bris?