Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Two Kinds of Men


The other day, on the way uptown on a packed subway car, I positioned myself next to a set of seats labeled "priority seating" for the disabled. I was hoping my seven-month pregnant belly would qualify me for a seat on the hot, not-yet-fall-like, September day. There were four passengers seated on my side of the car: a couple of teenage girls rapt in conversation, one young woman napping on her way home, and a middle-aged guy pretending not to notice me. My target. Women of all ages and ethnicities have generously offered me their seats in the last few weeks, but with men, it seems, you never can tell who'll be empathetic toward a pregnant lady with swollen ankles. I gave this man my best side profile, so there was no doubt, and stuck the book on birthing I was reading squarely in front of him.

No luck. I resigned myself to standing and started reading, but couldn't help having an uncharitable thought about the kind of man who won't offer a seat to a pregnant woman on the subway. If there are two kinds of men, this might be a fair way to divide the groups. Further proving my point, the train conductor (who said New Yorkers aren't friendly?) noticed all this from his nearby cabin, slid his door open and asked if I'd like to sit down. "Sure," I said, "but I'm fine." I didn't want to cause a scene. "No, you're pregnant," he insisted, "you should be sitting down." And he asked one of the teenage girls to get up. They immediately apologized for not noticing, and fussed over me as I sat down, before continuing their conversation about what they would do that evening. I smiled at him, theory confirmed. See, there really are two kinds of men.


Lately, I've been thinking a lot about two other kinds of men -- the circumcised, and the uncircumcised. To snip or not to snip, is the question in my mind as I enter my third trimester. On the one hand, the idea of having my baby undergo an optional and pretty much unnecessary medical procedure in his first days of life seems crazy. Penises come with foreskin -- why not leave good enough alone? On the other hand, alongside the medical reasoning related to disease prevention, I'm reluctant to pass on this surgery for more emotional reasons.

Part of being a mama's boy, in my son's case, will mean being Jewish. Although I haven't been a practicing Jew (whatever that means) for years, it will ultimately be up to my son to decide what Judaism means to him in his own life. I'm reluctant to leave him without the option of being a typical Jewish circumcised boy, although the decreased rates of circumcision in the U.S. and the small rate of circumcision in Europe are making me doubt my decision. Will circumcision be an anachronism for all but the most religious in five or ten or twenty-five years? Will I regret my decision?

The first circumcision I witnessed was at the bris, the Jewish ritual at home with bagels and lox and a Mohel doing the snipping, of a newly adopted infant cousin. I remember my aunt crying as her new baby screamed in a burst of pain. But I didn't doubt the morality of the procedure -- we were Jewish and this is what we did. Of course growing up in a conservative synagogue with less than observant parents meant there were many things we learned in Hebrew School that we should have been doing, but weren't: keeping a kosher house, observing Shabbat. For a time, living in Israel in my early 20's, I flirted with the idea of becoming "religious" and having more consistency between what I had been told was right as a child and how I lived. I imagined myself with a cool headscarf and a wardrobe of long skirts, living in the cobblestone lanes of Jerusalem or on a modern orthodox Kibbutz. But, in the end, what felt most authentic to me was finding my own spiritual path, and embracing Judaism as a cultural heritage. Marrying Neil, who was raised by staunch Jewish atheist intellectual parents, helped push me in this direction.

The second bris, or ceremonial circumcision, I attended was also the first that Neil had ever seen. My older brother had a new infant son, and Neil and I (newly a couple) flew out to California to attend the ceremony. The bris seemed, to my adult eyes, a strange if interesting tribal ritual. Neil, on the other hand, was shocked by the brutality. No anesthesia? A medical procedure performed by an old man with shaky hands? But I defended the ritual, and didn't think much about Neil's reaction except that he seemed squeamish when it came to foreskin removal.

Fast-forward seven years, and Neil's the one who thinks he might want circumcision for our son. Neil, a vegetarian, would rather eat a tongue sandwich than have a traditional at-home bris with a Mohel. He does, however, wonder if we should go ahead and do an in-hospital circumcision. Should his baby look like him? We're still trying to decide what to do -- but even this very much non-practicing Jew (who asks me if I want to have a Seder with him on Rosh Hashanah) is being pulled toward tradition. As for me, there's a feeling of "just in case" -- and I want to give my child, my son, the chance to be whomever he wants to be -- including an observant Jew. As long as he grows into the kind of man, religious or spiritual or stridently atheist, who will willingly, and without a second thought, offer his seat on the subway to a pregnant women with
swollen ankles.

Jessica Berger Gross is the author of enLIGHTened: How I Lost 40 Pounds with a Yoga Mat, Fresh Pineapples, and a Beagle Pointer (Skyhorse) and editor of the award-winning anthology About What Lost: 20 Writers on Miscarriage, Healing and Hope (Plume). Originally from New York, Jessica lives in Vancouver, BC, with her husband and their three-year-old son Lucien. She writes the Enlightened Motherhood blog every Monday and Wednesday for

More from

For me, the "just in case" meant, just in case my son wouldn't want his body irreversibly changed from it's natural state... I suppose because an intact man can always chose circumcision for himself, but a circumcised man can never reclaim his natural state, "just in case" meant leaving my child as he was, and ultimately leaving the choice of who he wants to be and what he wants his body to be like, in his hands. Good luck to you.
Same thing happened to me several times on Metro when I was 8 months pregnant. Luckily it was only when my ride sharing partner had to leave early. But still, I was hugely pregnant in DC August. Luckily I would alway find a pole to cling to, because I am too short for the hand holds. We had girls. Though I think I would have wanted a baby to be circumsized by a dr. My husband was totally against it.
I'm a Jewish woman and had the same worries about my son not feeling like he would have the choice to be Jewish if he was not circumcised. In the end we chose circumcision, but I still wonder frequently if we made the right decision and if we have a second son, I will wrestle even harder with the suspicion is that we would choose not to circumcise again. There are Jews who are raising their children Jewish and chosing not to circumcise. In the end make the decision you think is best for your family but it might be worth looking into and talking to other Jews who have chosen not to before you decide...I wish I had. I don't walk around feeling bad about it, it was the choice we made and only he will eventually be able to tell me if we made the right one...but I don't know that I would do it again.
My son is circumcised; his father, who must've known he'd be leaving us in 2 weeks, wanted it. What bothers me most about it is that the doc left my son there screaming in a room I couldn't get to, while he cleaned up his instruments. 5 years later he's a happy well-adjusted quick-learning boy with a sense of humor. I'd never go to that doc for anything, but my boy is fine. 18 years earlier, I gave up a young boy for adoption. His 'new' parents wanted him circumcised, and I stood right next to the doc to watch. I remember that he was hungry when I got there that morning; he couldn't eat until after. The nurses were trying to comfort him, but he cried. They gave him to me, I spoke, and he stopped. Magic. Oh, did I want to be his mother! But I didn't have the faith in myself or support of my family to take that step. After the procedure, the doc quickly wrapped him up, handed him to me, and he was very quickly very happy again, and he drank a whole bottle of formula. Good luck to you in your decision. j p.s. My only public-transit seat-sharing story goes the opposite way from yours. I got up to let a woman approaching 60 have my seat. She looked at it, looked at me, and told the 2 gossiping teen-agers "look, there's a seat. Why doesn't one of you sit down?" Livid, hot, tired, humiliated, confused--I don't know how to describe how that felt.
When I was pregnant, I didn't know the sex of the baby. I did know that if it was a boy, I would have him circumsised---I never questioned whether or not, it was morally the right thing to do-I simply thought, "It's Tradition!" Now that I a mum of a girl (instead of a boy)--I did question whether or not I would ever circumsise my daughter---goodness, No I would never do such a thing--so why would it be different for a boy? I don't care if the boy turns out the be the happiest kid on earth---I'm thinking of the moment, weeks after the circumsision that pain he must feel. As a mum, I would never want my child to be in pain simply because "It's Tradition!"
Comments are now closed for this piece.