When you’re a parent, life often revolves around the little human beings you’re raising. Their sleep schedule dictates your sleep schedule. ‘Me time’ becomes their time. We mark their birthdays with cake and candles, but sometimes forget to toast our own milestones.

So, here at Ladybird, we want to celebrate you: the parents, grandparents, and carers. That’s why, for Summer 2021, we've captured 21 real portraits of parenthood in our photo series, Love Unfiltered. Primarily photographed by Aliyah Otchere, with additional international photography by Shirlene Loo and Otavia Smith, the series is accompanied by interviews with each of the families involved.

In Part 1, we meet eight inspiring humans including Baff, whose girls love laughter so much that it’s made him funnier; Selina, who ‘unschools’ her children to allow them to explore who they are; and Sophie, who watched the entire Avengers series on mute to avoid waking the baby!

Content warning: Includes mentions of family separation, deportation, emergency C-section, birth experience, and pregnancy loss.

Baff

A photo of father Baff smiling and cuddling his two children against a white wall

Image: Aliyah Otchere

“Since becoming a Dad, I’ve become so much more understanding, caring, and patient. But I also feel like I’ve become funnier! Kids need joy, they always want to laugh. So when we’re doing things like cleaning the house I always make sure I get a tickle in there. I love making them smile. They make me want to be the best version of myself. 

I always felt that being a Dad would allow me to pass on my “bad knowledge” as well as my good; what I’ve learned from my mistakes. I felt like it would be a great learning curve for me. And it has been. They’re two little comedians who bring me so much joy. From the first moment my eldest was born, I was filled with love. Tears pouring down my face. I didn’t know that I could be this happy.  

It’s been difficult, too. Especially being an entrepreneur and a father, because financially you’re relying on yourself and then on top of that, your kids are relying on you too. You don’t know if it’s going to work out or not. Sometimes my kids come on the deliveries with me. They get to see how hard their dad is working. Even though you may think they don’t understand, I think it’s being embedded within them. It’s like my grandma used to say: 'It’s not what you leave your children, it’s what you leave in them.'” – @bragsboogie #LadybirdLoveUnfiltered

Baff is an ex-footballer and the co-founder of Trap Fruits, the community greengrocers that deliver fresh fruit to doors across London. 

Mel & Jon

A photo of parents Mel and Jon with their two children sitting on their bed. Mel is breastfeeding their youngest child whilst their eldest holds a stuffed toy

Image: Aliyah Otchere

“The experience of having our first child was so different from our second. The first was a surprise. We were being a bit careless – or carefree would be a nicer way of putting it – and we weren’t ready financially. We remember feeling like we still had one foot in our old lives – where we were all about work accomplishments and travel – and another foot in parenthood. Now we’re more grounded. So with our second, even though he was born in a pandemic, it’s been much easier.  

Parenthood has made me [Mel] more anxious. When we had our first baby, I was deported from the UK on the back of some pretty bad immigration advice. They withheld my passport and gave me a week to leave, even though we had set up our life here. So Juneau and I went to Canada and Jon stayed here. It was a six-month period of Jon not being able to see his daughter, and she was changing so much. 

It tested my independence as a parent and gave me a whole new appreciation for single parents like my own mum. It taught me to lean on people more, because that's often such a hard thing when you're a new parent; you don't want to admit that you're drowning even if you feel like you are. I had to call upon school friends and stuff to ask for help. It was a pivotal moment." – @mel__mckechnie and @jon.mckechnie #LadybirdLoveUnfiltered

Mel and Jon are parents to two children, aged three and 10 months. More often than not, they can be found on the yoga mat (Mel) or riding the waves (Jon) right outside their flat by the sea.

Sophie

A photo of mother Sophie sitting in her wheelchair smiling and holding her young child against a backdrop of houses and greenery

Image: Aliyah Otchere

“We live in a bungalow, so when Zyra was a tiny baby we were so worried about waking her that we kept the volume really low on the TV.  We watched the entire Avengers series through subtitles. If I could rewind back time to before I had a baby, I’d enjoy those stupid things like having the TV on loud. Sometimes now I watch a YouTube video while I do my makeup and that’s my little bit of time to go back to me.

I always wanted children growing up, but I never thought about what it would be like to be a parent with a disability. I’d love to be able to be on the floor with her or pick her up when she cries, but I can’t; I have to ask the carer, or whoever’s there, to pass her to me. 

For the most part, you learn to adapt. I try to focus on the things that I can do, like breastfeeding (which wasn’t easy at first – Zyra was born by C-section so the milk didn’t come through to begin with). Bubbles are our new thing: I blow them for Zyra to pop. Or sometimes she has a little ride on my footplates. She’ll grow up knowing that’s how it is and it’ll be our life. Our way of doing things. 

I'm awful at comparing myself to other parents on social media. 'Zyra isn’t doing that yet but their baby is!' or 'That parent’s going out to that class and I'm not doing that!' But you can't pressure yourself all the time. You’re doing the best you can. That’s all anyone can do.” – @fashionbellee #LadybirdLoveUnfiltered

Sophie is a mum to one-year-old Zyra. She blogs about lifestyle, fashion in full colour, and parenting with a disability. 

Prema

A photo of father Prema in the bath; he is laying down and holding his child on his chest who is looking directly into the camera

Image: Otavia Smith

“It’s 17 November, I’m fast asleep – having a whale of a time in my dream in a jungle or somewhere – and I just feel something above me. I wake up to my partner standing over me and she says, 'We need to talk'. Normally when she says that it’s because I’ve done something wrong. But it was a beautiful surprise: she was pregnant. 

I realised I didn’t have to stop my lifestyle because I have a child; she’s a plus to my life. My partner, Otavia, and I own a restaurant together and, because we bring Alaia there, she’s used to noise. She’s so chilled – she’s the easiest part of my life. I even take her to the gym – I do my squats when I’m holding her. Of course, the workout takes longer or needs to be moderated, but we just adapt. We haven’t given up any part of ourselves. 

I’ve also really learnt to stop and smell the roses. I’m a very 150 miles per hour, three or four projects on at a time, sort of person. Otavia and I are both actors, we run our restaurant together, and I’ve also started a mental health charity. Sometimes, as human beings, we feel guilty if we stop and do nothing; like we’re not contributing. But I don’t want to miss a beat with my girl. We came back to my home state and put our acting on hold to be with our daughter. In years to come, I’m going to look back and remember every moment.” – @premasmith #LadybirdLoveUnfiltered

Prema and his family live in Devonport, Australia where you can also find their restaurant Prem’s Seafood Bar & Grill. 

Linh

A photo of mother Linh sitting in a garden holding and kissing her child on the head

Image: Aliyah Otchere

“I think we need to talk about birth experiences more. I’m into anything holistic and natural and so I’d always planned to have a water birth with candles everywhere and my music on. I was really positive about everything, and genuinely thought I’d enjoy the whole experience. But things didn't go to plan. 

I had a really long labour: 40 hours. It started out pretty normal but it got to a point where I wasn’t progressing, so I was moved from the birth centre to the labour ward. I’d really hoped to have a vaginal birth but in the end, we were told we needed to have an emergency C-section. Obviously, I was exhausted and wanted to get the baby out safely; that was the most important thing to me. But it was a lot to go through – emotionally and physically.  

When I first saw our baby, I thought, 'Wow, he’s got a lot of hair!' But also a sudden sense of needing to protect and hold him. It’s only been six weeks since Sebastian was born, but I’ve already got this new-found sense of patience. Newborns don't know how to communicate, and it can be hard when they’re crying in the middle of the night and you don’t know why. I think I was pretty impatient before. Now, I’m learning to communicate with him, as he does with me. Nobody knows what they're doing at the beginning, and that's the truth! You can read all the books and follow all the Instagrams but every baby is different.” – @linhlyharris #LadybirdLoveUnfiltered

Linh is a jewellery designer with an eye for trends. After a brief stint in New York, she returned to London to be closer to her friends and family before the birth of her son. 

If you need support coping with emotions after a C-section, we recommend these resources from Tommy's.

Selina

A photo of mother Selina sitting in her garden on a doorstep with plants to the right of the picture and a wicker chair to the left

Image: Aliyah Otchere

“I was that kid whose school reports would say, 'She's very chatty'. My sister says you can put me in any room and I'll be able to come out with a new best friend. The sort of person who knows the bus driver’s life story. So I feel blessed that the work that I do is wrapped in community, talking to people, and listening to their stories. 

In a world that speaks about 'bringing your whole self to work', I feel it’s not always true for mothers, and this needs to change. There are many places in society where mothers aren’t seen, and this includes the world of work. We are often expected to work and mother but keep parts of our identity invisible.

I give my children the space to explore, to submerge themselves into whatever interests them that month: whether that’s dolphins and oceans or – my daughter’s latest obsession – a Japanese artist who makes miniature objects. That way, they’ll figure out a lot more about themselves now rather than later. In Islam, there’s a principle called Fitrah, which means original disposition, natural constitution, your innate nature. That’s the way children enter the world, it’s the way we all do. It might be our role to help them see their nature or uncover it, but not to give it to them. Otherwise, I think you might end up squashing them. Dimming their light or projecting your own wants.

My children have taught me mindfulness: to be more fluid and open to the world. Just the other day, I set up a football playdate for my son. We had this whole plan, this structure. But when we got to the park the kids saw the cherry blossom dancing through the air and just wanted to chase it. So that’s what we did. We met life where it met us.” – @selinabakkar #LadybirdLoveUnfiltered

Selina is the COO of Amaliah, an editorial platform dedicated to amplifying Muslim voices; an unschooler to her two children; and a lover of the natural world. 

Ashleigh

A photo of parents Ashleigh and Dan holding their two children; they're sitting on a yellow armchair in their home and all are laughing and smiling

Image: Aliyah Otchere

“Our first experience of parenthood was a loss, at 16 weeks. There are so many parents who go through the same thing, but it’s not something that gets spoken about often. It should be. I thought, 'Are we allowed to grieve?' but of course we are. 

We now have our daughter, Alleppey, and our son, Atticus. Before I was pregnant, I had this vision of pregnancy being a woman with a swollen belly prancing through a grassy meadow in a white dress. But we went to Iceland when I was pregnant with Alleppey and I was throwing up on glaciers. It can be ugly, stressful, and exhausting sometimes. But equally, it’s awe-inspiring: you realise your body is amazing.

Before I had kids, I was a touring musician and Dan and I did lots of travelling together. But the world is still a big place once you have children; you can take them with you. When we travel as a family, everyone’s extra welcoming. Everyone wants to say hi to the baby – it’s a different experience. And you see things through the kids’ eyes too. In the process of going, 'Look at that waterfall' or 'There’s a parrot!' you start to look at things from their view up. It’s beautiful. 

I work in film and I do a lot of work behind the scenes to advocate for women and mothers in the industry. Flexible working, job-sharing. I’ve dedicated ten years of my life to this career, and if having children means I need to work part-time for a couple of years, it doesn’t mean my qualifications are any less valid or my experience is void. I’ve been able to reconcile my creativity and my motherhood.” - @_theconstantwonderer #LadybirdLoveUnfiltered

Ashleigh and her husband Dan both work in the film industry. When they’re not travelling the world with their children on their backs, they’re tag-teaming at home. 

For support and information on pregnancy loss, visit Tommy's.

Explore the Love Unfiltered series

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