Monday, June 15, 2020

‘The Baby-Sitter’s Club’ Books with Diabetes Character Rebooted for Netflix


The beloved book series “The Baby-Sitters Club” is back in the spotlight, with a new Netflix series airing in July 2020 that will breathe new life to this set of stories first published in the 1980s. It's a charming tale of friends who form a babysitter's club for their small, fictional town in Connecticut.

Many people with diabetes feel a personal connection to this series because one of the main characters is club treasurer Stacey McGill, who is depicted as living with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

The series, written by Ann M. Martin, spanned 217 novels between 1986 and 2000. There was also a 1995 movie and a short-lived Disney series.

Now, with a new Netflix series premiering July 3, 2020, the character of Stacey will be played by young actress Shay Rudolph. She's released a fun introductory YouTube clip where she reads aloud a section from the pivotal "The Truth About Stacey" book.

Many women living with diabetes have commented on how "The Baby-Sitter's Club" and the Stacey McGill character influenced them while growing up, giving them confidence in embracing their own health issues. One Buzzfeed writer living with T1D even reflects on how the books helped teach her about managing her chronic condition.

From entertainment industry reports about the new Netflix reboot, it appears the script writers will be sticking to the original story, without any substantive changes to Stacey's character. Though we are thrilled about the idea that Stacey's T1D life may be "modernized" for the 21st century.

Film Daily reports that the series, which made a huge splashback in the 90s, "will be just as relevant as it was back then." In fact, the themes may be event more relevant and relatable today: Young girls as budding entrepreneurs, the value of tight-nit friendships, racial diversity, and "meaningful feminism."

"Young girls who are facing setbacks can draw inspiration from this strong and very capable group of friends. Scratch that — anybody can be inspired by the warm story told in 'The Baby-Sitters Club,'" the critics write. That of course includes tons of young people living with T1D!

A few years ago as they were re-issuing the books, we were fortunate to score an interview with the "The Baby-Sitter's Club" series author Martin. Here is what she had to say.

What inspired you to use diabetes in “The Baby-Sitter’s Club?” Did you know someone with diabetes? 


Yes, when I began working on the series, I had two friends with diabetes, one who was not insulin-dependent and whose diabetes was well under control, and the other who, like Stacey, was insulin-dependent and had some difficulty controlling her condition. Both were inspirations for the creation of Stacey's character.

What was the process of learning about type 1 diabetes?

I learned from my friends, of course. Also, my college buddy Claudia, who's a physician (and for whom the character Claudia Kishi is named), vetted the manuscripts that dealt heavily with Stacey's diabetes. It was when I was researching diabetes for the series that I learned the term "brittle diabetes." I hadn't heard it before, and it influenced the way in which I wrote about Stacey.

How did you decide when and how to incorporate the illness into the stories? 

That Stacey would be challenged by diabetes was a part of her character from the beginning. Before I wrote the first book in the series, when I was defining the main characters — their personalities, their families, the challenges they face — and outlining the first four books, I decided that one of the characters would face a physical challenge. Because of my friends, I was interested in diabetes and wanted to write about it.

Stacey has become a role model for teens and young adults with diabetes. Any memorable encounters with readers?

I've heard from quite a few readers, young and old, with diabetes who have been inspired by Stacey, and who have said they felt less alone when they read about a character who faced the same difficulties they did. I've also heard from several young women who said that after reading about Stacey, they realized they probably had diabetes themselves, told their parents, and were able to get to the doctor for proper help.


A role model for girls with diabetes

For those who haven't met Stacey, she's your typical 13-year-old girl. She loves boys, clothes, and hanging out with her friends. She also loves math, a key given her role as the babysitting club's treasurer. And like your typical teen, she also doesn't want her friends to know about her diabetes. But when they do find out, they are wonderful and supportive, and Stacey and her friends become amazing role models for taking care of your own health and accepting one another for our differences. Not that Stacey's diabetes is always easy to control.

In book #43, Stacey becomes depressed after her parent's divorce, starts overindulging in chocolate, stops managing her diabetes, and eventually lands in the hospital. It's a very real look at life with T1D.

Connecticut Mom Jill Tousignant Benn says that reading the books as a girl many years ago eventually helped her recognize the symptoms of T1D in her own young son, such as extreme thirst and waking up with a soaked diaper every day.

"I only knew the signs because I had read 'The Truth About Stacey,'" she says. "Had it not been for that book, I would have brushed it off."

In Toronto, Julie DeVos also likes to joke that she diagnosed herself because of “The Baby-Sitter's Club” books. That's not entirely true, but she does believe reading about "Stacey's emergency" in the series motivated DeVos and her mom to seek medical attention that led to a T1D diagnosis.

"Both my mom and I knew something was wrong and went to the doctor. He handed me a cup and as I was walking down the hall towards the bathroom, the lightbulb went off. I knew," DeVos recalls.

In Maryland, Sara Jean says the books comforted her when she was diagnosed: "They were a huge part of my young reading years! I had stopped reading these by 12 when I was diagnosed, but Stacey was one of the first 'people' I thought of, as I knew no one in real life."

Echoing that sentiment is longtime type 1 Sheri Garvey in Boston, who says she still fondly thinks of Stacey McGill as a "fellow type 1," since her own diagnosis at age 9 came just as she'd started reading the book series.

"I cried when I got to 'The Truth about Stacey,' because it was one of the first chances I had to see diabetes in popular culture," she recalls. "I even had a doll of her!"

Actress talks about portraying Stacey


Leading up to the Netflix premiere, we scored an interview with teenage actress Shay Rudolph who portrays the Stacey McGill in the new series. This is what she tells us about playing the character with type 1 diabetes.

What's it like playing Stacey?

I knew that I had a responsibility to portray her diabetes as accurately as I could. I interviewed some teens who have diabetes, and I was able to ask them so many detailed questions about how they feel when their blood sugar is dropping, and what they can and can’t do with their insulin pump. I hope it’ll be empowering to kids when they see Stacey reveal she has diabetes and that she’s still loved and accepted by her friends.

Did you have any personal diabetes connection before this role?

My grandmother and aunt both have diabetes and my mom had gestational diabetes while she was pregnant with me. When we visit with my family, we’re always aware of what foods to bring so that the choices stay healthy, but still delicious!

Can you share any particular diabetes-related stories that stand out?

One of the incredible scenes in the show is when Stacey and her mom are shopping for new clothes. Her mom doesn’t want the insulin pump to show at all so she has Stacey wear jackets all the time to hide it. When Stacey finally gets to reveal that she has diabetes, she blings out her insulin pump with rhinestones and proudly wears her insulin pack on the outside of her clothes. It’s a really big moment in the storyline and one that I hope encourages kids to not have to hide their diabetes. It would be incredible if Stacey empowered kids with diabetes to not feel ashamed of who they are!

What would you say to those who've seen Stacey as a role model and influence through the years?

Stacey is someone who on the outside, looks like a perfectly put together girl with her sophisticated clothes and super savvy math smarts! I’d love for people who have diabetes to see that they’re no different. Their diabetes doesn’t define them. It’s your personality and the people you surround yourself with who make you feel safe. I certainly can’t speak for people who live with diabetes every day, but I’ve struggled with non-diabetic low blood sugar my whole life. It’s hard to stay on top of my food and water to make sure that my energy doesn’t drop especially when I get super busy in school and on set. I can only imagine how hard it is with diabetes. I’m glad to see that our world has more room to just accept people as they are and not judge.

Babysitting and diabetes: Resources

On a very related note, the topic of babysitting and diabetes is one that often comes up within our own community.

For most parents of a child with T1D, leaving their little one in the care of a babysitter can be terrifying, because fluctuating blood sugars can potentially cause a child to pass out or even have a seizure.

Thankfully, our community has had a great resource over the past 15 years in SafeSittings, an organization formed by Kimberly Ross in New York who was diagnosed with T1D herself at age 10. She saw a need as a teenager, and had the wherewithal to create this program specifically for parents of children with diabetes to find sitters with T1D experience.

In Summer 2018, SafeSittings became an official part of California non-profit Beyond Type 1 as one of the many resources of that powerhouse nonprofit's expanding portfolio.

Ross explains that people with T1D providing this service need to know that they are doing something extraordinary for both the parents, the child, and often for nervous grandparents, too. In many cases the sitter with type 1 likely has more diabetes experience than the parents do. In some cases they may be working for a family fresh off of a scary type 1 diagnosis and can provide comfort and a much-needed break to the parents.

For the sitters who have T1D themselves, there’s an added benefit of growing their community and building mentorship.

And many find this sitting service one of the best ways to give back or "pay it forward" to the T1D community.

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Originally published at DiabetesMine on June 15, 2020

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