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Why I Didn’t Pierce My Baby’s Ears

Like many of the Latina women I know, my ears were pierced long before I can remember. When I had my daughter, I decided to go against the cultural grain. It's not that I have something against the jewels themselves. I love the look of hair swept back behind a chandelier earring or a diamond stud, but not on my baby.

The subject of piercings and babies is in the news again, this time through one group's attempt to ban the practice of piercing babies' ears in the U.K., calling it child cruelty. I wouldn't go that far, but I still wouldn't pierce my baby's ears, despite it being a cultural tradition in my family.

Photograph by Jay Miranda

I'm Latina and we celebrate baby girls by adorning them. It's not uncommon to meet a baby girl wearing gold chains and bracelets, an obsidian pin to ward off evil eye, and a tiny pair of ruby earrings. My Cuban father insisted on such jewelry for me as an infant, in addition to lace dresses and leather shoes imported from Spain—"only the best," he'd say. In this sense, earrings are a celebration of a new baby and a reaffirmation of our culture's aesthetic preferences.

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"She must look like a girl," some people said. I never worried about this. I also haven't made her wear the frilly dresses of my own girlhood, preferring to dress her in what's most comfortable. Gender is a complicated subject, and I'd rather not have to impose gender expectations on a baby or toddler. Women spend much of our lives hearing about what we should do, or wear, or think. If I can keep that gaze at bay, I will.

To my mother's dismay, I lost many of my jewels as a child. But the photos and memories endure. My mom still talks about it with a sense of pride. Hearing the stories of my father showing me off to all his friends and colleagues stirs my soul. But that has nothing to do with jewelry and everything to do with my father's love. My mother first asked about my daughter's earrings shortly after we learned we were having a girl. Her face dropped when I told her I didn't want to pierce my baby's ears.

My reasons were numerous.

Photograph by Jay Miranda

First, I didn't like the idea of needles going into my daughter's ears. I worried about the pain, the sterility of the practice, and the aftercare. Perhaps I just didn't acclimate to new motherhood as fast as my own mom did, but I was in a new-mom haze for months. That is, getting my baby's ears pierced just wasn't a high priority.

We celebrated my daughter's arrival in the most important ways: with love and a kind of hope that only a new baby can inspire. She received a gold bracelet as a gift. We practiced our culture in other ways, too. I immersed myself into my own version of a cuarentena—the 40-day period of care for baby and mom. Now that she's a toddler, like any small Latino child, she can do no wrong in the eyes of her grandparents, who love to spoil her. I have no doubt she'll have memories that stir her own soul some day.

"She must look like a girl," some people said. I never worried about this. I also haven't made her wear the frilly dresses of my own girlhood, preferring to dress her in what's most comfortable. Gender is a complicated subject, and I'd rather not have to impose gender expectations on a baby or toddler. Women spend much of our lives hearing about what we should do, or wear, or think. If I can keep that gaze at bay, I will.

I still believe it can be a rite of passage, but one that we can share once she's mature enough to make that choice. It might also be a lesson in decision-making, femininity and controlling our own bodies.

Most importantly, I believe in my daughter's autonomy. I know this makes me sound exceptionally Western (and specifically, American). That's because I am. I'm an American Latina. While I know my daughter is my daughter, she's not mine. Ultimately, she belongs to herself. As her mom, I take seriously the responsibility of raising a free-thinking person who can make her own choices. In that vein, I don't feel it's my place to change her body to suit my aesthetic preferences.

I wouldn't pierce my baby's nose. Why would I pierce my baby's ears?

I want my daughter to decide for herself when—and if—she wants to pierce her own ears. I still believe it can be a rite of passage, but one that we can share once she's mature enough to make that choice. It might also be a lesson in decision-making, femininity and controlling our own bodies.

For now, her ears are intact. She's still a little princess, even though she doesn't always act like a little lady. She plays in the garden and gets dirty, she puts flowers in her hair and insists on sleeping with them that way; she's carefree. As my father used to say, "Es Americana." I know if he was still here, he wouldn't have it any other way. I wouldn't either.

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