By Lynne McIntyre
Last month, I appeared on a national radio news show to talk about my experience with postpartum depression and anxiety. During the lengthy pre-interview, the producer asked me if there was any part of my story that I would not be comfortable sharing on the air. My immediate and unequivocal response was "No." I am someone who has always been "out there with my stuff," as they say. And as a clinical social worker, I see it as an integral part of my job to advocate for better recognition and treatment of the emotional complications that women experience in pregnancy and after childbirth. I have given countless talks and presentations on the subject, and have never shied away from speaking my truth or answering personal questions.
After the pre-interview, I began to wonder, whose truth is it that am I telling? In other words, whose story is it, anyway? My "PPD baby," as we survivors often say amongst ourselves, is now nine years old. He is a sweet and sensitive child, and is particularly attuned to my moods. If I am upset, he wants to make sure it's not his fault. If I am happy, he is thrilled if he had something to do with my joy.
So how on earth could I go on national media and say that I was suicidal after his birth? How much of the story is it my right to share? After all, it's really our story, and not just "mine." In the days leading up to the show, I was feeling pressure - both internal and external - to make some kind of decision: Share. Don't share. Address it head on. Demur and change the subject. These were not, however, new issues for me. The opportunity to speak to a national audience, and to have my son listen in on that conversation, had simply brought them into stark relief.
All mothers who experience significant mental health issues struggle with how much to share with our children, and when. We struggle to acknowledge the truth that our illness, something that is surely not our fault, could hurt our children in some way. We struggle with believing that it's entirely possible to be a good mother and still experience depression and anxiety. And, like all parents, we struggle to achieve the balance between protecting our children while still exposing them to the full spectrum of life, from good to bad and everything in between.
My friends and colleagues at MotherWoman know very well about these struggles. And it is in large part because of their bravery, and the bravery of the many women who have attended their groups and participated in their programs, that I feel safe enough to commit the revolutionary act of speaking my truth.
In the end, my husband and I decided that our son would not listen to the show live. We will allow him to listen to a clip of it later on, so that he can share in the excitement and the accomplishment. We will also let him ask questions, which he will invariably do. And they will be many and detailed and precocious, because that's the kind of kid he is. Some will come immediately, others after a few days. Still more, I am sure, will come years from now. Each conversation between us will be different. And all along the way, I will do my best to share our story with him in the best way I know how - by telling him the truth.
Lynne McIntyre, MSW is the Mid-Atlantic Regional Coordinator for Postpartum Support International, and a clinical social worker at Mary's Center for Maternal and Child Care in Washington, DC. Her work with PSI includes leading a bi-monthly support group, providing training and education to health care providers, and advocating for the awareness, prevention and treatment of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. At Mary's Center, Lynne provides psychotherapy in English and Spanish to a wide range of clients, including pregnant women, new mothers and their families. Prior to her career in social work, Lynne was a freelance documentary producer in Toronto, Cape Town, and Washington, DC. She also served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guinea in the late 1990s. Lynne's experience as a new mother with postpartum depression and anxiety led her to return to school, and she received her Master's degree in Social Work from Catholic University in May 2011. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband and two young sons.
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