Keshia Knight Pulliam on Life, Facing Bias and Raising Babies

The actress, director, executive producer and mom shares how she juggles it all.
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By Lauren Barth, Associate Content Director, Lifecycle
Published April 10, 2024
Keshia Knight Pulliam and her two children at home
Image: Courtesy Keshia Knight Pulliam | Instagram

Keshia Knight Pulliam has been in the biz for four decades. As Rudy Huxtable in the iconic television series The Cosby Show, Pulliam is arguably America’s favorite little sister. Of course, she’s no longer the cute pigtailed 5-year-old we all knew and loved in 1984–and her career didn’t end when Rudy grew up. Rather, Pulliam has continued working in front of (and behind) the camera making movie and TV magic happen. As a director, producer, actress and talk-show host, she juggles all the balls and manages to do so with her real-life family by her side (and sometimes even strapped to her chest!). A devoted wife and mom of two littles, Pulliam isn’t willing to sacrifice her work or her family time. The Bump recently chatted with Pulliam about how she makes it happen and stays present for her loved ones. Here’s what she had to say.

The Bump: You’ve had such a long running career. Arguably, you played the most iconic TV daughter of all time. Did you always know that you wanted to be a mom yourself?

Keshia Knight Pulliam: I did. Family has always been the most important thing to me. I come from a big loving, boisterous family myself. I’m the oldest of four—I have three brothers. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t look forward to having a family of my own.

TB: You’ve been outspoken about women’s fertility rights and your own personal journey to parenthood. I know you froze your eggs at 41 because you wanted to have a second child, but the timing wasn’t right. You executive produced and were featured in the documentary Eggs Over Easy, that focuses on fertility issues among Black women. You’ve been so vocal about your personal experience, but so many Black women feel that they can’t open up about these struggles. Why do you think it’s such a taboo topic, and what’s the ultimate message you’re looking to share through Eggs over Easy?

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KKP: When you’re growing up, the message is “don’t get pregnant.” And then you never really anticipate that when you decide that you’re ready, it won’t happen effortlessly. The sad thing is that so many women suffer in silence. You may talk about so many other things, but a lot of times, it’s not until you have a miscarriage yourself that you realize how many [couples] around you have had that same experience because they’ve gone through it and not shared what’s going on with them.

The more that we share our stories, the more that we empower each other and the more that we make sure that other people don’t feel alone—especially in this time when our reproductive rights and our uteruses are under so much scrutiny.

Image: Courtesy Keshia Knight Pulliam | Instagram

TB: You’re also active in shining a light on the Black maternal health crisis. We, of course, know that some of the alarming statistics boil down to systemic racism and bias within the healthcare system. I know with your first child, you spoke about how you were subject to bias after the birth of your daughter. How did you learn from that experience? Did you experience anything similar in your second pregnancy or during the birth of your son? And how has the way you advocate for yourself in medical situations changed since that initial experience?

KKP: It’s real in our society. You can’t help if there is racial bias within a person—and understand that those people work in all fields and facets. They’re not just quarantined in one little aspect of life. They’re definitely everywhere. So it’s something that you have to deal with, but—at the end of the day—it’s about advocating for yourself and not being afraid to speak up. Also, I think it really matters that when you’re choosing a doctor, you’re interviewing them. It works both ways. I feel like a lot of people just feel like, “Oh, I have to go with this doctor.” No, you have the right to ask questions. What are their philosophies? Get to know this person.

It’s a very intimate experience. Your doctor is probably one of the most important people in your life, and you need to make sure that you have synergy and alignment. And if you don’t, there’s nothing wrong with getting a new doctor. I think a lot of people don’t [realize that.] So I’m actually really fortunate because my ob-gyn has been my doctor for probably a good two decades. She’s an amazing African-American woman who is just so knowledgeable and talented in her field. She has an amazing team, and it’s really about the people that you surround yourself with and that, quite frankly, you entrust your life to.

TB: You’ve touched on your experience with miscarriage. What message do you have for moms who are going through emotional trauma?

KKP: First, I’d say to the women who’ve experienced miscarriage, it’s not your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong. Know that there are many, many roads to motherhood, and if you truly desire to be a mother, you will be. For some reason it almost feels like your body is betraying you. You go through that kind of “could have or should have” [mentality], and you can’t help it no matter how confident you are, no matter how much you understand the science. And, quite frankly, your hormones are all over the place.

Image: Courtesy Keshia Knight Pulliam | Instagram

TB: What was it like when you got pregnant with your son—your rainbow baby? I know you waited a while to go public with your pregnancy. What was that private time?

KKP: He’s just such a joy. I’m so grateful. I’m so grateful that we had that private time that was just ours to just enjoy every moment, to enjoy every heartburn, every uncomfortable moment—embracing it, because it’s a part of the process. You have a healthy human being growing inside of you. Yes, Mommy catches all the side effects, but also knowing that he was well was all that I needed.

TB: What’s been the biggest joy and biggest challenge of your breastfeeding journeys?

KKP: The biggest joy is that bonding time that you get that’s just yours. It’s a very finite time. In the greater scheme of things, it’s so short. I just love the snuggle. I love looking into my little one’s eyes. I’ve breastfed both on demand. And I have two children who are very strong-willed. I don’t know where they got it from, and neither one of them wanted to take a bottle. So that part is challenging. You’re just juggling everything. The good thing is whether I was working on House of Pain or Married at First Sign After Party or directing even, I had the flexibility to stop and breastfeed. I make sure that I build that into my schedule on the front end.

TB: You wear so many hats and have so many different roles: directing, acting, executive producing. You’re a wife, you’re a mom, you live life on a farm. What do you do that’s just for you?

KKP: I think all moms can understand this: When you have kids, you have a husband, you have a career, you tend to prioritize everyone else’s needs over your own, until you hit that wall and you’re like, ‘Okay, you know what? I got to make some time for myself!’ So meditation is really important to me.

TB: You had your second in your early 40s. What has been the best part (and most challenging part) of being a mom to two young kids in your early 40s?

KKP: The best thing is when you’re an older mom, I think you appreciate it a little more because you’ve had fun, you’ve lived life, you’ve kicked it, you’ve done all the things. So now you can really just turn your focus on these two little humans who are looking to you… They get the best of you. I love that. The downside, of course, is you’re older, so you’re a little tired. You may not have as much spunk and energy as you may have had at 20-something or even in your early thirties. But I manage, and I think it’s important for moms to know that your best on any given day looks different—but it’s always good enough. Be easy with yourself. You may not be able to do all the things all the time. Listen to yourself, and give yourself grace. You’re also teaching your children how to do that when you do that.

TB: What’s been your biggest, proudest professional moment to date that you’re most excited to share with your kids once they’re a little bit older?

KKP: The good thing is I share it with them in real time. When I’m working, they come with me as a family. We make it a priority. If you look at our calendar on our phones, it’s very colorful and color coordinated, but we make it work and we make sure that when we’re traveling, we don’t spend more than a couple days away from the kids or each other. So if we have to be somewhere, they come with us. Two summers ago—right before I had Knight—I was directing a Hallmark channel movie that my husband starred in. So it was the whole family. I have such amazing photos of [our daughter] on set, sitting in my lap from the director’s chair, yelling “action”. Most recently, I directed episodes of House of Pain, and I was literally wearing my son. I’m on set giving actors direction, setting up camera shots with him in a baby carrier in front of me. They are so much a part of the process.

Image: Courtesy Keshia Knight Pulliam | Instagram

TB: You and your husband work closely together in many ways. How does that help you guys work through confrontation in your everyday life?

KKP: We’re a really great team. But, by virtue of people, we’re not always going to see eye to eye. One thing that I really love about my husband and I is that we’re really good at talking things out and seeing each other’s perspectives. One thing that we did that was really important before when we first started dating—before we got engaged, before we decided to get married— as a prerequisite was to go to couples counseling. That’s something that’s important to us that we continue to do, and we look at it not as fixing a problem, but allowing us to have the language and the vocabulary to communicate with each other.

And it’s like having a treasure chest. The more treasures you have in that chest, the more things you have to pull from. And it’s not about when you need them from a standpoint of conflict, but also how do you communicate appreciation? How do you communicate love to ensure that the other person feels and receives it? It’s bigger than “you didn’t do the dishes.” And the biggest thing that I’ve learned is that you have to separate roommate issues from relationship issues because it’s inevitable. Personality differences become differences that create strength in our relationship.

TB: Your early career started on Sesame Street, which was a staple for so many of us. So which shows are your kids loving right now? What are their favorites?

KKP: We are Bluey household. My little one is kind of in a bit of a Cocomelon phase. Let’s see, my daughter likes anything with horseback riding, a farm or gymnastics. So we are aficionados of all the things.

TB: What’s the best piece of parenting advice you’ve received and who did it come from?

KKP: It’s not a piece of advice, it’s a role model. My mom is the greatest. I’m biased a little bit, but she’s honestly the greatest mother and grandmother ever. She spends every day with us. I have learned how to be a mom and a wife through her example. I’m still very grateful for her, and I’m grateful that not only have I had the opportunity to learn from her, but that my children now have that opportunity to spend every day with her and to receive the love that she gives.

TB: If you had to describe your parenting style in three emojis, which ones would you choose?

KKP: This is going to sound super abstract. I’d say a sun, a heart and a wave. With parenting, it’s really about being intuitive and being in the moment. Every child is different. And what I realized is that our children come here with their divine assignment and are who they are. Our job isn’t to change them. Our job is to empower them and to help guide them and love them.

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