After miscarriage, solace can sometimes be found in the most unexpected places.
When Anna Whitehouse, from London, was coping with the grief of losing a baby, she could have kicked herself for having told her toddler she was pregnant.
Little did the mum-of-one realise that her daughter Mae would help counsel her through the loss.
Mae displayed a three-year-old’s knack for picking the ‘perfect’ moment to bring up the topic of babies with Whitehouse.
The pair were with Whitehouse’s mother on a packed Central Line Tube train when Mae hollered: “Mama when’s your baby coming out?” as she attempted to lift up Whitehouse’s top.
“In that moment, I was dying inside,” Whitehouse, 35, founder of parenting website Mother Pukka, told The Huffington Post UK.
“I did not know how to navigate this. I was on the verge of crying in front of my daughter and a whole load of people on the Tube.”
“But instead I sucked it up and was 100% honest,” Whitehouse continued.
“I wasn’t entirely sure it was the right thing to do. I thought oh god, my mum’s seeing me parent like this, is this right?
“But I just went with it, because the alternative was Mae seeing me breaking and I didn’t want that, and I didn’t want the rest of the Tube to see that.”
Whitehouse told her daughter that she didn’t have a baby in her belly any more. And then came the inevitable questions:
“What happened to the baby? Did it fall out?”
Which Whitehouse answered as honestly as she could:
“Yes, sometimes babies don’t stay in. Hopefully another one will be in there soon.”
The conversation was never going to be an easy one, but there was no sadness, no tears. Mae wasn’t traumatised, far from it - she calmly accepted Whitehouse’s answers and concluded that: “you can have another one”
And just like that the “difficult conversation” was over and Whitehouse felt a shift in her own feelings: from a private pain, which she was protecting her daughter from, to a sense of acceptance. There was still grief, but it was easier to manage.
“We’ve had a lot of miscarriages in the past and I’ve never really managed it very well emotionally,” Whitehouse said.
“This was the first time we generally were fixed a lot sooner because Mae kept saying: ‘ok so it didn’t work out this time, no worries, you can have one next time.’
“I’d tell her: there’s a chance I might not have another one, and she’d just smile and say ‘ok’. That’s life, she gets that. And her directness is healing.
“As you become more of an adult you don’t actually know how to communicate about emotions. But toddlers aren’t afraid of saying the wrong thing.
“I think that constant dialogue with somebody so innocent and open to the world, who is just trying to understand it all, has really helped my mindset this time.”
An integral part of parenting is supporting your children in times of need, but Whitehouse’s experience has led her to realise this is very much a two-way street.
“Mae does look after us,” she said.
“By giving her a more transparent connection to what’s going on with her parents I’ve noticed her grow so much. She’s part of our family, not just an appendage - somebody who has to do what she’s told.
“She discusses things with us, we ultimately have the final call, but it’s a conversation. That’s what’s changed.”
Being a role model is also something that works both ways for the family, as Whitehouse has learned a lot from her daughter.
“Honesty is of the essence in Mae’s mindset, so I’ve stopped beating around the bush,” she said.
“When talking about things that I maybe would have sugar coated previously, now we’ll just have a very open conversation. I”ll say: ‘Mum’s feeling a bit down and this is why’, and then she can ask her questions.
“That way she understands what’s going on, instead of maybe picking up a vibe and not understanding it.”
It’s not just in their personal lives that Mae and Whitehouse have formed a partnership. They’re also work partners.
In January 2016 Whitehouse left her job as senior copywriter at L’Oreal to work full-time on Mother Pukka, the website she created “for people who happen to be parents”.
Her employers were “great” and did everything they could to give her as much flexibility as possible, but Whitehouse wasn’t happy with how her life was divided between her time as a mother and her time as a worker.
“I wanted to pioneer a new working space, one that let me see my kid, and I realised that the only way I could do that was to actually work with her,” explained Whitehouse.
“We are a little team. Mae has her own miniature laptop and we sit next to each other in cafes and do our thing.
“Her voice is on all the blogs and she comes with me to meetings, even ones with big brands. She‘s at the head of the table colouring in and occasionally interrupting our big chats to ask for a glass of water.
“It can be hard work, so I like to make sure she knows she’s making money for the family as much as I am, so that we can go on holiday and do nice things. I think it’s really important she understands that financial return.
“Like being honest with her at that moment on the Tube, it is helping her gain an understanding of how the world works.
“No matter how many algebra equations children have to do at school it won’t prepare you for the simple fact you have to pay that mortgage.
“It’s not something that would work for everyone. But it’s our way of doing things and it means I get to see her grow up and she gets to see what it is to grow up.”
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, Whitehouse admits she was “crippled with fear” when the time came to hand in her notice at L’Oreal, and Mae’s presence in meetings can sometimes be distracting to say the least.
“We were in a really important meeting with Citroen and Mae piped up ‘Mumma’s got a saggy hoo-ha’,” she said.
“There’s no other business colleague that you’d expect to reveal that level of detail about your life!
“Everyone starts laughing. You can’t help but laugh and then that lightens the mood.”
Mae’s directness helped inspire Mother Pukka’s name and tone of voice.
“Mae’s taught me to just say what you think, some people will like what you’re saying, some won’t, don’t be mean, never be mean but it’s just about having that strength to believe in what you’re saying,” said Whitehouse.
“Mother Pukka is quite a punchy name. We tackle quite punchy issues, we speak from the heart.”
Having her family and her work so closely intertwined has helped Whitehouse to thrive.
“I love this work and I’m so happy I’ve put that right at the top of my priorities,” she said. “And Mae’s right up there with it - in it.
“She’s part of the DNA, just as I’m part of her.”
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