After Leilani was asked to photograph the birth of her niece almost five years ago, she knew she had found her calling.
Already a popular portrait photographer, Leilani transitioned her business to specialise in birth and breastfeeding photography and since then her work has gained rapid attention across the world, with her beautiful series of birth photographs winning her critical acclaim.
Raw doesn’t even begin to describe Leilani’s photographs, as she brings to life an event so many parents assume can exist only in their memory.
Whether it be natural births, c-sections, or births in her family, the last five years has seen Leilani “lose [her] breath as [she] documents mothers reaching for their babies and bringing them to their chests”. And from these images, we can see why.
Leilani has shared some of her beautiful photos with Mamamia, and has described what many of them mean to her:
“Capturing a baby born entirely in the amniotic sac (“en caul”) was probably the most defining moment for me as a birth photographer. It cemented my love for this niche, promising me that I would see many more amazing moments like this.
“I cannot imagine, if it were my birth, not having an image of that moment to remember it by. So it is without a doubt my “hire a birth photographer!” incentive.
“Because no cell phone picture would have done this justice.The conditions of that birth weren’t ideal; it was dark, the room was tiny, and there were a lot of birth workers present whose job was much more important than mine. But I managed to capture with one fast click, this miraculous moment. I didn’t even take the time to see it with my own eyes! Going through the images later that evening was the first time I truly laid eyes on what I had captured. And I began to cry, because it was so beautiful and so rare, and I felt so blessed to have witnessed it, even if only through my lens.”
“This was a beautiful birth filled with questions and love and wonder. The pictures capture all that and more.
“My client’s 7 year old daughter is providing pressure to her mother’s lower back. She so calmly and sweetly came into the room where her mother was birthing and genuinely wanted to help. Later her mother told me how comforting it was to have her there, and how much she admired the nurturing nature her daughter possessed.”
“My 1st c-section – I’ve had many clients end up with c-sections and not been allowed to accompany them back to the OR.
“So this moment is one I had waited a long time for! It was a ‘pinch me’ kind of experience even as I was documenting it. I am often asked if it bothers me to see the surgical side of birth.
“It truly does not. I find those moments of delivery to be every bit as beautiful and fascinating as a vaginal birth.”
“This is a rare occurrence – a baby born with 6 fingers! Definitely a surprise to mama and the birth team, but a special one. There was no bone in the finger, but it had a nail! It was intriguing, to say the least.”
“I often lose my breath as I document mothers reaching for their babies and bringing them to their chests. And each time I come back to those images, I lose my breath all over again. The joy, relief and exhaustion is just so palpable.”
“What a privilege it is to get up close to placentas and umbilical cords. They are fascinating and serve an amazing purpose.”
“This image means so much to me. This is my niece. Her birth was so tranquil. And this was such a heavenly moment. She came quietly and peacefully into this world and took her time opening her big beautiful eyes to take in her new surroundings.”
“I love images that show that a woman can birth in many different positions. They should not be limited to their backs. That defies gravity, does it not? Case in point, many times a change in position will facilitate a stalled labor. ”
“Herbal baths are my absolute favourite to capture. Not many mothers know about them. Herbal baths are done anywhere from a few hours post partum to a day or 2 later, and aid in healing the perineum. They also smell divine (herbs like chamomile and lavender are used) and promote bonding between mother and baby. Furthermore babies enjoy returning to a familiar environment. ”
“I photograph a lot of births at home and in birth centres. Some might say they are more photo worthy. I disagree. This moment for instance, is mesmerising. Baby is passing between the womb and her mother. I love the way Mom is reaching for her child, eagerly awaiting her placement in her arms.”
“I see a lot of waterbirths. But birth tubs take some time to blow up, and fill. Every now and then, birth happens so quickly there is no time to go through that process! In this case mama knew she needed water, so she gave birth in her bathtub. And I photographed it from inside the shower stall, looking through the glass!”
“It’s an honour to celebrate families of all kinds. This 2 mama family’s birth was so beautiful. And it was so fortunate that this mother’s partner is an experienced doula, because she was in labor for 35 hours!”
“Another beautiful hospital moment. It wasn’t until after I got home and began editing images that I noticed this little one’s signal that she felt at peace.”
In 2013, Leilani was named Best Birth Photographer in Austin, TX and in 2014 she won birthphotographers.com’s International People’s Choice Award for her rare image of a baby born in the caul. Leilani is also the founder of the Public Breastfeeding Awareness Project (PBAP), an initiative that has attracted the talent of 65 breastfeeding photographers from around the globe. She and her husband Andrew live in Austin, TX with their 4 children, ages 9-16. She credits her own experiences in motherhood for her unique ability to connect with her clients, and tell their birth story with dedication and grace. You can find her photos at PhotosbyLei.com.