My name is Molly Westerman.
I’ve never told you that before because I’ve worried about connecting my full name and my professional identity so clearly to the alarming notions that A) I am a feminist, B) I study and write about pregnancy, birth, and parenting, and C) I have a child (triple gasp!!!). Oh, and I’m a blogger (further gasping! careful not to choke over there!).
And on a practical level I’ve been right to stay quasi-anonymous and hard-to-google during these years of blogging and job-seeking. I work in an extraordinarily competitive field in which no one’s really supposed to have interests outside scholarship and teaching (in that order, preferably). There is a reason that it’s illegal for hiring committees to ask whether a candidate is married, has kids, is planning a family, etc. Much the same reason that women in my profession try really, really hard not to be pregnant on the job market (it’s much harder to hide your parenthood when you have a huge belly rather than a child who can be left at the hotel with another caregiver!). People really do discriminate–largely unconsciously, I’d bet–against women with small children. And, as a scholarly interest, childbirth is almost entirely a women’s endeavor (though I am always delighted when I realize a book or article in my hands was written by a man: Richard Reed’s Birthing Fathers, for instance, or Tim Havens’s “Where Babies Really Come From …”). And writing, teaching, or speaking about this topic seems to mark a candidate as a mommy.
But do you know what? Part of why I’m a feminist and part of why I blog is, well, all of that. The silencing. The subtle and not-so-subtle codes that say it’s okay–admirable, even–to be and talk about being an involved father, but a sign of poor work ethic or inadequate professional commitment to be and talk about being an involved mother. The coding of childbirth and parenting as ‘women’s work’ and as special interests rather than as fundamental elements of human experience and cultural systems. I consider this web site to be part of my scholarly and professional work, not in competition with it, and I’ve decided to go ahead and live that perspective fully.
My old blog, Feminist Childbirth Studies, never included pictures of me or of anyone in my family. It never included references to my place of work or quite exactly what I do there. I was on a first-name-only basis with that web space. It was like a two-year-long one-night-stand, pleasurable but carefully guarded and rather distant. I referred to my child and my partner as “my child” and “my partner”; when I moved here, they became Noah and Eric. I posted pictures and actual personal information on the new “read me first” page. And that’s all felt better, more comfortable, more authentic.
This shift is part of a larger shift in my life. I used to be an English professor (and am currently teaching full-time in that capacity), but I don’t think I’m going to do that anymore. Basically, the economy flipped out before I’d managed to get a tenure-track job, and now my career is sort of screwed unless I’m willing to make myself absolutely miserable working in poor conditions to ‘keep my hand in the game’ … and because I have a kid, and a soul, I have neither the time nor the spiritual space for elective misery. In the meantime, I’ve also discovered that there’s a whole world of career possibilities that are appealing to me and may ultimately fit better into my life and my way of being in the world (no matter how much I love teaching undergraduates or how good I am at that work–there are other ways to support higher education!). Like, um, it finally occurred to me that librarianship, information technology, and instructional technology are really way more interesting to me–and, as full-time professional pursuits, better suited to my values–than professorship. Also, librarians are superheroes, and who doesn’t want to be super?
I have never apologized in a blog post for “TMI.” If you don’t want to hear about women’s bodies, I can’t imagine why you’re here. But I’ve realized recently that I should apologize–at least to myself–for restricting myself to giving too little information, out of submission to social norms and processes that I see as unethical and harmful. So, in future: here I am, openly myself, writing what I want to write. Hi! I’m Molly.