An intimate and honest portrayal of unexpected pregnancy

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All images from the series Not Ready Not Steady GO! © Jade Carr-Daley

This article is part of the Education collection, a series of interviews highlighting student and early career photographers. 

Graduates 22/23

Jade Carr-Daley was two weeks into her photography course when she found out she was pregnant. Her ongoing project documents her transition from student to caregiver

When Jade Carr-Daley arrived at the University of the West of England for a MA in photography in autumn 2021, she intended to start a project exploring her British-Jamaican heritage. Two weeks into her first academic term, she received the unexpected news that she was pregnant, and a new photographic focus came into view.

“Suddenly I had to step into the caregiving role, to be there for someone other than myself,” Carr-Daley says. Under instruction from her tutors to photograph prolifically, she began making images of all aspects of her pregnancy, from doctors’ appointments and shots of her partner to intimate close-ups of herself and him.

The result is Not Ready Not Steady GO!, an ongoing series in which Carr-Daley reconciles her own youth with the caregiving expectation of motherhood: “to become more comfortable in my new role,” she explains. The mostly black-and-white photographs are diaristic and intimate, combining the familiar motifs of pregnancy – breast pumps, ultrasound scans – with the distinct vulnerability she felt as a young mother balancing family and university.

© Jade Carr-Daley.
© Jade Carr-Daley.
© Jade Carr-Daley.
© Jade Carr-Daley.

“I felt bad for being a Black pregnant woman. I didn’t get to enjoy it all the time, especially compared with white expectant mothers”

“Loneliness was the main theme throughout the whole of the pregnancy,” Carr-Daley says. “It was a very weird experience; you can’t relate to anyone. Even those that have been pregnant before saying ‘I’ve been there’ doesn’t always help. Because they’re not there right now.” These feelings meant that even in self-portraits, Carr-Daley often obscured her own body (sometimes with everyday objects like pillows), creating partial or abstracted images of herself to convey this sense of isolation. 

Some of the themes from Carr-Daley’s initial proposal on her British-Jamaican heritage have influenced the project. One photograph in the series is an archival image of Carr-Daley’s family members wearing pin-striped suits, the number one motif the artist associates with Jamaica, she says. Carr-Daley’s close relationship with her mother and grandmother also ensured that intergenerational support around the pregnancy had a strong cultural dimension. 

Race also informed the project in other ways, particularly Carr-Daley’s experience in healthcare settings. Only once during the pregnancy did she see a Black nurse. “I was constantly having tests done because of my ethnic background,” Carr-Daley explains. In hospitals, the implication seemed to be that if she chose not to have the tests done, she was increasing the risk to her unborn child. “I felt bad for being a Black pregnant woman. I didn’t get to enjoy it all the time, especially compared with white expectant mothers.”

Not Ready Not Steady GO! also became a vehicle for conversations between Carr-Daley and her partner, a prompt for empathy and understanding about the experience. The photographs show him smiling generously or doing his hair in the bathroom – a young life ongoing alongside drastic changes. “Taking the photographs enabled us to have conversations about how he felt,” Carr-Daley says. The photographs of him show her perspective, those of her, his. The ultra close ups invite the viewer into her experience, to participate in the emotion; to share the load. “Even though it’s my journey, pregnancy also does affect everyone else around you,” Carr-Daley says “I wanted to show that in the images.”

The series will continue until her son’s first birthday, Carr-Daley says. The imagery has begun to involve postpartum experiences and has adopted a lightness of tone, an expectation turned to welcome reality. One side-by-side close up shows stretch marks compared with the texture of pancakes, a craving Carr-Daley had shortly after giving birth. The goal is to create familiar reference points while staying true to her own experience. “When I was pregnant, I would have loved to have seen photography work from a woman of colour: more images of black bodies,” Carr-Daley says. “I want other women to be able to see my work and think, ‘I know how she felt’.”