At home, she was Mom. It wasn’t until her children went to Alpha Beta with her before they realized their mother was bigger than Mom. She was a celebrity.
“Mom” is Jum K. Min, Bakersfield’s beloved ob/gyn who is retiring at the end of December after 40 years in practice. “Her children” are Eugene Park, who works for Google, and Amy Park, who is also a ob/gyn and urogynecologist, living in Maryland.
“I remember when my sister and I were young and we would go to Alpha Beta with her — it would take forever because invariably she would run into one of her patients in almost every aisle of the store,” Eugene said. “Each run-in would entail five to 10 minutes of conversation and include a detailed catch-up session on what the patient's children were up to now.”
This column would be a book if her patients had their say. In 40 years, Min has delivered more than 7,000 babies in Bakersfield. “Babies” who grew up to have babies who grew up to have babies. Daughter Amy calls her an inspiration “because she sees her work as a calling to take care of women the best she could.”
Min’s middle name might as well have been “Always on Call.” When news of her retirement streamed out, tributes poured in like April rain.
“Dr. Jum K. Min delivered my daughters in the '80s and then my daughter’s baby five years ago. Same with my sis-in-law and her daughter and daughter’s boys,” wrote Roberta Branch.
“Dr. Min is such a wise, gentle, and strong woman and physician. She has allayed fears, partnered in joy, comforted the sad, helped innumerable families and been a friend to each of us who have had the privilege to be in her care.”
A baby doctor’s life is not easy and that’s without leaving family dinners mid-fork and rolling out of bed at 3 a.m. because a woman has the gall to go into labor in the middle of the night. Min’s journey has been less easy than most.
Min grew up in South Korea as did her ex-husband, Gil Park.
“She was the only woman in her medical school class so she was always very tough,” said Amy Park. “She was laser-focused on her goals — medicine, coming to America by herself for training, and the best for her children.”
She finished training in 1973 and practiced in Brooklyn. Her husband’s family lived in L.A. so they moved across country and, when he got a job at San Joaquin Hospital, they moved to Bakersfield.
“My parents always said that Bakersfield treated them well,” Amy said. “They were grateful they landed there because the people were friendly, hospitable and open to them, even though they were immigrants and had accents.”
Min became known for her blind-stitch sutures that didn’t leave scars, answering the phone herself after hours, helping patients undress or dress, blotting, wiping, turning, covering or any other task usually reserved for nurses or aides, going to dinner with patients and being humble and patient to a fault.
“My first son was born in 1986, and I feel that Dr. Min saved my life that night,” said Deborah Hunter. "I hemorrhaged profusely and she stopped the bleeding manually.
“Before my second baby, I started hemorrhaging at home. Dr Min told me to come to the hospital immediately. They were afraid the baby was gone already, but he is a healthy 25-year-old today. Thank God, she was my OB physician.”
“Physician” and a dedicated mother too.
“Both our parents impressed upon my sister and me the importance of a good work ethic and the life-altering potential of education,” Eugene said. “She was willing to spend money on summer school, tutors and music lessons, but I don't think she really ever bought anything nice for herself until my sister and I were reliably off to college.”
If Min didn’t buy things for herself, her patients did.
“During the height of her practice, Mom regularly got a deluge of gifts sent to her around Christmas from grateful current and former patients,” Eugene said. “She'd plop those gifts in front of the Christmas tree, and as result, the gifts for Mom outnumbered those for me and my sister by a considerable margin. We thought that was normal.”
Min has six more babies to deliver this month. No day has ever been the same and no birth either.
“Each baby seems like a miracle,” she said. “There is the tension in the delivery room and then there is crying and laughing.”
Min is moving to Oxnard. She is 75, healthy, ready to travel, make new friends, play golf or just walk along the beach.
“I’m beautiful, single and available,” she laughs.
“Available,” something she has been for all of her working life. Available to her patients, children and open to whatever comes next.