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.

We met single mum Cathy, who champions the importance of nourishing yourself so you can nourish your kids; Lauren and Khiana, two mothers who are still climbing mountains with their kids on their backs; and Erik, whose decision to co-parent with his best friend has left him with a newfound respect for her and other mums…

Content warning: Includes mentions of child illness, childhood cancer, and premature birth.

This is Part 3 of our 3-part series. Check out Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Cathy

A photo of mum Cathy sitting on her sofa at home with her youngest child in her lap and her eldest sitting next to her looking at the camera

Image: Aliyah Otchere

“I feel it’s really important as a parent, especially as a single parent, to show yourself grace and love. Because if you don’t nourish yourself you can’t nourish your kids. I don’t want to lose myself for ten years. I don’t want to look back and think, 'The kids are fine. But what did I achieve for me?'

In the last year, I’ve prioritised my mental health and started therapy. It’s been great just to have that adult, in-depth conversation regularly where I can be myself and it doesn’t have to be about the kids. My coping mechanisms have always been to suppress my emotions or distract myself. But I asked myself: 'Do I want my kids to model this behaviour?' It’s not good for me and it’s also not good for them. Having kids is very exposing – you see parts of yourself and just think, 'Ohhh'.

As a child, I was incredibly affected by my own shyness. I was terrified of everything and everyone, and I’d cry all the time. Everything was overwhelming. But I’m seeing my eldest go through school, and her confidence has just rocketed. I’m really proud of her because she could so easily be how I was – she’d be within her rights to be like that – but she’s unabashedly, unashamedly herself. And I'm so proud of her for that, but I'm also proud of me for that. I think it shows me I’m doing alright.” – @thatsinglemum #LadybirdLoveUnfiltered

Cathy is a voice on disability justice and the intersection between disability, womanhood, and single motherhood. She shares snippets of her journey on her Instagram account.

Adele

A photo of mum Adele smiling whilst holding her child who is smiling and looking into the camera; they appear to be in a park

Image: Aliyah Otchere

“I found out I was pregnant when I was in my second year at university. I was studying, and working evenings and weekends. I took the test at work; I just couldn’t wait until I got home. When I saw the result, I called my best friend like, 'Oh, my god, I'm pregnant.' And then, obviously, I told my partner.

I ended up taking a year out of uni and went back when my son was nine months old to finish my degree. It was just a crazy time: what felt like a never-ending cycle of uni work, actual work, planning our wedding, looking after our baby.  

Parenting is a funny journey. In some aspects, I feel like I’ve kind of lost who I was a bit. But it’s also made me realise a lot of things about myself. I have a lot more patience, and way more strength than I ever gave myself credit for before. I think I get that from my mum. My dad passed away when I was a child, and she just had to pick up and carry on. To raise us on her own. My mother-in-law, too: she left behind a legacy of love and kindness. Those are the things she instilled into my husband and his brothers.

At the same time, this past year has taught me that I actually need to prioritise time for myself. I can't give all the things I want to give to my family if I'm not looking after me.” – @_mamamclean #LadybirdLoveUnfiltered

Adele is an Essex-based influencer who discusses lifestyle and motherhood through a lens of boundless positivity. 

Mark

A photo of father Mark holding up his young son; they are against a navy and gold wallpaper backdrop; Mark's son's hands are on his mouth and Mark is making a silly face whilst his son giggles

Image: Aliyah Otchere

“I met my wife on a ship where we worked together in the Navy. We were both deployed, but when we returned we were still interested in each other, thankfully! We had a little trip to London to celebrate our coming back and she just turned around to me in a restaurant and said, 'I want to have children'. I pretty much downed my pint and said yes. We had our sons Ollie in 2015 and Harris in 2018.

It was the beginning of July last year when Harris’s nursery called us and said they’d found some blood in his nappy. We went to the hospital for a scan and later that same day we were pulled into a room and were told the news. Harris was diagnosed with Wilms' tumour, a kidney cancer that primarily affects children. I just didn’t want to believe it.

Because of Covid, my wife and I weren’t allowed to bring Ollie or visit Harris in the hospital at the same time. So we took shifts at the hospital, just like we had in the Navy: For Noon Watch, Into The Dogs, and The Night Shift. We just focused on getting to the end of every shift in the best way that we knew how. Other than messages and the occasional FaceTime, it was hard to support one another; it was quite a lonely place. But at the end of a day in hospital, we would stay in a Home from Home provided by Young Lives vs Cancer near to where Harris was being treated. It was a much-needed place to rest and recuperate before going back to the ward and meant we didn’t have the stress of staying and paying for hotels as we were far from home. The charity really helped us at a time we needed it most.

Harris’ operation was a success and we only needed four more weeks of chemo. Which, compared to others, made us feel lucky in a way. But as much as ringing the bell was such a good moment, I see it as the middle, not the end of our journey. We still have to go to the hospital each week and we don’t want to make too many plans. For now, we’re focusing on our upcoming family holiday to Newquay, swimming (which Harris loves), and spending time together.” #LadybirdLoveUnfiltered

Mark is a Chief at the Royal Navy who tries to get out and play golf once in a while. He’s shared his story with us as part of his efforts to campaign for Young Lives vs Cancer, the UK’s leading charity that helps children and young people living with cancer and their families.

For further information or support, please visit the Young Lives vs Cancer website.

Lauren & Khiana

A photo of mums Lauren and Khiana with their two children; they are all sitting on a bed, Lauren is holding their youngest who is looking down and smiling at her older sibling who is laying on the bed with their feet up in the air

Image: Aliyah Otchere

I [Khiana] am the eldest of six kids, so I grew up constantly babysitting. I always knew I wanted to get married and have kids, so when we met I made it pretty clear that’s what I wanted. Whereas Lauren was quite career-driven, liked her social life, and never thought she wanted to settle down. But all of that changed. 

It takes a lot of planning for same-sex couples to have children. We went down the donor route and there were all these rules: we had to be married at the point of conception in order for both parents’ names to be on the birth certificate. We just didn’t know; it’s not talked about enough. So we had to move our wedding date forward! 

We made this pact that we were still going to be our own people when we had kids – still going to do our own things, have our own drives. If we want to hike a mountain, we're going to do it with the kids on our back; if we want to go travelling, we're going to do it with the kids by our side. We go hiking in the Lakes all the time: we get up and get out first thing in the morning. One grabs one; one grabs the other. We make sure we’re back for their bath and bed.” – @bloomandfolk #LadybirdLoveUnfiltered

Lauren and Khiana live in Lancashire where they can either be found behind the camera, hiking in nature, or advocating for a slow and considered life.   

Georgia

A photo of mum Georgia with her twin girls; they appear to be in the girls' bedroom and all three are smiling and looking directly into the camera

Image: Aliyah Otchere

“I can definitely say I was never really a maternal person before I got pregnant. I was loving life, doing a lot of travelling. I thought, 'Okay if I eventually have children, that's great. But it's not at the forefront of my mind for a very long time.'

So I was shocked that these motherly hormones kicked in after the labour was over: my body was craving my babies. My twins arrived two-and-a-half months early, so I didn’t get to hold them straight away. I was just looking at them in these incubators in the hospital. Looking back, it was an out-of-body experience and I can’t really remember what anyone said to me during that time. 

I thought I was going to be the perfect parent, but I’ve had to learn a lot of empathy, a lot of patience. Oh my god, do children humble you! Looking back at my own childhood, I realise that while my parents were creating this lovely, great world for me, they were also making sacrifices, and worrying in their own minds.

As a parent, there are times when you’re going to mourn your previous life and that’s okay. That’s totally normal. I think everyone with children goes through that. So don’t be so hard on yourself. You’re new at this. You can’t practise it. You need to learn to fill your own cup, set your boundaries. I don’t subscribe to mum guilt. I don’t think any woman should apologise for taking time out for herself. You’re a better mum when you have your own time, too.” – @ohsshittwins #LadybirdLoveUnfiltered

Georgia is an author and podcast host sharing the different experiences of families of multiples. She shares the realities, meltdowns, and giggles of being a twin-mum on her Instagram.

Erik

A photo of father Erik with his young baby girl; they are on a grey sofa; Erik is smiling and holding up the camera so the photo is a birds eye view

Image: Erik Munro

“Emma and I have been friends for over ten years. We’d spoken about having a baby together – we both wanted kids and hadn’t found life partners. So last year we both said: 'Let’s do this'. I was lucky enough to be there at the birth. I’ve developed a newfound respect for mums in general – what they go through physically and emotionally is immense. And specifically, Emma; she’s such a hardworking, loving, amazing woman. 

We have a beautiful friendship but, like any relationship, it’s hard work. You have to be honest and vulnerable – and share your thoughts, feelings, fears. Together we wrote a pre-conception ‘agreement’. It wasn't a legal document, but something we both signed to make sure we were aligned on things like education, religion, travel, names. And we used that as a framework for the counselling we both did before Daisy arrived. Planning ahead of time was important to us. I also found some friends of friends who are co-parents and just threw questions at them. It made us think: 'Okay, cool. These guys are functioning; it's working for them. We can do this'.

We lived together for the first three months after Daisy was born, as we knew this time would be very full-on. We had decided early on that Daisy would live with Emma for the first one to two years. We now have our own places and I see Daisy every other day – we spend the weekends as the three of us. It can feel busy juggling fatherhood with work. But, to be honest, any free time I have I want to spend it with Daisy, blowing raspberries.” – @erikmunro #LadybirdLoveUnfiltered

Erik lives in London where he runs his own interior design business and is hoping his Canadian parents will be able to fly over to meet Daisy soon.

Kie-Jo

A photo of grandmother Kie-Jo; she is in her home looking to the left of the picture out of her window

Image: Aliyah Otchere

“Meeting my granddaughter Ava for the first time after the lockdown was unbelievable; a flood of emotions. I wanted to cry but there were so many people around me. 

I had no doubt that my son would be such a good, loving, helpful father. In my eyes, he’s the ideal parent to his daughter. And for me, it’s so nice to be a grandmother; much easier than being a parent, when you’re constantly worrying about them. Because I was far away from home when I had mine, and I lost my mother at a young age, I could only consult books and – if something was wrong – call the doctor. A grandparent’s main responsibility is to love their grandchildren – to spoil them and give them lots of cuddles. 

For me, it’s very important to teach Ava about her Korean heritage; to give her an idea of where she comes from. She might learn about Korea in school, but I want her to learn about our family, our traditions. Not to influence her ideas; I just want to give her the knowledge.

I’m an avid reader; I want to know everything. I can’t stand not knowing things about the world around me. I used to want to write books; now I want to be an essayist. I can’t wait to tell Ava my Korean stories and write about her. But most of all, I want her to know that she can always rely on me. I will always love her.” – @kiejosarsfield #LadybirdLoveUnfiltered

Kie-Jo lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband Neil, where she’s learning Spanish and writing her own Korean recipe book to give to her children. And her children’s children. 

Explore the Love Unfiltered series

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