I managed to snaffle a cheeky Skype with the gorgeous Mother Pukka (aka Anna Whitehouse) to talk about her postnatal depression, her Instagram life and why she feels so strongly about our campaign for PANDAS Foundation to create a supportive online space for parents.
NMS: So Anna, tell us what your first few weeks were like as a mum.
MP: Err peaks and troughs definitely… The peak is that first 24 hours where you’re like ‘I’ve made a human this is amazing’ and then you realise two weeks later that you’re on you’re own. It’s fascinating. I think you think for those first 24 hours that’s how it’s going to be, they’re symbolic of the rest of parenthood, you’re on cloud nine, it’s like all your Christmases, Easters and birthdays rolled into one. And then the reality hits, sleep deprivation hits and you find yourself in Tesco, holding a pineapple and crying, wondering what to do with the pineapple. And you wonder if you’re actually ok, and how everyone else is doing. You know, it was messy and stressy and everything in between.
NMS: Haha! I had similar moments, not with a pineapple, but with other vegetables so I feel your pain! Did you find that changed over the year, since the first few weeks have you found your feelings about motherhood shifted as the time went on?
MP: Yeah definitely, and that’s kind of our hashtag “parenting the shit out of life”. It was really based on those moments, It was based on the fact that you could have a day where your kid has been throwing crudité at your head constantly and will refuse to, sort of, do anything other than scream and tell everybody you have a spike hoo-ha or something horrendous and then actually you have that moment, and it is a moment you have to grab on to, where the kid’s quiet, they’re entertained, and you’ve got maybe 6 minutes max! That’s that moment that I really built this on because, you know, that’s the moment you’re parenting the shit out of life. It’s celebrating the good moments, and they don’t happen all the time, but they’re there, they’re in front of us all the time and it’s grabbing on to them and enjoying them and realising that all the slog is actually for this. That’s kind of like what it was all based on.
NMS: Yeah, well I know it’s inspired a lot of people, so you’ve got your warm fuzzies definitely from that! It’s interesting now that you are more in the public eye than in those first few months and there’s lots of photography of you and May, have you felt any pressure long the way have you felt any pressure to feel or look a certain way as a result of that social media focus?
MP: Err, no not really because we’re all so tired, we’ve all got over thirty, we’re keeping these kids alive and I think that’s why it’s such a positive space because everybody’s aware that no-one’s really winning here, you know, it’s not a race. You’re not looking at someone else and thinking “oh look at what she’s doing”, you’re looking at her going “ooh what can we do together”, and that’s the real difference I think. Because of that you don’t feel looked at, you feel that people are kind of holding hands with the pictures and they’re happy for you when you’re genuinely having a good day, because they’ve shared the really bad days. It was always really important to me in this that I felt very very alone and broken and postnatally depressed after having May, as I know almost all of my friends have, and we only started talking about it when we were out of it. I really wanted something that was preaching or telling you how to fix it because nothing could fix it for me, I took me time to figure out what I needed to do to get out of that place, and it was laughter for me. It was actually a whatsapp group that a couple of friends and I set up of batshit crazy moments we were going through and I don’t think I’d laughed so much for such a long time. It was then that I realised however you parent, you know, whether you’re an ecowarrior or whether you are a “mum boss” or a “mum who doesn’t give a toss”, whatever you are if you’re laughing more than you’re crying then you are actually winning. That was when I came out of that fog and that’s what I try and do with Mother Pukka. What I am wearing is irrelevant because it’s what I am doing and, you know, I think people are happy if I’ve got a nice shoe on my foot if they can see that I’ve been like crying for months and my hairs been falling out trying to get there! So it’s having those two sides, which I think is important for my sanity, as much as anyone following me.
NMS: That experience of postnatal depression, is that something that you guys still talk about? Have all of your friends come through it at the same time to or is anyone dealing with it differently now?
MP: Yeah I think there are still some people who are kind of there, and a lot of what we talk about, as you know, is more about miscarriage. So we chose to focus mainly on that because I didn’t, hmm I mean to be honest I didn’t want to be Debbie Downer, you know? There’s issues and I don’t want to weigh down on everything that could be wrong. I didn’t want to scare people off. A lot of the people who follow me aren’t parents and I don’t want this to look scary to them. It can be overwhelming when people see the words ‘post-natal depression’ and ‘miscarriage’ and actually, the things that don’t work out, the hard bits, are as much a part of life, as much a part of the good stuff as anything else. I’ve talked about Pineapple-Gate. I think when I started talking about that it brought a lot of my friends out going ‘oh yeah I had a pineapple moment’ and I think the pineapple became this humorous thing of like you are in Tesco, genuinely holding a spiky exotic fruit, not sure how to proceed, and I think that’s how, it was more about how it made me feel, and I think that was what I’ve noticed a lot of people who were following me, or who I’m friends with, that I thought everything was fine with saying ‘yeah I’ve had the pineapple moment’. We’ve all had a pineapple moment – it might be a different fruit, as you say, but we’ve all had one.
NMS: Yeah, I absolutely, absolutely empathise with that. It’s important, you do have to share, I think that’s a lot of where it’s at really. One of the things PANDAS have said is that they did a survey earlier this year of a lot of parents, about 1000 or so, and apparently about 80% of them said that they didn’t feel support online when they were suffering from pre or post natal depression. I mean obviously you’re working in that space, by making people laugh, but do you think there’s more that could be done online to help people recognise the signs and get the help they need. I mean, that might not be, as you say, focusing on every issue, but what do you see that’s out there and what could be done more of?
MP: The thing that breaks me, really, is the feeling that there is somebody out there feeling so alone and so unsure of how to proceed and wondering if they’re normal, “is this normal?” “is anyone else feeling this?”, and I think the only way to reassure, and I’m talking about that one person, two people, who maybe don’t have the WhatsApp group, who maybe haven’t connected with a group in the playground, or who had a C-section that went wrong and haven’t been able to get out and make their friends, all their friends are still going out, they could have teenage mums whose lives are completely turned on their heads. And I think all that can be done, actually, is a collective effort, of, we now have this forum, Instagram, where you have an opportunity to share in a way that’s personal to you. It isn’t attention-seeking, it’s communicating, there’s a big difference between attention-seeking and communicating, and the move now is towards communication. It’s not about whinging or airing your dirty laundry in public – that’s of our parents’ generation. We’re just communicating, and I think everyone can do that. I think if you have experienced something, and you feel comfortable doing it, there’s no pressure, but I think a lot of people have felt comfortable doing it, and feel almost a relief from doing it, I think feel free to share that because I feel it’s not something that one organisation can do. You need the support from that organisation, and to be able to direct someone to that organisation, but it’s down to the individual to share as much as they feel comfortable about that hard time. It can be done in a way that involves the pineapple, or it can be done in a way that’s, umm, I’m holding my baby, it’s a perfect photo of us, but really I was feeling so lost at the time. I think the power is we see these distorted images of parenthood and that messes with people’s heads when you are in a dark place. It shouldn’t be this perfect pixelated world that we’re looking at. It can be a perfect photograph of mother and child, but with a caption that really says where they’re at. And I think we’re moving more towards that.
NMS: Absolutely, yes, I couldn’t agree more. You’ve just completely said exactly what my first few months were like. My first few months were really difficult for me as well and now I’m through it and I look at photos of friends who recently had babies and I think ‘oh look how happy they are’ and full of love, and full of amazingness and I wasn’t. Let’s deal with that. It’s a lot about acceptance?
MP: Yes absolutely, and we don’t need to be Debbie Downer. And I think people feel, we’re very British about it, and that’s where I feel differently. The Dutch [Anna is half-Dutch] are really transparent. They say it how it is. “I feel bad. I’m feeling down. I don’t like that idea” rather than “Oh well we could do that, but how about trying this?” Nope, just say you don’t like the idea, say that you’re feeling sad, say that you’re feeling down, or you’re feeling happy. We’re not saying to completely bring everyone down on the internet, but there is a really big value on the internet of whether you have 16 followers or 16,000 to communicate the reality sometimes. And that’s important.
NMS: Yes, and the more people who are doing that, the better. The more the dialogue gets changed. So do you think talking is the way to break the stigma? Do you think there’s more to be done?
MP: Yeah, I think that the Internet maybe was seen was seen as a negative thing but can now be seen as a positive thing. And I think my feeling actually is, as someone called, do you know Parri plus 1, do you follow her? Single mum, suffered badly from depression. She is one of the most powerful people on Instagram, without a shadow of a doubt, she’s bigger to me than the Fearne Cottons, the 1 million follower people. She set out on an honest journey to document motherhood, not in that kind of “my kid’s a tw£t, I hate my life” kind of way, just a really honest, beautiful, poignant and at times sad way. And she’s come through that fug of depression, and she’s just started going out with someone recently, and you can just see her whole following following her and there must be women in there, there must be from the statistics, who’ve seen that journey and that’s helped them, so I think my feeling is to press those buttons actually. Not to feel pressure to but to share what you’re going through and connect with people like Parry plus 1 who get it. And that’s what I mean – I don’t need anyone telling me how to get out of this fug because I need to do that myself, I need empathy, I don’t need sympathy. I need a stack of jaffa cakes and someone to say “it’s shit. I’m here”. And that’s… whereas sympathy is like ‘well, at least you’ve got a nice kid?’
NMS: “At least” yes – worst phrase in the English language.
MP: Yeah, it is. So I think that would be my feeling – not to be overwhelmed by Instagram but see it as a tool to connect with people who may be going through the same thing. I think that’s very powerful and why I love it so much.
NMS: Yes, I couldn’t agree more. Would you say that, you are able to… I mean obviously your Instagram and your photos are gorgeous – the photos by Emily Gray that you work with a lot, for example, but if you were to photograph ‘imperfect’ for you, what would that look like?
MP: Err… tired! The behind the scenes – soggy cheerios in a bowl that’s been there for three days that I haven’t noticed. It will be like, you know those, dodgy pizza place leaflets that seem to be stacking up by the doors. It will be flowers where the water is getting really grim and I’m like ‘the flowers are there – psychologically I feel like I’ve got flowers in the house’. I think it’s all the details and the messiness and in many ways the love, the love that you have around you, the mess is to me a sign of life and I think that’s what’s so important. And my feeling on this is I have a very distanced, quite contrived Instagram. I don’t take photos in the moment ever because I’m scared of missing the moment. So I made a very very strategic decision at the beginning that I will provide an editorial service in a way, but I’m not going to be walking around going ‘that could be a great moment for Instagram’ because I just can’t do that. And the polish of this is because I’m quite transparent about needing to make money, and brands need the polish. So I’ve tried to combine ‘don’t wanna do this in the moment’ with ‘need polish for brands’ and captions is where the reality is. So it’s those three things that, well maybe I might have grown more quickly if I’d picked just one of those things, but for me to sustain this, it needs to be real life in terms of the words, but I need to have a bank of images that I can use, because I feared the phone taking over. I know my weaknesses, and if I was on a mission to make this part of my life then I would go to great extremes to make that happen, and I wasn’t ready to do that. So this is such a nice opportunity to pull back everything, and actually deliver, you know create photos that ARE real life. You know, we are a mess. We’re a shambles behind the scenes and I’ve never let anyone know that it’s anything but that. We’re working really hard as parents are, but we are, I think I said in my post today, we are the poorest we’ve ever been – I’ve virtually no money at the moment – my card got rejected in Tesco yesterday buying a cheese sandwich. But I’m in control of it all, even though it doesn’t look like it, I’m control because I’m able now to, once I’ve finished speaking to you, to go and pick up my kid. And that’s the money, that’s where it’s at. But the fact is, my life’s a mess and I’m looking forward to sharing that.
NMS: It’s great that there’ll be a nice balance for you – you’ll get the reality, but still a bank of photos in advance to you. One last question, what self-care time do you most enjoy and what would you like to do more of?
MP: It’s umm… it’s down time with Mae. Like, it’s having a bath with her when she’s contained and can’t go anywhere – hang on, that sounds really creepy…
NMS: Haha! No I get it! You need the barriers.
MP: It’s having that time and allowing yourself to go down that crazy toddler route instead of stopping them, instead of saying ‘you’ve got to get out the bath now, we’ve got to have dinner time’ – it’s when I’m absolutely at my happiest is when all the brakes are off and there’s no panic about when or how to do stuff. It might not be till Sunday, when we just get in the bath and just play. There are no phones, no anything. We just get in the bath and have fun. Allowing your kid to be goofy and allowing yourself to be goofy around them, I think that’s the biggest, the biggest enjoyment and the most fun, the most de-stressing thing you can do. I mean you’ve seen how we get Mae to paint my face, and she colours me in, and she can just do what she wants and it’s fun. And she knows that I’m still the boss, because I’m just generally bigger than her, and we have fun.
NMS: Yeah it definitely sounds that way. I think you have to be a bit like that in life generally don’t you? It’s like trying to stop your toddler climbing the stairs – you get a meltdown. If you let them just do it a bit before gently turning them round, it’s a lot easier and our minds and our lives are like that too – just let it climb the stairs a bit!
MP: Yes, exactly!
NMS: Well that’s all we have time for today – I have to run and pick up my little girl from nursery too. Thank you so much for taking the time! We really really appreciate it.
Check out the full campaign article on Huffington Post here.
Bag yourself an official Imperfect Is the New Black t-shirt in the new No More Shoulds shop. 100% of proceeds go to PANDAS Foundation to support women suffering from pre and postnatal depression.