These tender images document a woman’s journey into unexpected motherhood

8 mins
16 Mar 2023
These tender images document a woman’s journey into unexpected motherhood

This Mother’s Day, woo caught up with photographer Jade Carr-Daley, whose self-captured photo project documents her transition from student to parent

image Jade Carr-Daley

words Lucy O'Brien

When Jade Carr-Daley embarked on a MA in photography at the age of 23, she didn’t expect to finish it as a mother. In fact, Jade started her course much like any other unassuming student at the University of the West of England; excited for the year ahead, navigating deadlines, and brainstorming concepts for her final project. “I didn’t even miss a period,” the artist recalls. But when something about her body felt weird, she decided to take a pregnancy test. Before she knew it, Jade and her partner Urban were preparing to become parents.

“I remember thinking, this could be someone’s worst nightmare: finding out they are pregnant after just starting a university course,” says Jade. “I thought I was going to have to defer again. ‘But I’ve actually worked really hard for this,’ I thought. ‘Have I just messed my life up?’”

Wanting time to digest, Jade and Urban kept the news to themselves and spent the next three months working through all the questions that you would expect a young couple to ask when faced with news of an unexpected pregnancy: how would they make it work? Was keeping the baby the right thing to do for them? Was it what they both wanted? And as it turned out, the answer was yes.

But their decision wasn’t always met with congratulations and outpourings of affection. Actually, when Jade finally decided to share the exciting news with extended family members, she was initially met with concern: “I was still looked at as a child because I am one of the youngest of all the nieces,” she recalls. “But actually, I began to realise that I am a young adult. This is not a strange age to have a baby; I finished secondary school, I did my BA, why can't I do this?”

Tasked with balancing first-time pregnancy with full-time study, Jade resolved to merge the two worlds together. She had originally decided on a final project that would explore her British-Jamaican identity, but once she learned about her soon-to-be son, she decided to document the unfiltered reality of bringing new life into the world. The result was Not Ready Not Steady GO!, a collection of predominantly monochromatic images that powerfully confront the reality of journeying into parenthood for the first time.

Over a year later, Jade Carr-Daley has produced a portfolio of raw and intimate images documenting her journey through unplanned pregnancy and into parenthood. The artist plans to continue the project until her son’s first birthday. Now 24 and raising her newborn son, woo caught up with Jade to talk about navigating new motherhood, partnership, and how the medium of photography helped her to both discover and reconnect with a love for her body.

Young pregnant couple in black and white
Image courtesy of Jade Carr-Daley
Young pregnant couple in black and white
Image courtesy of Jade Carr-Daley

How did the project affect your pregnancy experience?

Jade: It was definitely a form of self-therapy for me, being in control of how I wanted to be seen in the camera. Because a lot of the time while you're pregnant, your body is doing a lot of new things, so it was really nice to be able to take these pictures how I wanted and use them to reflect how my stomach was changing.

Jade: Since the birth, though, sometimes taking pictures feels a bit wrong, because I want to be in the moment with my child. It leaves me feeling quite confused at times.

Can you recall a moment from your pregnancy that has stayed with you?

Jade: I have two. A lot of my pregnancy was quite negative because they were worried that my baby wasn't growing properly. And because I'm from a Black background, I was taken for all of these precautionary tests because I could have had gestational diabetes or other conditions that affect Black women. It was draining and I didn't feel welcomed by the white male doctors. One day, I was literally having the worst day and I just didn't really want to be pregnant anymore. I had to go get my blood taken and this time I was consulted by a Black midwife – she was so lovely. She spoke to me like how an auntie would. I suddenly felt really safe and loved – it was from that moment on that I accepted my pregnancy and I felt more happy with it.

Jade: The second memory has to be me and my partner in the [delivery] bath. I know it sounds very strange, but it was a moment of complete silence – I was on gas and air, so everything was blacked out. But it was just me, my partner and silence. In that moment I felt a lot of love.

Did your project change your perception or challenge any preconceived notions you held about pregnancy?

Jade: Yeah, it did. I feel like a lot of motherhood and pregnancy is not spoken about truthfully. When you search images of pregnancy, it always depicts really nice, magical moments. But when I took my pictures, I’d be like, ‘oh, my belly kind of looks a bit lopsided,’ or, ‘I’m crying in this picture’ – I didn't look as glowing as these women online. I didn't post any of my pregnancy online because I wanted it to be just me and my family experiencing it. But I could still see other people online having this perfect pregnancy: not having stretch marks, being able to afford certain treatments, etc. It makes you feel like you’re having a bad pregnancy. So taking my own images meant I could show people another side to the experience because the images you see online are just not real.

Jade: After I gave birth, my boobs changed in size, and I really hated my body. That's where there's an image of stretch marks next to pancakes in the portfolio. I was asking myself, what happened to my body? It wasn't until my mum said to me, ‘You need to see this as your body allowing you to create and carry a human and of course it's going to change,’ that I realised we just get so caught up on the idea of looking untouched. I want people to see that it's okay to look like this.

Image of stretch marks compared to a pancake
Image courtesy of Jade Carr-Daley
Baby scan
Image courtesy of Jade Carr-Daley

You documented your partner, Urban, too in the project. Did that have any impact on your relationship?

Jade: I feel like our relationship got better with the photography, as well as just being pregnant together. I'd always ask him if he felt comfortable with the images he was in, and with that came conversations about how he was feeling – I was able to listen to his thoughts about becoming a dad, his fears and his worries. I understand why women are the main centre of attention during pregnancy, but I feel like it's just as important to look at men to see how they're feeling, too. It really helped us to talk to each other about both our excitement and fears for becoming parents.

Has having a child of your own changed your relationship or perception of your own mother?

Jade: My mother came from a generation where you can’t tell your truth. I look at my work, the fact that I'm able to do this and hopefully inspire others going through similar situations, and just wish that there were people like me back then for her.

Jade: But also, I want to be my own mum. Even though I probably unconsciously will take away certain teachings that my mother told me, I want to do it in my own way. I want my son to grow up differently to how I was brought up. But being a mum has allowed me to understand her a bit more as an adult, rather than just as her daughter – I can sympathise with her more.

Some of the images show intimate parts of your body. How did it feel to share these photos?

Jade: I was so worried. For the generation that I was raised by, like my nan and my mum, you don't show pictures of your body like this. There's many more strong images that I'd love to put out, but I just could not do it. I was really scared about putting out the project and telling people my story, but after all, the most important images are the ones where you see me breastfeeding or where a part of my body is out.

You’re continuing on the photo project until your son turns one. What inspired you to do this?

Jade: It was meant to be a pre-birth project; the images were initially just going to be about my body changing, how I felt those first few months and how my partner felt. It wasn't until we had a hand in for uni that I was like actually, I want to continue this because the journey doesn’t stop; it’s still ongoing. There were and are still so many questions that I haven’t answered myself, so I decided to keep the project going.

Image courtesy of Jade Carr-Daley
Man holding his torso
Image courtesy of Jade Carr-Daley
Naked woman in shower slightly visible through steam
Image courtesy of Jade Carr-Daley
Collage of a pregnancy bump
Image courtesy of Jade Carr-Daley

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