TMI or … TLI (Too Little Information)?: wherein I stop being all cloak-and-dagger

My name is Molly Westerman.

See? I have a corporeal existence!

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.

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17 Comments

  1. Posted 6 April 2010 at 6:15 PM | Permalink

    Hello, Molly! Ah, I love a good reveal. I hope to do one myself someday and reveal my Husband’s actual name, instead of having to call him “Husband” all the time. Good luck in your career change. If you ever want to be put in touch with some librarians for informational interviews or the like, I know many (my sister went to UNC and NC State for masters degrees in Library Science and Public History).

    Maybe I should stop apologizing for TMI on my blog? I could put a little blurb at the top of my blog that says, “Will talk about breasts, reproduction, and perhaps cervical mucus on a regular basis. Enjoy!”

  2. Molly
    Posted 6 April 2010 at 6:29 PM | Permalink

    Thanks, Laura! And I like your new tagline idea–catchy ;)

  3. Rebecca S
    Posted 6 April 2010 at 6:38 PM | Permalink

    Hi Molly! Glad you’ve come out. We need more voices like yours in the birth world and we definitely need more feminist scholarship on these topics. It’s great when voices are connected to real women and bright scholars. I’m going to look forward to Tuesdays in my Google reader even more now.

  4. Posted 6 April 2010 at 7:35 PM | Permalink

    So true about the subtle discrimination towards mothers in academia…and with my field, my interest in motherhood and childbearing and breastfeeding are by necessity front and center.

    Anecdote from my grad student days at the U of Iowa: at a department social, one of my professors (same-sex partnered, no kids) heard me talking about my academic interest in midwifery and home birth. She said, “well I certainly hope you won’t have kids AT LEAST until you have finished your PhD. It’s selfish and irresponsible to have children when you’re in school.” She didn’t know that I was trying to get pregnant at the time.

    Gack.

    Thanks for coming “out”!

  5. Posted 6 April 2010 at 9:26 PM | Permalink

    Thank you for coming out. I’ve been thinking about doing the same on my blog but haven’t got there yet. I’m still very much in academia and plan on remaining there but have just received tenure so I’m feeling it might be time. Mostly I’ve shied away from talking about my research, which involves mothering, and details of my teaching (tonight I taught a class on childbirth and breastfeeding) because it might reveal my real identity. As I’ve now been blogging for over two years, keeping it all in seems very false.

  6. Molly
    Posted 6 April 2010 at 9:49 PM | Permalink

    Thanks, Rebecca–you’re nice!

    Rixa, major eye-roll. People say the most awesome things at department socials. I think many academic women get told it’s “selfish and irresponsible” to have children at whatever stage of the career they happen to be performing at the moment: you should either already have had your kids or have them later, no matter when ‘now’ is …

    Brigindo, congratulations on tenure!!! That’s wonderful. I’d like to hear more about your research and teaching sometime. If you’d like to share, my email’s in the right column (at the end of the ‘Welcome …’ message).

  7. Posted 6 April 2010 at 11:12 PM | Permalink

    I am glad to hear that you have decided to “come out” to the blog world. Welcome! Making career decisions that are good for the soul are so very empowering! I have so many responses to this post, so I will try and keep it short. I was faced with a somewhat similar decision. I chose not to pursue a PhD, for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I found academia inhospitable to families (and my mental health) even in the most progressive and forward thinking departments (ahem, women’s studies). I knew I wanted to be a mother and soon (currently have my three month old son asleep on my lap). It was by far the best decision I have made even though I have put my “career” on hold (as cheesy as it may sound) motherhood has been the best and most rewarding experience. I revel in this time I have with my son every day knowing that I have the rest of my life to work. Most importantly when it is time to find a job that is right and rewarding for me and good for my family. Cheers Molly!

  8. Posted 7 April 2010 at 12:22 PM | Permalink

    Hi Molly, I’m Molly ;) This was a good post and I’m glad you “came out” (now can we be “friends” on Facebook! :)

    I had an awkward situation a couple of months ago where someone I had reviewed a book for called me at home multiple times. When discussing it with the organization who originally sent him my my they expressed concern about keeping my contact information more private–having materials sent to them first and then passed on to me, etc. I had to point out that my contact information is ALL OVER the internet. There is no “hiding”–this is because I have my own business and because I’m an LLL Leader, people have to readily be able to contact me. I can’t “hide.” That feels a little different when all my work is centered around birth/postpartum, but now that I teach college classes also, I am starting to feel more strange about being so easily findable/identifiable online.

    When I was a kid I always said I was going to be a librarian. I didn’t go that route, but my friends joke that I am their personal librarian :-D

  9. Monika
    Posted 8 April 2010 at 1:18 PM | Permalink

    Hi Molly,

    There are a lot of journal articles on the topic of discrimination against mothers in academia as well. I researched this myself a few years back so I can share them with you (when/if I find them as I recently reformatted my computer).

    I really admire the mothers who do decide to fight the fight and continue on in academia. Working an a family hostile envirnement (specifically wrt to academic mothers) wasn’t a choice I was willing to make when I opted out of completing my PhD after my first child was born, but I do admire the courage of women who do tread on in the field, knowing full well of what they are up against and the struggles and the inevitable self-sacrfice this entails in both their professional and family life.

  10. Monika
    Posted 8 April 2010 at 1:36 PM | Permalink

    Actually, I should add that I had been heading away from academia even before I became pregnant with my first child, I just didn’t realize it.

    At the time, I never thought to analyize my life goals and what I wanted out of life to see how compatible they are with my career goals, which as it turns out is to live with more solitude and solitare off the grid. This being, of course, in and of itself mostly incompatible with the geographic and competative nature of the academic field (unless you happen to really luck out). As I became a mother, my priorities took on a greater scrutiny and I really started to understand that my mothering goals are not all that incompatible with my parenting goals.

    I found that you aquire new academic role models as a mother. I came across Shannon Hayes, who is now a home steader but also once a former academic, and her life struck a cord in me far more than the lives of many academic women do today. It is interesting how the “who” we relate to and admire, etc changes as mothers vs as childless.

    Here is info on her if you are at all interested.

    http://www.shannonhayes.info/
    http://members.authorsguild.net/shayes/work3.htm

    I agree with you, there are many, many things you can do with a PhD. Have you ever read the book: So What Are You Going to Do With That?: A Guide for M.A.’s and Ph.D’s Seeking Careers Outside the Academy by Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius .

    The book is very informative, I highly recommend it. My apologies for the typos, I am typing with one hand, nursing my 6 month old with the other :)

  11. Monika
    Posted 8 April 2010 at 2:54 PM | Permalink

    I meant to write: I really started to understand that my mothering goals are not all that incompatible with my personal and career goals.

    I read more of your blog, and I fully agree, our family was also met with much resistance by the fact that my partner is also a very nurturing, very involved father. And yes, in many ways he is more involved and nurturing than I am, and I think that made some people afraid. What suprised us, however, was WHOM it made more afraid. The people who resisted his new involved/nurturing role was his own mother and my sister, who often commented that I should be the one doing most of the childcare, housework, cooking, etc. Not only did this offend us on a deep level, but it spoke against everything we came to believe about parenting and being the best parents we could be.

    Neither my partner or myself feel we would be putting our best foot forward if we divded our labor in such patriarchal ways.

    I love your blog, I have been meaning to start my own blog, maybe some day. I’m currently starting up my own business so hopefully in time!

  12. Molly
    Posted 8 April 2010 at 10:20 PM | Permalink

    Monika, welcome! Thanks for the thoughts, links, etc. I know what you mean about putting one’s best foot forward–at some point, it’s just like, but I’m not any GOOD at xyz, and he is, so … I mean, I do just fine parenting solo when Eric’s out of town, but when we’re both home we take on the tasks and pleasures that best suit us (and try to share what we both find tricky and/or tiresome). Seems reasonable enough, right?

    And hi again, Jessica & Other Molly (which is indeed how I think of you–I don’t know many other Mollys)! Thanks for the encouraging words.

  13. Posted 10 April 2010 at 3:12 PM | Permalink

    Molly…

    Thank you.

    I found your blog through ‘Stand and Deliver” Even though I love Librarians too…I think you may have overlooked your own superpowers. You make milk! (Expressiva nursing top)
    Thanks for coming out.
    Ever considered Public Speaking? Maybe I’ll see you in Ottawa…

    http://www.womensworlds.ca/

    Tanya

  14. Posted 12 April 2010 at 7:13 PM | Permalink

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I’ve felt myself slowly (though very consciously) drifting away from academia for a long time now. (Perhaps even before I had children, but that is neither here nor there.) By the time that I was hiding a pregnant belly under scarves in order to be “taken seriously” during a dissertation clarification meeting, I knew that I was no longer in a profession that valued my values, commitments, and goals in life.

    That being said, I am a mere two-dissertation-chapters away from earning my PhD in philosophy. I’m not willing to part with that degree–I have worked too long, too hard, and against/through too many obstacles to “give up” now. But I know with all of my being that a life as an academic philosopher is not for me.

    I commend you for “introducing yourself”–especially for doing so in a way that offers a damn good feminist critique of the intersections between pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood, and academia! (Oh, and your caption for your photograph? Yeah, the philosopher in me totally loves it. :-))

    *going off to share this post with some of my colleagues*

  15. Posted 15 April 2010 at 1:15 AM | Permalink

    I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to find your site! I am a PhD student in English and Creative Writing and a DONA doula-in-training and the way people act when they find out that I (me! a single, childless lesbian!) am so interested (obsessed?) with childbirth and still trying to be an academic, well, it’s shocking to me.

    So I’m glad I’m not the only one who questions these dichotomies.

    Very excited to read your blog.

  16. Melodie
    Posted 27 April 2010 at 4:18 PM | Permalink

    Hear, hear. I’m a new reader, nursing my 20 month old while typing this comment on a keyboard propped up on a stack of half-done graduate work…

    Is there some sort of movement for blogging moms to join as they “come out”? There should be. One that says all you have said and more, and which people can just sign on to with a Yeah, dat” sort of nod. A directory of sorts. I’m going to investigate.

  17. Posted 4 September 2010 at 8:44 PM | Permalink

    Molly, I just stumbled onto your site, read a couple of posts, got to this one and had to stop to comment. I am so grateful to you for outing yourself like this. This summer I made the decision to blog under my real name as a young(ish) academic, feminist, mom, and birth activist. It frightened me to type out my full name, but also felt really right to take that step toward integrating the fractured parts of myself. For too long I’d been trying to compartmentalize in service of what I thought academia was demanding of me. I agree with you that this silencing is a feminist issue. Anyway, thank you for making me feel a little less alone.

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