Every so often the “to pierce or not to pierce a baby’s ears” debate flares up in the U.S. This is probably because there are more and more little Latina girls running around with earrings adorning their cute little earlobes. A lot of Anglo moms consider the practice barbaric and even borderline child abuse. Latina moms accuse Anglos of cultural insensitivity in the same breath that Anglo moms compare earlobe piercing to genital mutilation. There’s no winning this argument.
The latest buzz made me remember my struggle when my girls were born. Being bicultural, not only did I have to think of names that would sound similar in both English and Spanish, but I also wondered whether I would pierce their ears. And, if so, when? And, how?
I even wrote about it in a journal I started for my first baby when I was still pregnant. I was tormented, wondering what the right choice was. I argued about it with my then-husband, who while also bicultural, thought the practice was barbaric. Yet if we had a son, he wanted to have him circumcised. I thought this was insane, because in Spain nobody cuts a little piece of skin off their baby´s cute little penis! If the boy has any kind of problem when he is older, it is addressed then, but not sooner. And most Spanish men have all their foreskin intact, thank you very much!
But, since we ended up having two girls, I was able to dodge the whole circumcision situation and instead had to deal with the earring thing.
UNPIERCED EARLOBES: MY STORY
See, my American mother did not pierce my ears when I was a kid. So when I moved to Spain at 5 years old, I was one of the few girls who did not wear cute earrings. I felt different and upset that my parents hadn’t pierced my ears. When I was 7 and about to have my first communion, I asked my grandmother to please get me some earrings to go with my miniature bride’s dress. My parents were divorced by then and my mother wasn’t around. At first my Spanish father wouldn’t hear of it, but he finally let my grandmother have her way. I was so thankful!
Read Related: Denisse Montalvan’s The Orphaned Earring Pays it Forward
Back then, it wasn’t a question of a simple trip to the mall. We had to go to some lady’s dark and dreary house—I guess she was considered an ear-piercing expert? Her cats circled around my legs as I waited patiently, but a little frightened, as I watched her sterilize a sewing needle by burning it in alcohol. She drew a dot on each ear, and proceeded to pierce each lobe and thread it. It hurt. I bled. Or so I remember. She tied the ends of the threads into two small loops and I was sent home with instructions for my abuela on how to take care of my lobes until they healed. Then I could wear my first pair of gold studs, right in time for the communion. I was a happy camper.
My sister never had her ears pierced as a child and, perhaps in retaliation, when she was a teen she numbed her lobes with ice and pierced several holes in her ears and wore multiple earrings. I also ended up with more piercings than I knew what to do with. I wonder if it was a way of expressing my anger that I hadn’t had my ears pierced at birth “just like everyone else” in my culture.
Fast forward to me during my first pregnancy, many years later. As soon as friends and family knew I was expecting a girl, I got the first gifts. I ended up with at least five pairs of beautiful gold studs for my baby girl. Because in Spain, the custom has always been for your baby to leave the hospital wearing her first bling. After more than one heated discussion with my husband, I finally decided I would wait. I would postpone piercing my baby´s ears, or maybe not pierce them, ever. I was torn.
WHAT, SHE’S NOT WEARING EARRINGS?
When we brought our daughter home from the hospital, the first thing everyone seemed to notice was her lack of earrings! Why in the world had we not pierced her ears? I nodded towards her father. Women and men alike would shake their heads in disapproval. “It’s so much better to do it when they are born.”
The rationale is that since they are newborns, they cannot pull and tug at their earlobes like they do when they are older, so the risk of infection is much lower at birth. To make matters worse for me, most Latin countries are still very traditional in how they dress their babies. But my eldest—a tomboy from birth—would cry if I dressed her in frilly dresses, so people would assume she was a boy. “Well, since she´s not wearing earrings …” they’d snort.
Finally, when she was eight months old and with her father’s consent (I guess he got tired of having to defend himself), I went to a pharmacy in Seville and asked for my daughter’s ears to be pierced. They didn’t bat an eye. On the contrary, they all exclaimed how beautiful she’d look with them. In solidarity and with mixed feelings, I asked to get an extra piercing myself. Truth be told, it didn’t hurt me, and I suppose it didn’t hurt her, because she didn’t cry. It was all over with very quickly, and that was that…
When I got pregnant with my second child and knew she was a girl, I vowed I would simply get her ears pierced at the hospital, as it’s always been done in Spain, and save us all a lot of angst. And so I did. In a picture of my little one a few days after she was born, she’s wearing earrings.
A couple of months after that picture was taken, we unexpectedly moved to Florida for my husband’s work. And I was anxious all over again, knowing I’d have to deal with judgment from other moms, as ear piercing in babies wasn’t the norm here. To my delight, I saw things had changed since my early childhood—maybe because the U.S. had become a much more international country. There were other babies wearing earrings! Not all of them, but some. Usually they were Latino, African American or Haitian. But I wasn’t alone, and I didn’t feel so barbaric after all.
NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, IN THE END IT’S THEIR CHOICE
As my kids grew older, however, they started asking to change their earrings, or just not wear them, to the dismay of both my Argentine suegra and me. But I honored their wishes, the same way I let them choose their clothes from an early age.
The long and the short of it is that while I continue to wear four earrings at once, neither of my girls, now 11 and 8, wear theirs. The piercings are closed, and there is no trace of a puncture. What they will do when they’re older, I have no idea. Whether they never wear earrings to rebel against having their ears pierced as babies or get more holes than a colander in their lobes, it will be their choice.