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Olson: Social media magnifies bullying issue

Published: Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT
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(Photo provided)
Cait Olson of DeKalb endured some trying times when she agreed to be a surrogate mother for twins. Despite the unpaid bills and difficult life changes, Olson says she would consider surrogacy again in the future.

When I was in seventh grade at Westfield Junior High, the gym locker room was a cruel place.

Our physical education teacher was a nice guy, but he was very passive, and we were usually unsupervised as we changed into and out of our gym uniforms each day. And a pack of 13-year-old boys can stir up a lot of trouble in 10 minutes.

One boy was punched in the arm day after day. I can remember my classmates lining up and each slugging him hard in the upper arm as they filed past his locker. I remember, too, seeing that the boy’s biceps once: They were covered in purple bruises.

I don’t know why he never told anyone. I don’t think he returned to our school for eighth grade.

It also became a thing for one of a few boys to be dragged into the never-used showers by a gang of others, who would then turn the water on. That was less about inflicting pain and more about humiliation.

I watched it happen most of the year. A lot of the aggressors were my teammates on sports teams, and so I was never really picked on, but joining in the “fun” never felt right.

Then one day in the spring, about six guys grabbed another kid, carried him into a stall and stuck his head in the toilet.

That was the day I told someone. I went to the assistant principal’s office after school, where the boy was crying. I named names.

It took a lot to make me act, and I don’t recall there being very serious consequences for the boys involved. I’m sure the long-term consequences were worse for the boys who were victims.

Reflecting on it, I’m glad we grew up without Facebook, Twitter and smartphones.

Bullying is something that’s always gone on in schools, but we’re waking up to the fact that those types of situations shouldn’t be considered just a normal part of growing up, and today’s technology can exacerbate the problem.

On Wednesday in the Daily Chronicle and online at Daily-Chronicle.com, the first installment of “Confronting the Bully,” our four-day series about bullying, will appear.

We’ll examine the problem, look at what makes some kids bullies and others victims, explore how today’s kids often bully each other online and tell you what local schools and others are doing about it.

We’ll be displaying the stories, photos, video and other coverage, along with resources, tips and a sampling of local school district bullying policies online at www.Daily-Chronicle.com/projects/bullying.

• • • 

Difficult surrogacy: Cait Olson loves pregnancy. She loves helping other women with their pregnancies and delivery through her work as a doula.

She loves to be pregnant, too.

“I love it. I live for it,” Olson, 24, of DeKalb said. “I think it’s so amazing you are literally creating life and … before that baby’s born it’s learning from you and you are building it and put in good energy and just connecting with this being that’s not yet alive but totally alive inside of you. “

She’s given birth to two sons, ages 6 and 2, and always thought she’d like to be a surrogate mother. But her trouble began when she was quickly matched with a family through an agency in suburban Chicago.

We’re not related, by the way. Our last name is Scandinavian for “Smith.”

Not two months into Olson’s surrogate pregnancy, she left her husband. She had to leave a physically demanding job at a warehouse and take a lower-paying position driving a school bus. And she had to find a place to live.

Then she lost her health insurance when her husband lost his job. She was on a COBRA plan, but at some point it lapsed, and she incurred three months’ of unpaid medical expenses before signing up for another plan.

She says the surrogate agency suggested she use public aid for her medical care. She refused, and things went downhill from there.

“I kind of feel like because I stood up for myself a little more and I knew a little more than the average woman about pregnancy and all that fun stuff … that I didn’t have a good relationship with the main lady at the agency that I was dealing with,” Olson said. “And I honestly feel like she tried to paint a bad picture of me to the parents.”

The parents live six hours away. Olson said she had minimal contact with them. In January, the babies were born almost seven weeks premature.

After a difficult and traumatic delivery, the children were whisked away. She saw them only as they were carried off, and then briefly a couple of days later.

Not that this was illegal – it was spelled out in the contract she’d signed, which essentially stated she was not entitled to any relationship with the babies after their birth.

Olson thought she was prepared for that, but it turned out her feelings were harder to control than she’d expected.

“It was bigger than anything I could have imagined or prepared myself for,” she said.

The $24,000 she earned for surrogacy was gobbled up by living expenses for her and her children after her separation, she said. It gave her a way out of her marriage, but now she’s left with about $6,000 in unpaid bills from medical expenses from when her insurance was canceled and for post-partum counseling services – she said she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the birthing ordeal.

Olson said she doesn’t want to sue – she holds out hope of one day seeing the children she carried and doesn’t want to anger their parents. Her friends have set up a page at http://www.indiegogo.com/SupportSurroCait, where they’re seeking donations to help her. There’s also a video and a section where she tells her story.

Despite it all, she said she might be a surrogate mom again. The experience was worth it, even if the fallout has been difficult. Sometimes, being pregnant really cheered her, even when things weren’t going well.

“Somewhere out there, there’s some awesome little kids now, and it helped me learn a lot about myself,” she said. “I had to go through some pretty bad stuff, but it taught me a lot about who I am and what I can handle and some really important lessons I need to set for my own kids.”

• • • 

Election Central: Early voting in Illinois on Oct. 22. Election Day is Nov. 6.

It’s a presidential election, which means there should be a tremendous turnout. Every seat on the DeKalb County Board is up for election, and eight of the 12 districts have contested races. The race between Republican incumbent Clay Campbell and Democrat Richard Schmack for state’s attorney looks like it will be interesting, and we’re also electing representatives in Congress in newly drawn districts, a judge for the newly created 23rd Judicial Circuit and more.

If you’ve decided you’re ready to pay attention, check out our Election Central website at http://elections.daily-chronicle.com. There, you’ll find candidate bios and answers to questions posed by our editorial board.

Of course, we’ll be writing about the local races and how they will effect you in the weeks ahead.

It should be an interesting fall.

• Eric Olson is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, and follow him on Twitter @DDC_Editor.

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