Tag Archives: Hillary Frank

Hillary Frank: Mommy, Misogyny And Me

When it comes to motherhood, Hillary Frank has seen — and reported on — it all.

The Staples High School Class of 1994 member — who left after junior year, headed directly to Tufts University — has carved out a national niche as a “mom’s expert.”

She’s not an advice giver — plenty of women do that. Instead she reports on life as a mother. It’s a rich vein, and she’s done it for “This American Life,” “Studio 360,” “Marketplace” and “All Things Considered.” She’s written 3 novels.

Hillary Frank

And for the past 8 years, Hillary’s podcast “The Longest Shortest Time” has covered stories mothers may not even know they need to hear. Topics include miscarriages, the NICU, and a lifelong vegetarian who thought her son’s digestive problem came from her breast milk, and began eating meat.

Along the way, she’s learned many things. Including the fact that even in the waning days of 2018, motherhood is still a topic deemed unimportant by many.

And that includes other women.

Hillary wanted to do a story on why many mothers who suffer childbirth injuries live with pelvic pain long after giving birth. They are resigned to painful sex — or no sex at all — even though most injuries can be remedied by pelvic floor physical therapy.

The editors — one female, one male — thought her focus on sex after injury was inappropriate. But, Hillary notes, there is no shortage of stories — on the radio, and everywhere else — about erectile dysfunction.

Hillary shares that story — and other cogent observations on life as a motherhood expert — in today’s New York Times. Her op-ed piece is called “The Special Misogyny Reserved for Mothers.”

Will anything change in 2019?

Stay tuned — to Hillary Frank’s podcast.

(Click here to read today’s op-ed story by Hillary Frank. Click here for a link to her podcasts.)

Hillary Frank’s “Longest, Shortest Time”

Most radio producers don’t get jobs by recording interviews on their parents’ answering machine, then feeding clips into a boombox.

Then again, most radio producers are not vying for Ira Glass’ attention.

But the quirky “This American Life” personality liked what he heard from Hillary Frank. In 2000 he hired her for his Chicago staff.

Hillary Frank

Hillary Frank

It was a great career move. The Westport native — who had left Staples 7 years earlier as a junior, heading straight to Tufts — learned plenty at the popular, offbeat, interview-driven radio show.

She began freelaning for “Studio 360,” “”Marketplace” and “All Things Considered.” She wrote 3 novels.

Then, in 2010, Hillary had a baby. Childbirth and recovery were rough. She’d just moved to New Jersey. She had no other moms to talk to.

“After all those years as a radio producer, I knew I could ask anyone anything by sticking a microphone in their face,” Hillary says.

It worked. Asking questions was cathartic. She felt better — and the women she talked with did too.

Working irregularly (“during naptimes”), she produced 20 shows in 3 years. All were about early parenthood. She called it “The Longest Shortest Time.”

The topics were typical Hillary. “The Emperor’s New Onesie” covered a toddler who refused to wear clothing. After 2 stark naked months, she was diagnosed with a sensory disorder. The girl’s mother told the story in a funny, relatable way.

For a piece on natural childbirth, Hillary revisited her own experience. She interviewed her midwife and others, wondering whether she could have done anything differently. The answer: probably not.

Hillary Frank logo

Hillary’s stories ranged from ridiculous to serious. Topics included miscarriages, the NICU, and a lifelong vegetarian who thought her son’s digestive problem came from her breast milk, and began eating meat.

Hillary started by emailing 300 colleagues and friends. Slowly — through word of mouth, and a shoutout on “This American Life”‘s Facebook page — her audience grew. Strangers submitted their own stories.

Last fall, Hillary realized she needed to start making money from her podcasts. Kickstarter provided donors and sponsors.

Now WNYC has picked up her podcasts. They air it on their website, through their iTunes channel, and via their app. She’s promoted it on the Brian Lehrer and Leonard Lopate shows too.

Tomorrow (Tuesday, June 17, 3 p.m.) she hosts a Google hangout called “What’s Up With Your Boobs?” (It’s about lactation.)

Hillary Frank podcast

Hillary just completed her 32nd episode. A father is surprised to feel indifferent — at times miserable — after his child is born. His wife, meanwhile, is thrilled.

Hillary approaches the story the same way she does every other one: with a twist. She doesn’t probe the feelings themselves; instead, she examines spousal conflict in parenthood.

“The Longest Shortest Time” is well worth all of yours.

Hillary Frank’s “Longest Shortest Time”

A while back, Hillary Frank had a rough delivery. Then her episiotomy busted; the Staples graduate had to be re-cut and stitched.

For the first 2 months of her baby’s life, Hillary could not walk, stand, change her diaper or sit in the proper feeding position.

“I felt like I couldn’t be the kind of mother I wanted to be,” Hillary says. “I was desperate to connect with other moms, to hear I wasn’t alone.”

Hillary Frank

Hillary Frank

When she finally left her house, Hillary tried to talk to mothers carrying babies. Sometimes she felt they weren’t being honest about how hard things were. Sometimes she felt that her experience was vastly different from others.

So she turned to her professional life — she’s a radio producer (“This American Life,” “Morning Edition,” “All Things Considered”) — and stuck her mic in women’s faces. A microphone, she knows, helps people open up.

She asked deeply personal questions. Nearly everyone cried.

It worked. “I wound up feeling much better,” Hillary says. “And I forged lots of new, deep connections.”

Those interviews and connections led to an intriguing project. Every couple of months, for the past 3 years, Hillary produced a podcast about her struggles in early parenthood.

She calls it “The Longest Shortest Time.” Now she’s ready to make it her full-time job, with a new episode every week.

“Most parenting media today is very divisive,” she says. “Parents are forced to choose one side or another of the most recent parenting trend.”

Her podcast addresses parenting “in all of its complexity.”

Grist for Hillary's podcast.

Grist for Hillary’s podcast.

She has clearly struck a chord. One fan writes, “I am a listener to this podcast; I would like it to be more regular. As a parent, I know how hard it is to find storytelling about being a parent that doesn’t suck.”

“The Longest Shortest Time” has told the story of  a music teacher whose child abhorred lullabies; a woman who was convinced that her colicky infant would turn out to be a jerk, and a war correspondent who juggles motherhood with sniper fire.

There are stories about physical health and mental health, work, gut-wrenching decisions, torturous pain and ecstatic highs.

Hillary even did a podcast on her own mother. It was supposed to provide comic relief, with a description of the prehistoric breast pump used in the 1970s. But then, Hillary says, “I had to go and make her cry about not being able to breastfeed me. Sorry, Mom!”

To make regular podcasts a reality, Hillary has created a Kickstarter fund. She needs $25,000 by October 16. Anyone can donate — you don’t need to be a fan, or a mom. To help, click here.

Dusty And Honey

I haven’t seen them in a few years — the 2 small, elderly women who always dressed alike. They probably lived in Canal Park; that’s where I saw them the most.

They must have been twins, I thought.  They always dressed alike — from their hats to their shoes.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed.  Over the years, people suggested I write about them.

Or they asked me who they were, and why they always dressed the same.  As if I — a longtime Westporter and journalist — knew.

Apparently, someone did.  Their story drew the attention of Hillary Frank, a Staples graduate who is now an independent radio producer.

In 2000 she interviewed the 2 women for a story on “This American Life,” Ira Glass’s quirky weekly public radio show, which explores the many hidden nooks and crannies of our country and its people.

The show — whose theme was “what happens if our relationship with our loved ones never changes?” — was rebroadcast last month.

The women’s chapter is called “Matching Outfits Not Included.”

In it, listeners — and curious Westporters — learn the women’s names: Dusty and Honey.

We hear — surprisingly — that they are not twins. They’re sisters born 3 years apart; the 2 youngest in a family of 6.

Raised during the Depression, their father died when they were young. From an early age, they depended on each other.

Later, after their siblings married, Dusty and Honey cared for their ailing mother.

One day when they were both in their early 20s, they picked the same outfit.

They dressed alike ever since.

They wore the same wigs, glasses and jewelry. They carried the same purses.

They lived together, in rooms with matching chairs. Their twin beds — in the same room — had the same stuffed animals. Over each bad was a crucifix. In between was a photo of Frank Sinatra.

Dusty and Honey ate the same food — and in the same portions.

Dusty and Honey shared a fondness for Frank Sinatra and Ricky Martin.

They loved soap operas together — when they were younger, listening together on radio. As they got older, they watched soaps together on TV.

When Hillary interviewed them in 2000 for the show, they were enjoying a Ricky Martin special.

The women worked together all their lives: first in sweatshops, then in a home for the elderly, finally as housekeepers for a priest.

Dressing differently, they told Hillary, would mean “betraying each other.”

They said of their lives, “this is what was meant to be.”

The sisters seemed to acknowledge that their lives — lived so similarly, together, for so long — was considered odd.

“As long as we don’t hurt anyone, or break a commandment, it’s fine,” they said.

“This American Life” ended with Hillary’s description of the sisters lying in their beds each night. They would make plans for the next day. Always, they talked about what they would wear.

Dusty and Honey had a special relationship. They were, Hillary said, “like best friends on a sleepover that never ends.”

Except it must have.

I have not seen Dusty and Honey for several years.

I hope — wherever they are — they are together still.

(To hear Dusty and Honey’s “This American Life” story, click here.)