Easy Happy Nest
Discover all the places in the San Francisco Bay Area for your kids
Doulas Birthing Centers

Birth Stories: How Birth and Postpartum Doulas Helped Lan

Lan and her husband are the parents of a 6-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son. They lived in Pleasanton for 10 years before moving to the South Bay last year. I first interviewed Lan a couple of months ago about her bilingual family and at the end of the interview we started talking about her pregnancies and postpartum and she told me that she used both a birth doula and a postpartum doula. Coming from France, doulas are not something I was very familiar with. There are more and more doulas but in France, physicians and nurses are mainly hostile towards them and they are often not allowed to be in the delivery room. I was really curious to hear about her experience, so I asked her to share it with us. We talked about how she prepared for the delivery during her first pregnancy, how the delivery went, and how her doula helped. She explained the role of a postpartum doula and how crucial it was to help her recuperate after having a C-section and to teach her how to take care of her baby. I have to say, listening to her story, I felt that I would really have benefited from a postpartum doula myself, it is too late for me but maybe not for you!

When you discovered that you were pregnant with your first child, where did you choose to have your prenatal care?

Lan - I was living in Pleasanton and I got all my care through Stanford Health Care Tri-Valley.

How did you choose this hospital?

I asked for a good OB and then I found a physician affiliated with the hospital.

Did you take any classes to prepare you for the birth?

I did Hypnobirthing. A friend told me that hypnobirthing helped her have a very successful birthing story. She gave birth in the bathtub, she barely had any contractions and after two gentle pushes, the baby came out. I decided to try hypnobirthing when I was halfway through my pregnancy. I drove to Berkeley once a week to take classes with five or six other women. In the class we would talk about birthing, how we envisioned our baby, and how we imagine our birthing process, they prepare you to have a serene birth, they tell you to imagine a ribbon opening up and a lot of other images. I felt pretty confident that I would have a gentle birth. I liked the classes but it was hard to commit to classes after work because I was pregnant and very exhausted.

Did you take any other childbirth or parenting classes?

Yes, Tri-Valley Hospital offers a series of classes for expecting parents. We took infant CPR, birthing, breastfeeding and we did a tour of the hospital.

Did you like the classes? Did you find them helpful?

There were a lot of classes but I wish there was a bigger focus on nursing and sleep training, the main issues with a newborn. The most important class is probably breastfeeding, if you are planning on doing it. I think the message that they should have given us was that the moment you give birth you need to see a lactation consultant and see them until breastfeeding becomes second nature.

You chose to hire a doula, how did you come to this decision?

My husband met someone who had a doula. This person told him that the doula would teach us how to take care of a baby. We had never taken care of a newborn before so we absolutely needed to hire someone who was going to guide us through it.

So he was thinking about having a night doula for the postpartum, not a birth doula?

Yes, I looked online and found a birth doula (someone who takes care of the mom from the moment she has contractions until the baby is born) and she convinced me that I needed a birth doula. She connected me with a friend, who was a night doula, and so we hired two doulas, one for birth and one for the nights.

Was it easy to say to the hospital “I am going to have a doula with me for the birth”?

Yes. They are happy for you to have someone. Often people think that when you go to the hospital, the nurses will take care of you. But the truth is the doctors are there for the final stages of delivery so they are not really around. Nurses have so many patients to take care of, that you end up not having a lot of help besides your partner.

How was your pregnancy? Did you have any complications? Did you enjoy being pregnant?

Yes, it was nice and smooth. I worked out throughout my pregnancy, I was swimming and I did prenatal yoga at my gym and online. I was in a very good team at work, so it was very relaxing. I was able to focus on being pregnant and it was a very enjoyable process.

How was your delivery? Were you stressed about giving birth or were you excited?

I was excited to meet my daughter and apply all that I had learned in Hypnobirthing. The delivery was the opposite of my pregnancy: long and painful and not as I had envisioned.

Did you learn about inductions during your childbirth classes? What is something you were afraid of?

No, I was completely ignorant, and sometimes ignorance is a blessing!

Did you feel comfortable with your doula? Was she helpful during your birth?

My doula was so helpful. Having her was like having a mom/sister who was an expert in birthing. She came prepared (yoga ball, snacks, pillows) and gave me a back massage every time contractions came. She advocated for me and ensured things were as smooth as possible. I ended up with a C-section and I’m glad she was there to help me transition from vaginal birth to C-section.

Did they explain why you needed to have a C-section?

At the moment, they didn't explain. After the birth, they told us the reason was because it had been more than 24 hours since my water broke.

Were your doula and husband able to be in the room with you for the C-section?

My husband was in the delivery room. However, they do not allow the doula in there so she stayed outside with my mom and my sister until the baby was delivered.

So you had your mom and your sister at the hospital with you too?

Oh yes, I had a whole team! We came prepared!

Was it important for you to have all these people with you?

It’s important to have helpful people. My labor was long and it was great to have a good team that kept me going for 36 hours!

Once your daughter was born, how did you feel?

I was excited and exhausted from that tumultuous labor!

Did your doula leave right after you gave birth?

Yes, she left after I gave birth, she went home to sleep. She had been up all day and all night. Then she came back to visit me and brought me things that would comfort me.

Can you tell me what was included in your doula package, before and after the birth and how much it cost?

Before the birth, I saw her twice. The first time she came we had the interview. The second time it was to get me ready for birth. We talked about the things she would have with her at the hospital and it was also to make sure we were comfortable with each other.

After the birth, she came 10 times to the house for three hours each time.

I think it was a couple thousand dollars for the package.

So you said, your husband really wanted to have a doula but what about you? Were you on board easily with this idea?

No, I was not. My first thought was that my mom was a child educator. She took care of children from a very young age, sometimes two or three years old, until they were 18. With my mom being an expert with children I felt like, “Why not use my mom?” My husband told me “Do you really want your mom to be up at night time, taking care of this baby, when she could sleep and help you in the daytime?”.

The second concern that I had was the stigma that having a doula meant you were not able to take care of your child. Before I was pregnant I was talking about doulas in general with someone and she said “Can’t you wake up and take care of your baby at night time? Is that such a burden?” So I felt like “Of course, I'm sure I'll be able to wake up and take care of my baby”. But my husband eventually convinced me. After all, why refuse expert help?

I recommend it to anyone, especially first-time parents because you don’t know what to do. I remember the baby would cry and I always thought she was hungry. However, there are so many other reasons why they cry like sleepiness, gas, etc. My doula was my private tutor to navigate life with a newborn. I didn’t have to read a single book and had plenty of time to enjoy my baby.

So the birth doula came ten times during the day and then you switched to a night doula after that?

Actually, at some point after birth, I had an overlap of both doulas. The night doula came immediately after I was discharged and the birth doula came 10 more times after birth.

So the night doula came to your house the first night after you were back home?

My doula couldn’t start immediately so a colleague of hers, Susan, helped the night we got discharged. It’s a funny story because it’s our first night home we're downstairs and my brother-in-law and my sister are over, we are back to our normal routine: we pull out the board games, we play, we eat and then the doula shows up and she's like “where's the baby? What are you guys doing up? This baby is going to wake up every two hours tonight, you need to sleep” and then I see in the corner of my eye, my sister and my brother-in-law quietly exiting the house. my husband went into the guest bedroom, I went upstairs, she took the baby downstairs for Susan to watch and yes, my daughter woke up every two hours that night. But we wouldn't have known, we would have just played and gone to bed at midnight like usual. She taught us we needed to change our habits immediately, she was a very good teacher.

Was it easy for you to let go of what you were used to, to change your life for your baby?

I was so excited about having a baby that I was really willing to learn.

Did your night doula come every night? What was the doula responsible for during the night?

The doula came 5 nights a week for 10 weeks.

Our doula usually arrived around 9 pm and when she arrived we would go to bed. I was in the master bedroom and Sarah was with the baby downstairs When the baby woke up, Sarah would figure out why she was waking up and if she needed a feeding she would come upstairs. I would nurse and often chat with Sarah. When the nursing was done, she would take my baby, change her diaper, and burp her, so I could go right back to sleep. And sometimes I wouldn't even know because I fell asleep while breastfeeding. So I was awake for 20-30 minutes and then she would take care of the rest of the work.

On the weekends we were on our own and it was rough! It took sometimes an hour or two to get the baby to fall asleep in between feedings!

A lot of my friends were in tremendous pain after birth because they forgot to take pain meds at night. I never experienced a single pain because Sarah always made sure I took the medicine on time.

Did you do anything specific to recover during the postpartum?

I'm from a Vietnamese family and we have a lot of postpartum beliefs and practices which include eating soups and other nutritious foods, and confinement to minimize getting sick.

How did you manage to take care of your food postpartum? Did you have someone help you with the cooking?

I took care of that. When I went on maternity leave, I spent days cooking and I froze everything in portions.

How long was your maternity leave?

I was on maternity leave for a total of 6 months. I was out a few weeks before birth and returned to work when my baby was 4.5 months old. People had advised me to take the maximum leave. I'm glad I did because it was so tough when I returned to work.

Who was taking care of your daughter during the day when you went back to work?

We found a daycare. But it was hard because the baby was sick every week. Then, I was sick every week. We didn’t know about babies building their immune systems!

How did you manage when she was not able to go to the daycare?

It was a mix between my husband working remotely and my mom helping out because I had to be in the office.

Two years later you were pregnant with your second child. Did you do anything differently during this pregnancy?

It was the opposite situation being pregnant with my son. I was very stressed out at work and had little time to take care of myself since I now had a toddler. I also decided to have the baby in another hospital (Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital) where the prenatal care was even more thorough (e.g. ultrasound regularly in the last trimester).

Did you have any complications with this pregnancy?

No, luckily it was smooth. I had the same symptoms again, exhaustion, back pain, etc.

Did they advise you to do a repeat C-section or were you given the choice?

The doctor was excellent, he always made me feel like I had control over my pregnancy and how I wanted to deliver. At first, I wanted to try a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) but ultimately decided to have a repeat C-section.

Did you have a birth doula again?

I did not have a birth doula because I was getting a planned C-section. I ended up having a C-section alone because everyone fell ill in my family.

Were you scared about being alone?

I was a little scared because birthing can come with surprises. but I was in a good hospital with a good team.

Luckily my aunt came immediately after I gave birth, she slept on the couch and every time my son would wake up, she would take him to me and then she did the doula job: she changed the diaper, swaddled him, and put him back to bed. On day three, my doula Sarah came and she took over.

Was it easy for you to ask for help from your aunt?

It was my mom who asked for help. I was exhausted and excited to have someone help me.

Did you have any pain due to the C-section or was it like the first time?

No pain, it was like the first time, Sarah was there to give me the medicine at the right time.

Did Sarah come to your house as much as she did after your daughter’s birth?

My son was a very easy baby, he slept well, he didn’t have any gas issues, my milk came in quickly and I was more experienced so we didn’t need as much help as the first time. Sarah came 3 times a week, but it was cut short by the shelter-in-place.

Was breastfeeding easy for you?

Not the first time. With my first child, it was really hard but luckily, we were in the NICU because he had jaundice and got extra support with nursing. When I got discharged, my sister was adamant about me seeing a lactation consultant to make sure all was well. She knew a good lactation consultant and she made an appointment for me. I went to see her and it was amazing. With a few simple changes, nursing became much easier. For my second baby, I think we just saw our lactation consultant once to make sure everything was okay.

Did you change other things during your postpartum this second time around? Were you able to cook before your son was born as well?

I also did that because I knew how helpful it had been the first time around, and this time I also had a toddler to handle. I cooked, filled up the freezer, and went to Costco to stock on groceries and toilet paper. We were really lucky I had cooked so many meals because soon after birth, the shelter-in-place happened.

Did you find it easy to take care of a baby while having a toddler?

Yes. I was on maternity leave so had time to take care of both kids. Plus my second baby was easy to take care of.

I think that having doulas early on in our parenting journey helped us a lot. We knew the pattern by then, we learned what the structure should be, what to anticipate, and we just knew how to deal with things.

So you really recommend having a doula?

Yes absolutely.

Although humans have been giving birth and taking care of babies for thousands of years, it’s not a process that new parents know how to do innately. In China, there are postpartum hotels where the mother rests and is fed a traditional diet while the newborn is taken care of by professionals. In my mother’s generation, a new mom and her baby returned to stay with her parents during the postpartum period.

Having a newborn is challenging, especially for first-time parents as there is a steep learning curve, which requires many adjustments. Doulas are there to guide new parents, take care of the baby, and help parents transition smoothly into parenthood (and help the new mom recover from delivery!).

During pregnancy in the US, there’s a big focus on the birthing plan, getting the baby’s room ready, and the gift registry. Based on my experience, all these things are nice but secondary to getting a doula. Both my birthing stories were completely different from what I had imagined so that birthing plan wasn’t helpful. Like every newborn, my babies woke up every 2 hours to feed so they slept in a bassinet next to my bed for convenience. That baby room stayed untouched for at least 6 months! Clothing-wise, we were so tired that the zipped onesies were preferred over the pretty outfits.

I’m so glad we had our doulas. They allowed me to recover quickly, to enjoy the newborn phase, and gave me the knowledge and confidence to take care of my babies.

Lan’s favorites

Favorite kids stores

Family favorite places to eat

Favorite places to have fun

Favorite family-oriented online resources