Tuesday, July 03, 2012

My Baby Got Herpes After His Bris

My Baby Got Herpes After His Bris
A guest post by someone who wishes to remains anonymous

When the baby came, we arranged to have the bris in [local chassidish shtiebl], which is where my husband had spent a lot of time davening. He really admired [local chassidish rav] and wanted him to be Sandek. We never even considered my father, because we wanted a frum person. My in-laws didn’t come, which we figured was just as well, because they wouldn’t really understand the bris anyway.

After the bris, the baby got sick. The pediatrician first looking at it said, "If this was an adult, I would say it was herpes." Puzzled, he referred us to our local children's hospital.

As it turned out, he had genital herpes, which we also found out was the leading cause of brain infection in newborns. It can cause death, blindness or irreversible damage to the kidneys, liver, or anywhere in the nervous system. We had a scary few days while they took the baby for CT (“cat”) scans, spinal taps, and all kinds of other tests to see what the extent of the damage was. On Shabbos, I remember singing Mizmor l'David and Yedid Nefesh to him to keep him quiet in the scanner.

What a surreal way to enter parenthood.

Of course, a frum friend reassured me right away that it couldn't have been the mohel because nobody uses their mouth anymore. Except chassidim, and we're not chassidish.

There were tests, also, to solve the mystery of where he’d gotten this illness. The obvious answer, to secular minds, was sexual abuse: clearly, some sicko had handled this baby's genitals and infected him. His father and I were tested; we were both negative. So we were left considering the possibility that the mohel had transmitted it.

At the time, the baby was only two weeks old, so only a few people had handled that region of his body. His father and I had done the only diaper changes since he left the hospital - and if he'd gotten it in his first two days, the lesions would have appeared sooner. The timing pointed to some time around 8 days. And we knew that the mohel had used metzitzah b’peh.

Baruch Hashem, scans revealed that we'd caught the disease when it had only manifested as surface lesions. It hadn't spread to his brain or liver yet. They treated it very aggressively, hoping that it wouldn't return and B"h, that seems to have been the case.

Anyway, my husband went to [local chassidish rav] to talk about all of this, but was told bais din would handle it. He was very angry, to say the least. He felt something was being covered up. The mohel phoned every day while the baby was in the hospital, four weeks in total, which was a really sweet thing to do, but I also was angry and puzzled about what was being done to investigate.


Towards the end of the baby’s hospital stay, one of the rabbonim told my husband that the mohel had been tested, and was found not to carry the herpes virus, so it wasn’t him. But still, there was a seed of doubt in both our minds; if not the mohel, then who? And how had the baby developed the virus right in that region, exactly the number of days after his bris that would point to the infection occurring at that time?

A friend of mine told me the week he got sick that the mohel’s wife had been seen with prominent cold sores around the time of the bris, and cold sores are caused by the same virus as herpes. We have never gotten good answers to our many questions.

The rabbonim, we felt, were doing too much to protect the mohel’s livelihood, and too little to protect babies. I certainly wasn’t convinced that enough was done to reassure us that babies would be safe. If nothing else, I felt condescended to by the rabbonim who handled the issue - glibly reassured about something that is an ongoing problem.

This was all years ago now, and I have never received answers. The "mystery" remains a mystery, and I don't know if that mohel is still practicing metzitzah b'peh. I have cautioned local friends who were using him, but that is as far as I've gone with this story.

I wrote most of this account at the time so I wouldn't forget any important detail. But it's also true that herpes is forever. I am very carefully educating my son for when he is older. When the time comes, we will ask a rav if this is something we have to disclose before a marriage - I assume it will be.

I hope that, for the right girl, the right family, it won't be a make-or-break. I hope to find enlightenment in the frum community. Will I ultimately be disappointed? Sometimes, I feel like I already have been.

Search for more information about HERPES at4torah.com 


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