Anna Whitehouse opens up about her experiences of miscarriage, why she loves Instagram stories and the Dirty Mother Pukka podcast
Photography: Alexandra Cameron / Makeup and hair: Kate Pope
This photoshoot has the potential to be a disaster. Anna Whitehouse, the witty voice behind parenting blog Mother Pukka, is cradling her naked newborn baby, Eve, and posing for our photographer while we all hold our breath, praying that Eve doesn’t choose this particular moment to release a torrent of (in Anna’s own words) ‘bum gravy’.
We, thankfully, avoid any real disaster, but Anna, 36, is eventually sprinkled with wee (courtesy of baby Eve, in case you needed clarification on that) and it’s at this moment we decide it’s probably best to wrap the nude photos and get stuck into chatting about the world of blogging and how the Mother Pukka brand was created.
“I was seeing a shift from people writing for newspapers and magazines. I was working for magazines, but I wasn’t getting as many commissions, and the commissions I was getting were paid a lot less and I could see influencers starting to earn more. I saw a lot of young talent doing incredible things and I just thought ‘well, I’m a bit longer in the tooth, but I think I can press buttons too!’”
After her interest in the world of blogging was piqued, Anna began to research how she could get involved herself, and more importantly, how she could build a career from the online world.
“It was always going to be a career move. I thought ‘that looks great because there’s work flexibility around kids and potentially more dollar’. I lost so much money in that first six months. I say ‘lost’, I mean invested, but at the time I didn’t know it was going to be successful so it felt like it was lost money. I felt like I lost a couple of grand in the first six months but I thought ‘if I am going to do this and it’s going to take time away from my kids, then it has to be something of weight and substance’.”
Since the beginnings of her blog in 2015, Anna has used her online presence as a platform to offer some light relief from the stresses of modern life and parenting, while also opening up conversation on difficult topics, including miscarriage.
Anna has experienced multiple miscarriages herself, and being able to speak to her audience directly about such a personal, yet common, experience has helped her to feel a real connection with the people she reaches.
“It’s very hard not to feel a connection with someone when they say to you ‘I’ve had eight miscarriages and I’m bleeding now, on my ninth and your blog post about miscarriage has helped’, especially when you then get a photo of their baby a year later. You are quite affected by it.”
“When you go on the NHS website and it says ‘if the foetal matter hasn’t cleared by this date you need to go in’ you do think ‘how is that going to help me piece together my mind?’ My mind that has already found a name, my mind that has already furnished that nursery, my mind that has already included that person in my family, how is that website going to help? And all I want to offer with Mother Pukka is some light relief in the storm.”
“There’s so much frustration, angst, trauma, joy, happiness, messiness and stressiness all combined in this topic of ‘parenting’ that you do connect, because you’re speaking to people directly about it.”
While the open dialogue she has with her followers is something Anna enjoys, she also feels a pressure to reply to everyone, especially when the messages she is sent are raw and emotional.
“There’s a certain ownership that I think people have, and an expectation that you would have of a celebrity, who has a team around them, supporting them. I think there can be an expectation of a reply,” Anna explains.
“I would be on my phone constantly if I was responding to everyone, so that’s a real battle I face. I want to respond to everyone but I don’t want it to be generic. I tend to sit down in a café and pick a couple which have really spent time saying something or sharing their experience but I still wish I had more hours in the day to do more, I guess that’s a guilt I feel.
“Sometimes the stress I feel is when I am with my children, dealing with a code red nappy situation, and I’ve only got one wet wipe in a shitty public toilet where it stinks of urine and then someone messages me about something very emotional and personal and I feel I want to answer it immediately. I fear if I don’t answer it straight away it will get lost, but that’s the only stress I feel around social media.”
Although Anna does wish she had more time to reply to people, she is also aware that time offline is important and that there need to be boundaries.
“You’ve got to draw a line otherwise you will be online constantly. As a mother with two kids, it’s the difference between answering a comment from an amazing stranger to seeing my daughter potentially fall off a swing. I have to mentally draw lines on certain things.”
While she enjoys blogging, Anna’s current favourite medium for talking to her followers is Instagram Stories. She uploads daily, with the occasional break, and uses them to share snippets from her day and funny anecdotes.
“I think Instagram Stories has been that final push that social media needed to really be the good, bad and ugly of human interaction. Whether you have 100 followers or 1m followers, it’s that place where you can air your dirty laundry in public, and it’s great. I say things on there that I sometimes wouldn’t say to my best friends, because it’s that feeling that it will be gone tomorrow, so it’s fine. And in doing that you end up becoming closer to your community.
“I always wanted Mother Pukka to have a curated editorial feel because that’s my background, but somewhere in there, the restriction of those Instagram squares, you do lose the fluidity of someone and the real person they are. Some days I have my cat eyeliner flick on and other days it looks more like a slug slick! One day I might be like ‘Oh, I’m having a good, yellow day today’, but the next it might be a really blue post natally depressed day. There are real genuine peaks and troughs, and I think that is what people can see on Instagram Stories. I try to unite people in having those.”
While Anna feels social media has allowed people to have an insight into the realities of life as a parent, she is disappointed that this is something that mainstream media is still reluctant to embrace, and the focus on women’s bodies post-pregnancy is something she is frustrated by.
“It’s such a shame. That [postpregnancy body] dialogue is still in the old media whereas you turn to social media and it’s a very different story. I think what you’re seeing now is a rise of people who have forgotten what they even look like, because they’re more focused on what they want to do with their lives.”
“Even the body positivity movement, it’s got nothing to do with bodies, it’s to do with minds, and I think that’s the shift. It’s all to do with your mindset and I think that’s what I’ve noticed the blogging community has been championing, from ages seven to 100.
“You’ve got the full range of ages and sexes and issues and conversations and I think that’s something that traditional media can’t get a handle on, so they keep wheeling out the same old tripe.”
Another thing Anna wishes we could stop doing is labelling and categorising mothers based on what they say and how they behave publicly.
“I’ve pushed back against features that are written where they try to put us in archaic categories. Don’t just put me in a category of being an Instamum because I’m on Instagram, don’t suddenly call me a Sharenter because I share pictures of my kids online, I’m a human, a person who happens to have a child, I am no different from anyone else. I’m not a helicopter parent, I’m not a yummy mummy, I’m not a slummy mummy, there are all these terms and I think that’s where that online chaos comes from.
“It’s the pitting of women against women, and that’s what I won’t stand for anymore.”
As well as sharing more of Anna’s personal life on Instagram Stories, the Mother Pukka team recently launched a podcast, Dirty Mother Pukka, in which Anna and her husband Matt discuss the road to becoming parents with a few of their friends. No topic is too taboo and Anna has enjoyed being able to share the conversations she has behind closed doors with the world.
“We really wanted to bring our Whatsapp conversations – the grit, the dirt and the reality – to life through the podcast for the non-parenting generation. We don’t need to preach to the converted, the people who have kids, but this is for people like Zoella and Alfie Deyes. They’re actually listening to it and tweeted to say it was the funniest thing they’ve listened to in a long time. I’m not saying they’re thinking of having kids, but they are our audience, that’s who we want listening. The people who are thinking ‘really, genuinely, what does go on?’ You get those biology textbooks at school and that weird plastic figure and they put the baby in it and it falls out and then your biology teacher slips a condom on a banana and suddenly that’s your sex ed done and you’re like ‘ok, so we’re not going to discuss miscarriage?’ ‘We’re not going to discuss the mucus plug?’ These things are all part of biology and they hit you like a ton of bricks because noone has said anything about them.”
Humour is a key component to the Dirty Mother Pukka podcast, and Anna hopes talking more frankly about the experience of modern parenting has made it a more interesting topic.
“I think laughter is infectious, there’s always humour to be found in situations and I think parenting has had such a murky, turgid, grey rep, it’s been that topic that no one wants to touch. You have sport, lifestyle, fashion, but parenting, who wants to touch that? It deserved a makeover, and that’s what I feel our podcast has given it.”