It’s Mother’s Day weekend and as we celebrate the sheer awesomeness of the best club anyone could ever be initiated into The Mamas I’m thinking about two specific women who played a significant role in my role as Mari and Lila’s mom: Bettye Millner, my mom, and Hilda Hutcherson, the OB-GYN whose capable hands ushered my firstborn into the world.
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I was a young reporter when I met her—flat stomach, full of energy, still eating popcorn and rainbow sherbert for dinner, still 120 lbs. soaking wet. Despite having awesome health insurance, I’d gone years without seeing a doctor of any kind. When you’re in your 20s, laying on a table with your legs up in the air while a total stranger peers at and feels all over your goodies is never at the top of your list of things to do.
But she insisted I come see her. A woman, she said, needs to keep track of her health–no matter how uncomfortable, no matter how busy, no matter how fearful, no matter what. And so I called her office and made an appointment and not even two weeks later, I was on Dr. Hilda Hutcherson’s table, having my lady parts examined.
I’d submitted to nurse practitioners at local clinics when I was a college student; how else to get low-cost birth control without involving your parents? But Hilda was my first real gynecologist. Work brought her to me and me to her; as a young features writer for the New York Daily News, I was searching for a story to whip up for Mother’s Day, and her book, “Having Your Baby: For the Special Needs of Black Mothers-To-Be, From Conception To Newborn Care,” just happened to be floating around the newsroom and so it just made sense for me to write a piece about the joys and challenges of black mothers. Mind you, I didn’t have any babies of my own—wasn’t even thinking about being a mother anytime soon. But even then, back in 1997, a full two years before I would have a baby of my own, giving a voice to and telling the stories of African American mothers was important to me. Necessary. Witness what Hilda told me when, for this Daily News Mother’s Day story, I asked her how she balanced a thriving Upper East Side practice, writing books, and a husband and four kids:
“It’s a tradition of mothering that goes back hundreds of years,” Hutcherson offers simply. “I think that black women have always been valiant for their ability to do multiple things at the same time. They mother their children and take care of other people’s children, sometimes breast-feeding your baby and their babies, too . . . take care of the household, raise children, be a wife, work hard for little recognition and pay, and do it all well on limited means.
“I think that was very hard for my mother, her mother and other African-American women but somehow they managed. I was always taught that I could, too.”
Sure, some could argue that the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr. made it so that, today, there’s really no difference between, say, an African-American mother with a career and a white counterpart with all the same responsibilities. But that counterpart probably wouldn’t have thought about it for longer than two minutes.
Most African-American women will tell you there’s an added struggle with being a black mother an extra pile of junk in the trunk. There are the stereotypes (all black mothers are single and on welfare), the hardships (pay scales, though better today, are still the lowest for black women) and the racism (people treat her differently or badly because she’s black).
It is our story. Our truth. Hilda’s too. Still, Hilda soldiered on—managed well. Since then, she’s become a leading authority on women and sexuality, having written three books geared to helping us be smarter about and get more pleasure from sex; worked as a sexual health columnist at Essence and Glamour magazines and served as an expert on the Today Show and inO, The Oprah Magazine; served as a Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Associate Dean for Diversity and Minority Affairs at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons; and, through it all, ushered four babies through childhood (her youngest is 15).
While Hilda’s fancy titles, Oprah connects and sexual empowerment talks are impressive, none of them can compare to why I love her. It was she, after all, who, along with my husband, was present on one of the most important days of my life—she whose hands guided my first baby into the land of the living.
The crazy part is that she wasn’t even supposed to be there in my delivery room, you know. Hilda was on vacation when her colleague, worried that my baby would be too big to push through my teeny birth canal, called me in to the hospital to be induced. Of course, it was a tad heartbreaking that Hilda wouldn’t be in the delivery room with me, but I’d met all except one of her partners in her practice, and all of them were awesome so I wasn’t too worried… until the one doctor who’d never met me showed up to my labor room to introduce herself. She was disconnected, I was unimpressed. But when my water broke and those contractions kicked in, I didn’t give a damn who was wearing the catcher’s mitt—I just wanted the baby O.U.T.
Still, when the nurse announced I’d dilated enough to push, like a fairytale princess riding in on the prettiest white stallion, Hilda waltzed into my labor and delivery room. You can’t tell me there wasn’t a soft white light shining down on her head as she made her way over to the bed, the most beautiful, relaxed smile on her face.
It was just after 2 a.m.
And with the assistance of a nurse whose name I didn’t think to get, Hilda used her calm, soothing voice and her steady hands and her mighty powers to coax my Mari, my firstborn, the love of my life, out of my womb and, within 20 minutes of pushing, into my arms.
She may not recognize, remember or think that what she did for me that night was all that special; goodness only knows how many babies Hilda Hutcherson delivered in her years as a well-respected, top OB-GYN in one of the busiest cities in the world. But I will never, ever forget Hilda—the kindness she showed to me, the kindness she showed my body, the kindness she demanded I give myself by taking care of my health. And for sure, I’ll never forget that she left her vacation and drove three hours in the middle of the night to help me receive the most precious Mother’s Day gift this mom could ever receive: flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood—my beautiful baby girl.
Hilda stopped delivering babies shortly after Mari was born. I am so very grateful that she squeezed one more in before she changed her focus and took herself out of the delivery room.
For my baby’s pre-natal care, for my baby’s safe passage into this world, Hilda, I simply say, God bless you.
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I am forever grateful to Hilda, and forever in love my mother, whom, almost nine years after her death, I still miss as if she left just yesterday. But this year isn’t about mourning her; instead, I’ll remember her life and the time we had together and pray that the memories never, ever fade.
Happy Mother’s Day, you guys. Hug your babies, love on your mamas and enjoy your special day!
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.