In my experience, the topic of baby ear piercing has the potential to be pretty polarizing, at least in America. There are some who argue that it’s unfair to the baby, because it changes the baby’s body and she doesn’t get to make the choice herself. There are some who even argue that piercing a baby’s ears is child abuse. I have a friend from Europe who was not allowed to get her ears pierced until she was 13; in her family, having pierced ears was seen as a rite of passage into adulthood. Meanwhile, I have another friend who is Latina (born and raised in the States), and her ears were pierced as soon as her parents could legally get them done.
It’s all cultural. In Saudi Arabia, as in many other countries around the world (especially in the Middle East and Latin America), hospitals offer ear piercing for baby girls. Perhaps even weirder to Americans, ear piercings are often covered by insurance! (Lavender’s were.) Most baby girls here go home from the hospital with earrings. And gold jewelry is the customary baby gift for a girl in Saudi Arabia. Including earrings. So my child is already much more fashionable than me. (But isn’t that how it usually goes, moms? You’re so busy trying to make sure your children look presentable that you don’t notice you haven’t brushed your teeth in two days.)
I understand if it weirds some people out. I’ve been told that seeing babies with pierced ears is “creepy.” I obviously don’t agree with that, but I understand it, because there are certain things that make me feel the same way. I can’t stand seeing babies in bikinis, and when, while shopping for a swimsuit for Lavender, Mr. Mostafa innocently picked up a polka-dot two-piece and said, “This is cute, right?”, I recoiled in horror.
I also hate seeing a little girl in an abaya, which happens here a lot. To me, an abaya is an indication that the wearer has reached some kind of sexual maturity, that she’s old enough to understand and value the concept of modesty. An abaya, in my opinion, is an indicator of adulthood, like high heels and eyeliner…and I know a lot of people feel that way about ear piercing. I feel that way about hijab, as well, especially in the States, since multiple times I’ve been asked questions about my hijab along the lines of, “So you wear that when you’re old enough to get married, right?” “Do you start wearing that when you’re engaged?” “Do only married women wear that, like the Amish?” (Do Amish women only wear something on their heads once they marry? I don’t know much about the Amish.) So I hate that there are people who are seeing little girls in hijab and thinking, “Oh, those sick, sick Muslims, marrying off their babies like that!”
Of course, that being said, moms who let their little girls wear abayas or hijab do so, in the vast majority of cases, because the little girl asks to do so; she wants to be like mommy, the same reason I wanted to–and my mom let me–get my ears pierced as a little girl. And I know women who are absolutely wonderful mothers, much better than I will ever be, who have bought abayas for their little girls when their daughters asked for them. So I know that my aversion to abayas and/or hijab on little girls is a personal irritation, a mere instance of cultural conditioning that I have to acknowledge as such, because it’s mommies making the best choices they can for their babies, just like I am.
Long before I ever met Mr. Mostafa, I knew that if I had a daughter someday, I wanted to get her ears pierced as a baby. I made this decision based on my own ear piercing experience. When I was a baby, my mom really wanted to get my ears pierced. My dad, being the papa bear that he is, put his foot down and said no, my ears were not to be pierced until I was old enough to ask to have them pierced.
When I was four, I asked—nay, begged—to have my ears pierced, because just like all those little girls who beg for an abaya, I wanted to be like mommy. My mom was thrilled, but warned me repeatedly that it would hurt—that it was just a quick hurt, but it would hurt. I insisted. My dad still thought I was too young, but what could he do? He had told my mom that when I asked for my ears to be pierced, I could do it.
My mom took me to a local beauty parlor to have it done. I chose my earrings and hopped up into that seat, feeling so very grown-up. Marks were made on my earlobes; my mom studied them to ensure they were even. Then I heard a click….oh, that fateful click.
I dissolved into tears. I screamed and clung to my mother. What kind of torture was this? I wouldn’t sit still for them to pierce the other ear, so my mom had to hold me still in her lap. She did her best, God love her, but I struggled enough that to this day, my left ear piercing is a fraction higher than my right.
I was determined to avoid all that for Lavender. Originally, we planned to get her ears pierced in the hospital, before we brought her home. But after five days of relentless blood draws, we decided she’d been stuck enough. We postponed the ear piercing.
This was unsettling to my Saudi in-laws. It was odd to them that a girl baby came home from the hospital without earrings. At every family gathering, inevitably someone would point to Lavender’s ears, ask when we were going to get them done, and then declare that we must get them done as soon as possible, because it will hurt her more the longer we wait.
On her two-month birthday, we went back to the hospital for Lavender’s two-month vaccinations. She grinned and gurgled at the doctor, until he gave her the shots. Then she screamed bloody murder. My heart broke. I picked her up and she clung to me, sobbing, and I felt horrible.
At this moment, I almost said no to ear piercing. Again, I felt like she’d been traumatized enough. But I thought back to my experience of getting my own ears pierced. So when the doctor asked if we wanted to pierce baby’s ears, I said, “Yes.”
Although Mr. Mostafa was raised in a culture where baby ear piercing is so totally the norm, he, like my own dad, had qualms about it. As the nurse came into the room with the sterile piercing kit and started to set up, Mr. Mostafa said, “Honey, I can’t handle this. I’m going to go out into the waiting room.”
“Okay, sweetie,” I said. By this point, Lavender had recovered from her shots and was sleeping soundly in my arms.
He inched toward the door, but he didn’t leave. He couldn’t.
The nurse who would do the piercing made small marks on Lavender’s earlobes. The nurses and I scrutinized the marks, making sure they were totally even. Then a second nurse held out her arms to me. I handed the baby to her. She sat down and held the baby in her lap, in a position that made Lavender’s ears the most easily accessible.
It was obvious that these two ladies were old pros.
I gnawed on my fingernails. My eyes welled up with tears. The view was blurred as I watched the piercing gun in the hand of the nurse advancing toward my baby.
I don’t know if there is scientific evidence to back up the Saudi cultural conviction that ear piercings hurt babies less than adults and older children. What I do know is that as her first ear was pierced, Lavender jumped, startled, then scrunched up her face, said “Ehhhhh,” and went back to sleep. Her eyes didn’t even open.
The second ear went the exact same way. She said, “Ehhhhh,” smacked her lips a bit, opened her eyes and glanced around, then went right back to sleep.
I was flooded with relief as the nurse handed my sleeping baby back to me. She gave me a fistful of packaged alcohol swabs, instructed me to clean the piercings and turn the posts daily, and said we could change the earrings in a month. And that was it.
I knew we had made the right decision for us. Even now, I’m still so relieved that it’s done. Lavender will never have to think about getting her ears pierced. She will never have to be terrified at the anticipation of it (I once went with a friend to get her six-year-old daughter’s ears pierced at the mall. Another girl, maybe eleven or twelve, was in line before us. That girl was obviously petrified, but she kept insisting that she wanted it done every time her mom asked if she was sure. She sat down in the piercing chair, then grabbed the trash can next to the chair and threw up in it). She will never remember how much it hurt (if it did really hurt—it seemed to bother her a whole lot less than her shots did).
I feel like I’ve been able to save my kid from—or at least minimize—a wholly unpleasant experience, and let’s face it, that’s something that every parent wants to do for her child. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting to pierce a child’s ears until she is old enough to care for the piercings herself, but I don’t see the logic in that. Since we pierced them when she is so young, she won’t fiddle with them or tug at them. They will just be a part of her body, and I will care for them until she is old enough to do it herself…just like I will clip her nails, pick her nose, brush her teeth, and give her a bath until I don’t need to anymore.
It may not be the right choice for everyone, but it was for us. And now my mom can finally fulfill her dream of going on a baby jewelry shopping spree.