Leilani Rogers has the crazy, unpredictable hours of a midwife or obstetrician — but when she gets called to a 3 a.m. birth, her aim is to get there, do her thing, and slip out while remaining virtually unnoticed. Such is the life of a birth photographer.
“You just have to be ready to go whenever,” Rogers, 40, tells Yahoo Parenting. “I think it’s important to understand birth and to have respect for the birth environment — all birth environments — for the mom and birth team, and to have enough skill to step in and capture the moments without being disruptive or intrusive. Good equipment helps too.”
The Austin, Tex.–based shutterbug and mom of four kids, ages 9 to 16, photographed her first birth, that of her niece, in 2011. And she was hooked.
A C-section birth. (Photo: Leilani Rogers)
A few years later, after building her photography business, “I felt strongly that I should specialize in just birth photography, and am currently one of very few photographers who do,” she writes on her website. “I have photographed every type of birth — homebirth, water birth, hospital birth, hospital transfers, birth center births, cesarean birth, multiples, even a baby born in the caul [within the amniotic sac].” And she has a deep fascination and respect for them all, says Rogers, who estimates she’s captured images from about 60 baby arrivals thus far.
“I pride myself on being able to capture a moment naturally, in a raw state, without it being gritty or gross,” she says, stressing that a huge inspiration is her desire to “normalize birth,” which so many people have actually never witnessed. “The images can look beautiful — if people would just open their minds and take in what’s happening in the photos.”
Mom getting support from her daughter during a water birth. (Photo: Leilani Rogers)
Rogers says she’s got a low tolerance for viewers who believe birth images should remain hidden. “Nothing makes me cringe more than when someone compares birth to going to the bathroom. It’s not a bodily function,” she says. “There’s a lot of work to be done around women’s bodies in general, like with public breastfeeding.”
It’s why she’s also founded the Public Breastfeeding Awareness Project, a Facebook photo forum (with more than 9,000 likes) that aims to normalize public nursing. But lately, it’s her birth photos that have been getting the most attention, with recent features in Redbook and the Huffington Post.
Meeting her infant. (Photo: Leilani Rogers)
She says she’s as drawn to C-sections as she is to at-home water births when it comes to photo shoots. “The emotion behind the experience plays a big role,” she says of the cesarean births she’s captured. “It’s usually the result of a complication, so I feel it would be a big injustice to moms to make them feel their birth is less significant because of something they couldn’t control. And it’s actually very similar to a vaginal delivery. A good doctor will take his time lifting the baby out. It’s fascinating, visually.”
The best lesson she’s learned through her work, she says in her online bio, is that “It doesn’t matter if you birth at home, in a birth center, in a hospital, vaginally, or by C-section. Birth is birth! We all work hard to bring our babies into this world. And we all love them with every fiber of our being!”
Scenes from the en caul birth. (Photo: Leilani Rogers)
Still, while so many of her experiences linger, Rogers can point to one rare arrival that has perhaps made the most lasting impression — the home birth of twins, in which one was born en caul, or completely encased in its amniotic sac, which is less than a one in 80,000 occurrence. “I wish I could go back and experience that moment again, just because it happened so quickly,” she recalls. “I barely got there in time, and it was dark. I didn’t even have time to move my camera away from my face to see it for real. But I feel so lucky to have been there.”
As for skeptical outsiders being let in by her art, she says, “I think, in time, people will hopefully open their minds to having an appreciation.”
Top photo: Leilani Rogers