Sometimes It Can Start with an Email

03 Nov
Sometimes It Can Start with an Email

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Much of the time, life is complicated. Much of the time, initiating change feels impossible. The wait for change, interminable. The status quo, intractable. I think of Susan B. Anthony who agitated for over 35 years for the U.S. vote, and died 14 years before the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified. I had a picture of her above my desk in my home office for years as a reminder of what fortitude and persistence look like…I wonder where that photo got off to. There still is so much work to do, as groups like MomsRising and Mothers Acting Up and Welfare Warriors well know. Intractable indeed.

But sometimes. Sometimes, change happens before its advocates wear out. Sometimes the marginalized don’t have to fund the solution. Sometimes, those with power and finances hear the rest of us. Sometimes change can unfold beginning with a simple email.

Last September, a student at my university, Maria, read an article in our school newspaper about a book signing I was doing on campus for Motherhood and Feminism. She thought I might be an ally and decided to send me an email. That email was the beginning of a chain of similar ones that resulted in concrete, positive change on our campus. Her subject line, “A place to print but no place to pump 😦 ” pulled me in. Maria was a student, a mother of two, and was breastfeeding. Her concern was that she had no place to pump breast milk. Oh sure, she could pump in a restroom that had electrical outlets right up front with the sink and mirrors, you know, right by the door so that anyone who came in could get a gander, with any angle they might miss at first happily reflected in the mirrors above the sink, next to which she would be standing. She would have to get past the discomfort of pumping her baby’s food in a room where people are using the toilet, of course. We do have a breastfeeding room on campus and, though it is located where the child care center is, it also is on the far end of campus, not close to many classrooms and an impractical stop between classes for most students. So Maria emailed me in the hopes that I might be someone who, she said, “could help fight for me.” I sent an email to the (awesome) woman on campus who is our Vice President for Health Affairs and University Chief Operating Officer, asking what provisions we had on campus for breastfeeding moms, and whether the issue of privacy near an electrical outlet and sink had been addressed. She decided to make it matter to the university, and over the course of the last year, many folks on our campus were involved in addressing this need.

What you see in the image I’ve posted (courtesy of Larry Smith and ETSU photo lab) is our all new Lactation Suite, the clearly marked door to which is located in a prominent place in our university center. It has a comfortable chair and footstool, a blanket and pillow, a sink and icemaker, a television, moving table, and outlets. It is nicely appointed. Not, as one of my friends said, some storage closet with a bucket turned upside down for sitting. I went to see it the other day for the first time and it was difficult to keep from crying. I was struck not only by the facts that it actually happened at all and that it started with one student sending an email, but also by the fact that it seemed to have been done with such care and affection. Two women who work in the university center, Lisa and Laura, took appointing it as their personal mission and made it a comfortable, relaxing place, where a woman could care for her child in a way that is dignified and respected. I am so proud, so grateful, and so inspired. Sometimes change can begin with a simple email.


Posted by on November 3, 2011 in Families, Feminism, Motherhood, Parenting


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6 responses to “Sometimes It Can Start with an Email

  1. Lorin

    November 3, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Freaking fabulous!

  2. Christy

    November 3, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    Very inspiring. Has there been any moves made to inform students/faculty/staff about this amazing, new resource?

    • Dr. Mama

      November 3, 2011 at 2:27 pm

      Christy, I am checking into that very thing!

  3. Mamamoxie

    November 3, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    So proud of this, and all the work you are doing for Mamas! It’s great that one mother had the courage to speak up. Sometimes that really is all it takes!

  4. Dr. Mama

    November 3, 2011 at 2:30 pm


  5. r4dic4lf3mm3

    November 7, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    Wow, that is just really awesome. I love ETSU. The faculty and staff there are really special. Back when I was a student there I remember dealing with the frustration of finding a place to pump milk for my daughter. Luckily though, I was a grad student at the time, so I would just run the rest of the grad students outta the grad office for 20 minuites while I pumped milk. My fellow grad students were nice enough to reserve a shelf for me in the refrigerator we shared in our office so I had a place to keep the milk I pumped till I left school for the day.

    Speaking of initiating and advocating for change there is something that I have been working on for the past couple of weeks that I would like to bring to people’s attention. This doesn’t have a lot to do with motherhood, except for possibly the fact that most mothers I know do care about human rights violations. Recently, my cousin was arrested for 2nd offence DUI (she wasn’t actually drunk, but rather was being harrassed by the brother of her ex-fiance–she was even refused a breathalizer test to prove her innocence. Her speech was slightly slurred because of her high blood sugar. So, because her speech was slurred they took her to jail. All this was caught on tape.) She is a type 1 diabetic and for the first three days she was in jail she was refused her insulin. I had even took records from her pharmacy and her prescriptions to the jail to prove that she had been on two different types of insulin and was taking 4-5 shots a day. Her mother and I went to speak with the medical staff in the jail and were told that it is their policy to not give insulin to diabetics for three days until they see how their blood sugar levels are, and with a type II diabetes (whose body still makes some insulin )that could be alright, but this could be deadly for an individual with type I. When her mother and I asked about their policy they said that they don’t give insulin right away because some people lie about being a diabetic. When she was first booked into the jail though, her blood sugar was over 600, and they don’t know how far over 600 because the meter doesn’t go any higher (a normal blood sugar is between 80 and 120). She could have went into ketoacidosis and died from blood sugar levels that high. For the three days that the medical staff at the jail were not giving her insulin her mother and I were advocating for her rights to anyone who would listen (the judge, our legislatures, the American Diabetes Association, etc.) Everyday that she was there her blood sugar levels were off the charts. Finally, starting on the forth day they gave her one shot of regular insulin a day at random times and many times without checking her blood sugar first (If they give insulin with her blood sugar being normal, it could result in a low blood sugar level that could be serious enough to cause coma or death.) She spent a total of 14 days in the Carter County Jail in TN and they never gave her more than one shot a day of regular insulin despite her doctor’s order stating that she should be on 4-5 shots a day and should have her blood sugar tested at least five times a day. SHe also had medical records and a letter from her eye doctor stating that these blood sugar levels would cause her vision to deteriorate more than it has aready…possibly to the point that she could have permanent vision loss. Because of her serious health issues, and the fact that the jail medical staff were not treating the medical condition properly her attorney called the judge to ask for a medical furlow. The judge refused to even look at the medical reports or the letters from her doctors. In fact, he refused to arraign her or set bond for 14 days. As a result of this atrocious human rights violation she has started to lose vision in her left eye, the one that had no problems till she went to jail. She also developed a serious staph infection on her arm while she was there. One of the many times while she was in the jail that her blood sugar levels read high (over 600), she begged the nurse to call the doctor because the nurse had no plans of giving her any insulin. The nurse said to her, “This is jail, not the Hilton.” I am appalled at this human rights violation. This was problematic on so many different levels. She was basically punished and held unjustly for 14 days, and during that 14 days every organ system in her body was being ravaged by diabetes, while the jail medical staff sat back and watched it happen. At one point, she wasn’t given a dinner snack and was stil given insulin and her blood sugar dropped so low that she was unable to walk to the door to knock on it to ask for medical assistance. Luckily, one of the other inmates knocked on the door and asked for help. However, when the jail staff came, they were unprepared and had nothing to bring her blood sugar up with. They were eventually able to find a bun and some syrup off of another inmate’s leftover plate. This eventually brought it up, but it was almost too late. She has permanent damage to one of her eyes due to her 14 day stay at the Carter County Jail, and was never even given the opportunity during those 14 days to ever make a guilty or not guilty plea. Also, the judge refused to set bond before day 14 of her stay in the jail. Luckily, my cousin comes from a family who has money and was able to afford a decent attorney who was eventually able to convince the judge to set bond, but unfortunately there are still four other type 1 diabetics sitting in the Carter County Jail not getting the proper amounts of insulin, not getting their blood sugars checked properly, and not being fed properly (Everything my cousin was fed on her so-called diabetic tray was carbs that run her blood sugars up, and the snacks that the diabetics are supposed to be given were only given sporadically.) I have no doubt that the medical staff at that jail would have killed her had she been left there much longer. I worry about the ones who are still there who have no one to advocate for them. Because they are in the penal system few people care about their human rights. Changing the Carter County Jail’s policy on how they treat diabetics feels nearly impossible to me, but this is change that needs to happen before someone dies senselessly. The medical staff needs to be properly educated on how to manage diabetes. They also need to be held accountable for their human rights violations. The medical staff’s behavior is far more problematic than many of the crimes that caused these inmates to be locked up.


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