Éric Fernanché Lévy

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Éric Fernanché Lévy is a member of Brit Shalom l'Alliance sans Souffrance (Francophonie).

In 2020 he spoke in a video message on WWDOGA:

Hello. I'm going to talk about circumcision, particularly circumcision in the Jewish religion and relate the link between the suffering of the child, the traumas and this ritual. But before I do, I'll introduce myself first. I'm Eric, psycho-practitioner in somatic experiencing. It is a method developed by Peter Levin in the United States that treats both, shock traumatism and developmental traumatism. I'll make the connection between SE (somatic experiencing) and any trauma that may arise from the circumcision.

We already know that circumcision provokes, it is already scientifically proven, a lot of pain and there are also many testimonies throughout the world and particularly in the United States, all over the world, of the physical and psychological distress that it can generate. What is missing, in my opinion, is more of a comprehensive scientific study to make the interrelationship, to make the connection between the various symptoms, the post-traumatic stress disorder, that may follow circumcision.

Circumcision, as we know, is very risky and there are several risks that we can talk about. There are three, mainly. First, there are risks due to the surgery, if something goes wrong in the surgery. Second, there are risks related to the health of the child, and third, there are risks related to the health of the mother. The first two, we know them, and normally the surgical conditions must be optimal, so that it happens best, then, even in the Jewish community and in the consistory, in France, or the rabbinate, there is a precautionary principle which says that in any case, if the health of the child is not good enough, the circumcision will not take place.

There is already this precautionary principle, however, the physical, mental and psychological health of the mother is not taken into account and unfortunately the precautionary principle does not apply to the mother's health, which is harmful.

After childbirth, since in the Jewish religion, the ritual of circumcision happens 8 days after birth, it turns out that at birth, many things can happen. It can happen very well, or it can go moderately, or even badly, for both the mother and the baby. As far as the baby is concerned, as we just saw, if there is a physical problem, the circumcision will not take place. On the other hand for the mother, if there is a problem after the birth ... Moreover, these problems can be of two types: either of physical nature, it went badly, there was a surgery, there was a health problem for the mother, so these are the physical problems, but they can be of psychological nature, too: Studies say that 80% of mothers, also Jewish mothers, can have baby-blues problems or post-partum depression.

And that creates a problem, because in this case, right after the circumcision, which, as we know, develops the cortisol level, brings a lot of heartbeats, deregulates all the cardiovascular systems, the hormonal system, the neuro-muscular system, etc., which is the cause of the problem. It's going to bring a lot of pain and stress, as I said before. If the mother is not fit, mentally, psychologically unstable, it can be difficult for her to take care of her baby perfectly well at that time. So there can be consequences.

We're seeing those consequences now. That's how it actually happens: Immediately after this intense stress that the baby experiences, it would be beneficial for the mother and the baby if she could take care of him immediately after the circumcision, take him in her arms, warm him up, reassure him, put him in a safe place, at the breast or with a good bottle. In any case, the question of safety is absolutely hyper important. If the baby does not regain the state of safety that he was in before the circumcision, since before it was probably in the arms of his mother, he is 8 days old so he was close to her, or very close to her, in any case he must very quickly regain this safety. Why? Because this security, this warmth, this maternal love is going to allow him to discharge the stress accumulated in all the systems I mentioned, cardio-vascular, neuro-vascular, etc.

So there's a tremendous amount of stress, and that stress needs to be released. The only way to release it is not by being alone, but by being protected afterwards by the love and warmth of your mother. So, what's going on? What are the hysological reactions at that moment? It happens that, as in the animal world, this is what the somatic experience is based on, on ethology, on animal behaviour. As the baby no longer has the possibility of a fight or flight reaction, it only has a reaction of stupefaction, of freezing. The reactions of freezing, of astonishment, it is the dorsal parasympathetic system, which is a branch of tthe parasympathetic system, whiczh makes a shut down, a collapse, in the impossibility to have reactions of flight and fight, because let us remember, the baby is held by the godfather or the father, so he cannot move. All that energy that should have been discharged in movement, in flight or in struggle, does not occur.

The role of the mother at this time is once she puts the baby back safely in her arms, she rescues him, she gives him heat energy again which would allow him to discharge this energy, this accumulated stress, as in the animal world, in the form of trembling, characteristic strong enough rhythmic breathing, heat waves of belching, burping, yawning, perheps yawning fits, sweat that might come out, movements, tremblings, spasms, etc.

These are involuntary discharges and when this energy is discharged, the risk of him developing post-traumatic stress disorder after surgery is less. Otherwise there's a risk. The precautionary principle would be that mothers who are not fit after giving birth at the time of the circumcision, that the circumcision does not take place. But unfortunately this is not taken into account. If the conditions, which I have just mentioned, i.e. the mother is not mentally stable enough for this and cannot protect her baby after the surgery, there is a risk of post-traumatic stress with the future development of physical symptoms, colic, irritability, behavioural symptoms, which I have just mentioned, hyperactivity or apathy, lethargy, continuous sideration, eating disorders, sleeping disorders and so if you have all that going on, the baby will often find himself in a situation of dissatisfaction, instability, non-equilibrium, non-homeostasis, and so he will be in demand.

To regulate his system, he's going to ask his mother, insistently and with difficulty, he's going to cry a lot, he's going to be grumpy, irritated, and the mother won't know what's going on, she doesn't know that he has just undergone a very, very important stress during the circumcision, since it's normal for her. So she doesn't know how to deal with that situation and maybe she'll get irritated, maybe the father won't be able to sleep well at night, too, and that's going to deal with the parents' own irritability. Maybe the father will be more stable, or the grandmother or the grandfather. It's getting very difficult in the family, so it can lead to a chronification of symptoms.

That's what we're trying to avoid. The child could then have these symptoms, rooted in his nervous system, in all his systems, and become an adult with symptoms of behavioural disorders, sexual disorders, perhaps premature ejaculation, perhaps impotence, perhaps behavioural disorders, perhaps apathy, perhaps irritability, there are many possible and imaginable symptoms. Maybe he'll be scattered, someone who's dissociated, maybe he'll get too attached to details, maybe he'll be too compulsive, too obsessive, there are a lot of possible symptoms that can result from this difficult surgery. It's not only that, it can be a constitutive base, life is long, there are many things that can happen in the meantime. In the meantime it can be a physiological basis on which one can develope some of the symptoms.

What we can do: The precautionary principle requires that, instead of performing a brit mila (a ritual circumcision) under these conditions, on the contrary, a brit Shalom, since it already exists everywhere in the world, in the United States, in Israel, in Germany, even in France (where we are at the 4th or 5th Brit Shalom). Instead of making a brit mila we can offer families a brit shalom which is an empathic ritual of welcome, without cutting and without suffering.

It must also be said that in our association we are not there to judge, to criticize, to say they are not doing right and that it is horrible, that they are barbarians, not at all. You have to be compassionate. These are age-old habits that don't change like that. We're just proposing alternative ways of welcoming ritual and we're not at all in the judgment of the Jewish community. People are free, according to the information they have, to choose this or that ritual. That's it, it's quite simple, we try to remain compassionate and empathetic to all communities, whatever ritual they end up choosing.

I'm finished, I hope that this has clarified the issue a little bit, and I thank you. I'll see you very soon.
Éric Fernanché Lévy (WWDOGA 2020)[1]

References

  1. REFweb WWDOGA 2020 - Éric Fernanché Lévy, YouTube, MOGiS e.V.. Retrieved 15 May 2020.