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 2, we meet our next nine incredible parents and grandparents, including Huma, who describes the small moments of love – when they throw their arms around you or pick you a daisy – as more than making up for the difficult times; Kreena, whose love for her surrogates is infectious; and Carl, whose children made him realise there’s more to life than an ultra-competitive career.

Content warning: Includes mentions of the loss of a parent, cancer, fertility, IVF, and stillbirth.

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

Huma

A photo of mum Huma kissing her young son on the lips inside their home; on either side of them are two yellow and ornate cabinets

Image: Aliyah Otchere

“When I was in my 20s, I was desperate to know what my future would be. I lost my father as a young adult and even though it’s something I could never have prepared for, that lack of control made me seek certainty in other areas of my life. 

Having children changed that side of me. Although I still love making lists and crossing them off, I now know I can’t control everything. I have to embrace that unpredictability and spontaneity. 

Parenthood is overwhelming but in the most beautiful and magical way. It's raw and it's messy and it can be painful and difficult. But it's love as well. It’s the little things that happen every day – one of them picks you a daisy or the other one just flings their arms around you for no reason. Those are the moments that make up for the really tough bits. 

I do worry for them. I’m not a very confident person myself. I think it comes with being a writer. That self-doubt is part of the creative process, but it's also a part of who I am on a personal level. And I have to check in with that, because I need my children to feel that they can be confident; I don’t want them to feel like I do.

All three of my boys share a bedroom, and there are times when we can hear that they’ve stayed awake talking and my husband will be like, 'Oh my God, it's nine o'clock and they're still talking” and he'll go and tell them quite sternly to go to sleep. But I kind of love that. I love the fact that they have each other and they have this little world without us. That’s setting them up for something. It’s setting them up to be friends for life.” – @humaqureshiwriter #LadybirdLoveUnfiltered

Huma is an award-winning writer of both articles and books, and a mum to three boys aged three, five, and seven. 

Oke

A close up photo of father Oke with his daughter and wife; Oke and his wife are both looking at their daughter whilst she is looking up at her mother

Image: Aliyah Otchere

“I love being a father. They don’t tell you what you’re signing up for beforehand, and it’s not easy, but it’s so worth it. In my line of work as a family lawyer, I meet a lot of families going through really difficult situations. But all of the parents I’ve met have loved and bonded with their children in the best way they possibly could. I’d like to think that’s the common thread. Love.

I've always been classed as someone who's quite laid back and takes things in their stride. But my first experience of being a father was an eye-opening one. I think the biggest thing I've gleaned from being a parent is being level with them. If you’re honest with them then they’ll be the same with you.

I found my wife’s last pregnancy especially hard because we already have two children. And because she had a difficult pregnancy, I found myself doing a lot of the day-to-day running around with the kids. Obviously, that’s nowhere near as hard as giving birth to a child, but the build-up can be tough on a dad too. 

The biggest difference with our youngest has been the pandemic. When my older two were in the very early stages I didn’t get to see them during the day – just before and after work. But working from home has been a great way to bond. To have ten-minute breaks where I get to see my daughter smiling has been a blessing.” #LadybirdLoveUnfiltered

Oke is a father of three who lives in Liverpool, where he works as a family lawyer.

Nic & Mark

A photo of grandparents Nic and Mark with their grandchild; they are in a wooded area and all three at crouched down on the ground. Mark looks at the camera, Nic looks at Mark and their grandchild is playing with something on the ground

Image: Aliyah Otchere

“Becoming grandparents was a feeling we weren't prepared for. We know what it’s like to be parents; your heart expands to look after your kids. But there’s a capacity that we have, as humans, to expand even more. The thing that amazed us is, as well as this new relationship with our granddaughter, we grew another set of love for our daughter while watching her change. 

It’s just so gorgeous to see your children grow into a new season of their lives. There's a shifting and a quickening within the family unit that’s hard to define. As they've all grown into adults, they're people who we would choose to hang out with; to choose as our friends. Maybe that’s because we always embraced taking them with us to events: gigs, pubs, festivals. There’s less of a hierarchical relationship, and that’s paid dividends now.

We used to think that when the children grew up, then we’d have a gap. A time where we could do all the things that we’d forgotten that we wanted to do. But since our granddaughter was born and all our kids have moved back to our home because of the pandemic, it’s really made it obvious: there isn’t going to be a gap. So we take that time now, instead. Sometimes the two of us go for a walk before anyone’s up, and it's just really nice to have that closeness of walking together.” – @nicshayler and @markshayler #LadybirdLoveUnfiltered

Nic and Mark are parents of four and have recently become grandparents. They welcomed home their children and new granddaughter Juni for lockdown. They love movement – cycling, yoga, dog walks – and gathering around their bonfire pretending they’re camping.  

Luke & Andy

A photo of fathers Luke and Andy hanging clothes on a washing line in their back garden; they are surrounded by a swing and two toy cars

Image: Aliyah Otchere

“Today’s an exciting day because we officially become dads to the two most amazing children. It’s the beginning of our Family Adventures! And even though we’ve been on this adoption journey for over 22 months, all the butterflies are coming back up. Just like on the first day that we met them. 

We were so nervous on that first drive to see our children – palms sweating, heart pounding. We had all this information – after so many calls, meetings with our social worker, the children's social worker, the foster carer, the foster carer's social worker. But we were still like: 'What if these children don't like us?' But wow, it was amazing. Afterwards, we sat in the car gathering our thoughts. Eventually, Andy just said, 'Bloody hell, I didn’t think they’d be that small.'

Even as a same-sex male couple you still get the pressure of, 'When are you two going to have babies?' and it’s like 'Woah, hang on a minute!' We actually went on holiday to talk about it, away from everyone else’s opinions. We decided we’d been together for eleven years, had been married for four, and we didn’t want a silent house anymore. Andy’s always been such a cool cucumber. But sometimes I [Luke] hear him in the living room doing the Jaws theme tune chase with the kids and I just think I couldn’t imagine a better dad to bring our children up with. They’re so loved, and they don’t even know it yet.” – @the_merrimans #LadybirdLoveUnfiltered

Luke and Andy are fathers to two adopted children, looking forward to a future of travel and adventures. Andy is the cool cucumber; Luke is the self-proclaimed loud one.

Kreena

A photo of mum Kreena smiling into the camera and sitting on her bed with her triplets in her lap

Image: Aliyah Otchere

“All my children were born through surrogacy because I lost my fertility after chemotherapy for breast cancer. I asked my oncologist if I could have a round of IVF to harvest embryos before the chemo, and he very reluctantly agreed. Surrogacy is wonderful, but it's emotionally difficult for an intended mother. When I was young and I thought of pregnancy, I’d think of sitting on the bathroom floor waiting for two lines to appear on a pregnancy test. Or sitting on the sofa watching a movie, my partner putting his hand on my belly and feeling a kick. 

People always ask: 'How do you know your surrogate’s the one?' But you just know; it's like finding a life partner. I knew when I met Ina that I really wanted her to carry my baby if she wanted to. She just felt so special; there was a connection. Our families got along and there was this chemistry. So we watched Amaala grow inside her. Whenever we could meet, we would meet, just to spend time with one another. We went to scans together and had lazy lunches. Ina played my voice to Amaala through these things called bellybuds. It was a very romantic pregnancy. 

Since Amaala, we’ve also become parents to triplets, through our second amazing surrogacy journey. Being a parent to triplets is brilliant, but there are things that you physically can't do with three babies compared to if you had one. You can’t hold them while feeding, and we’re realising that when the boys are distressed they don’t find comfort in tight hugs, because they’re not as used to being held. So parenthood is chaotic, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I was told that I may not live to see my 40th birthday, but I’m here, aged 41, the mother of four children. I moved mountains to be a mum.” – @kreenadhiman #LadybirdLoveUnfiltered

Mum-of-four Kreena overcame cancer and heart failure, wrote a book, hosts a podcast, and inspires hundreds of women facing challenges with hope every day.

Megan

A photo of mum Megan smiling, crouched down by a tree with her daughter who is also looking into the camera; Megan is wearing a lilac dress and her daughter is wearing a yellow dress

Image: Aliyah Otchere

“I was 19 and my boyfriend and I had only known each other for two months when I found out I was pregnant. I was meant to be going to Australia – I wanted to travel before I started my nurse training the following September. It was a huge shock. It just hadn’t been in my life plan for five or ten years. 

When my sister found out she said: 'It’s what you were meant to do; you were meant to have a baby. It’s just sped up.' And it’s impacted my life for the better: I’ve met people I hadn’t ever thought I’d meet before – lots of parents who are a lot older than me, and other mums my age. It’s forced me to speak to different people. There’s a community element to parenthood that I like. 

It’s also changed the way I see the world. I used to be so cynical. I used to be so worried about Trump, American politics, that sort of thing. Now I focus on things on a smaller level: helping my patients and making sure the baby's okay, rather than the whole world.  

Having had a baby has made me a better nurse. I talk to patients the way I wanted to be spoken to when I was pregnant. Throughout my pregnancy, I think it was hard for some midwives to communicate with me, maybe because of my age or that I was a first-time mum. So now I make sure I always listen to my patients and never make assumptions. I only judge them really if they support Liverpool instead of Everton!” #LadybirdLoveUnfiltered

Megan is a Liverpool-based nurse and mum to Ella and has recently become engaged to her boyfriend Dan. They’ve agreed to raise their daughter as an Everton supporter.

Carl

A photo of father Carl with his son; they appear to be sitting in an office and Carl is tickling his son who is laughing whilst holding a pencil over a notebook

Image: Shirlene Loo / Ohey Studios

“Geri and I met when we were 17 and have been together ever since. In our 20s we were consumed by work: Geri’s a trader in an asset management fund and I’m an economist. Having children really woke us up to the idea that life’s about more than an ultra-competitive career.  

When we turned 30 we had our first child, Thomas. We’d read so many baby books with differing opinions that we were scared to death. At work, we’re always trying to streamline our outputs. So with Thomas, we made an Excel spreadsheet which we were going to use for scheduling feeding and things. That went out the window in the first week. 

Three years later we had our second child, Dean, but he was stillborn. We always tell people that we have three kids: Dean’s our number two, and Alex is our number three. We don’t want to pretend he didn’t exist. And Dean, particularly, changed our perspective on life. He made us very brave. I used to hate flying, but after he passed away I realised I’m not afraid of that anymore. We were reminded of the importance of things beyond the material; we have true faith that we’ll see him again one day.” #LadybirdLoveUnfiltered

Carl and Geri live in Singapore, where Carl works as an economist and Geri works in asset management. They’re huge foodies and parents to Thomas, Dean, and Alex. 

If you need support or information about stillbirth, please visit Tommy's.

Explore the Love Unfiltered series

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