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By Jen Wittes

woman writingDr. Walker Karraa is a writer, researcher, and educator. She is a leading mind in the field of women’s health. Her first book, Transformed by Postpartum Depression: Women’s Stories of Trauma and Growthwill be published by Praeclarus Press, Fall 2014.  

Dr. Karraa is an 11 year breast cancer survivor who lives in Sherman Oaks, California with her husband Tony and two children, Ziggy and Miles.

I was lucky enough to speak with her recently–about life, motherhood, bravery, the over-sensationalization of postpartum psychosis tragedies, birth trauma, and so much more. We eventually got around to discussion of her latest brainchild:  Stigmama—an AMAZING community site dedicated to women writing about motherhood and the stigma of mental illness. Here’s a bit of our Q and A…

[separator headline=”h4″ title=”In your own words, what is Stigmama?”]

Stigmama is a site where women write about mental illness, motherhood, and stigma.

[separator headline=”h4″ title=”What inspired you to create the site?”]

Well, I knew that I wanted to encourage women to write. I am a big believer in the healing power of writing for women. I knew that I didn’t want to focus on any specific disorder, offering support, giving advice, or just mental illness around childbearing. I knew I wanted to make it safe, as in no judgment and anonymity allowed, and that it should be honest—truth about the fullest range of being a mother with mental illness.

I am not afraid of the edges, not afraid of the experience of other women in this space. And the women who have reached out so far to write for Stigmama aren’t either. They go deep, they speak their truths without the potential for stigmatizing comments, invasive comments, pressure to help others, or shaming. 

I wanted to provide a communal space for women of all ages to tell their experiences of living with mental illness as a mother. Part of it stemmed from my experience of doing my doctoral research. I met so many women who had been through tremendous suffering of postpartum depression and years after were still managing depression. For some, mood disorders that arise around childbearing don’t end after treatment—for many, many women it is the crisis that gets us to treatment, but we may have had low lying disorders prior and the rest of life as a mother is also a life as a mother with a mental illness. And these mothers are amazing. Amazing women who work very, very hard to be healthy and dedicate their lives to staying healthy. 

I definitely wanted to make a space that talked about the entire lifespan of a mother with mental illness. For example, my children are now 13 and 11. Being a mother with chronic major depressive disorder and PTSD now is very different from when they were babies, toddlers, young school aged, or even a year ago! As they grow and develop, my management of my depression in relation to how I mother changes. My disclosure and explanation to them now is very different. And when they are older, college age, young adults and into having their own families, my integration of my mental illness into how I mother will be different in ways I can’t imagine now. 

[separator headline=”h4″ title=”This is an incredibly timely vision. It must be so rewarding to have mothers come out and share! What has been your favorite aspect of managing the project so far?”]

How honest women let themselves be…and how beautiful that is.

[separator headline=”h4″ title=”What are three important truths you have learned from Stigmama’s contributors?”]

  1. Mothers with mental illness are incredibly strong. They don’t need saving; they don’t need pity; they don’t even necessarily want or need support. They need to be honest. They need to be seen. They need to be heard.
  2. Mothers with mental illness have to spend a lot of time and energy managing the world around them–the systems not in place, or those in place and stigmatized. That is exhausting. From family systems, employment, school systems for children–there is little to no accommodation for mothers. They push through a lot of shame in our culture.
  3. I don’t have to “mother” women with mental illness. They don’t need me to assume they are fragile, or in need—and that is part of what I am learning about my own internalized stigma. I have learned that it is incredibly painful at times, but that doesn’t mean they need me to fix it. That’s old school patriarchy in my mind—I am working on that.
[separator headline=”h4″ title=”See, this is what I love about Stigmama. Growth all around—for the writer, the reader, and even the editor! What are your hopes for the future of the site?”]
I would love to have more middle aged and older mothers contribute. No one is asking those of us past menopause to talk about our mental health. I would like to see women contribute creative projects not just in writing but in all media. Photography is definitely something I would love to encourage…taking photos of our world as we see it–metaphors for our minds are all around–capturing that and sharing it is wonderful. All arts and crafts really–I know when I crochet something, it is very different than “normal moms”! Ha! I usually put a big red line in it.[separator headline=”h4″ title=”How can women submit their work?”

Just email me at stigmamainfo@gmail.com!
[separator headline=”h4″ title=”I know that Stigmama covers the full spectrum of motherhood, but since Welcome Baby Care is devoted to the postpartum period in particular, do you have an words of wisdom for the new mamas out there?”]
Write! When in doubt, write down the truth you are experiencing. Messy, bad grammar, doodles, non-sense, bad poetry, brilliant poetry—doesn’t matter. Write. It is the one last way we can tell our Truth without being shamed or judged. It is the privacy we need to be real. And then you can throw it out, burn it, or blog it–but the universe knows you said it! 

Read more about Dr. Walker Karraa and her work here.

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