everyday magic

mag·ic | \ ˈma-jik

of or relating to magic; giving a feeling of enchantment

“There’s no magic here,”
she whispers
under her breath,
loading soggy towels into the dryer
as a puff bursts under her foot
crumbling into a hundred pieces
like her mind.

Today is Tuesday,
but it could be Wednesday,
or even Friday,
in her house,
every day is the same,
with those legos,
and that filthy high chair,
and those beloved children
driving her
to the end of herself.

She shoos them outside
to the backyard
where sunshine sinks
into their skin
like a balm.

The clock stops. 

They jump
higher and higher,
as the birds chirp
and the rope croaks
around the branch.

It is everything
she ever wanted,
an afternoon
that drags on and on and on

and on and on.

The baby shrieks,
bringing her back
to reality,
her own wilderness, 
where time settles under her bare feet 
seeping into the leaves, 
every ounce, a rhythm
every ounce, bliss
all of it, magic.

This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood. Click here to read the next post in this series "Everyday Magic." Want to join us next time? Exhale enrollment is OPEN until October 18th, and you can sign up today with code ASHLEE5 to save $5 on your first month.


Ashlee Gadd

Ashlee Gadd is a wife, mother, writer and photographer from Sacramento, California. When she’s not dancing in the kitchen with her two boys, Ashlee loves curling up with a good book, lounging in the sunshine, and making friends on the Internet. She loves writing about everything from motherhood and marriage to friendship and faith.

Re-framing Rest


Rest is something we have to enter into—it is not accidental, it requires action.*

Those words popped up in my inbox yesterday.

I am still on sabbatical, both from work and Instagram, and “rest” is what I am supposed to be doing. Resting, recharging, whatever you want to call it. 

I’m not good at rest. 

I am good at lots of other things. I am good at keeping my inbox under 25 e-mails at all times, which should probably tell you about other things I’m good at as well. I’m good at communicating, responding in a timely fashion, being dependable and reliable to friends and peers and strangers alike. I am good at answering questions (so many questions!) and good at checking things off a to-do list. 

I have other skills, too. 

I am good at keeping the house clean, keeping the closets organized, signing permission slips, making sure the boys have shoes that fit. I am good at gift gifting and house decorating and friendship maintaining. I am particularly good at bookshelf styling. 

Generally speaking, I am good at doing things. Moving my hands, my arms, like a half-robot half-ballerina superhero of sorts—like a mother—gliding through life seeing what needs to be done and doing it without hesitation.

Brett and I have this running joke about his inability to find things in the fridge. It goes like this:

Brett opens the fridge, looking for a jar of pickles. With one hand on the fridge door and his other hand who-knows-where (seriously, where? where is his other hand?), he says out loud, to me, “Do we have any pickles?” 

He glances up and down, with his eyeballs only, and determines, because he cannot see them, that we are out of pickles. 

What follows next is one of two options:

  1. I walk to the fridge, and, using my hands, slide a few jars around in the door, retrieving said nonexistent pickles, 


2. I ask him in a condescending tone, after sighing loudly, “Did you look with your hands?”

Before you nod or laugh or join me in this commiseration, please know I have plenty of annoying habits, too. Just ask my husband; he’ll provide a list. For example—I love to open carbonated drinks, take four sips, and then leave the can sitting out for five hours, rendering it flat and useless until someone pours its entirety into the sink. 

(You can say it. I’m a monster.) 

(I can’t remember why I was telling you all this?)

(Oh, that’s right. I’m good at doing things, with the exception of drinking a full La Croix in one sitting.)

To put it simply, I am a person who would search a refrigerator from top to bottom before I ever asked someone what was inside, even if it took me ten minutes to find whatever I was looking for. 

My husband would, of course, argue it is far more efficient to ask the person who knows the contents of the fridge than waste ten minutes looking yourself, and that is where I would bring up the inequality of mental labor in our home and blah blah blah, this is what marriage therapists are for.


I struggle to rest because I find a great deal of worth and identity in my accomplishments. When I am not accomplishing things—whether that’s publishing an essay or folding a load of laundry—I start to feel as though I am wasting away. Wasting time. Wasting my life. Wasting my everything. 

I feel best when I am doing something.

And while I know in my heart of hearts I am worthy of love even if I sit on the couch for three consecutive hours, the truth is: I feel more worthy of love when I am doing something

I am actively working against this notion, all of the time. I have to remind myself, constantly: God still loves me when I sit on the couch. My husband still loves me when there are dishes in the sink. My children still love me when their lunch hasn’t been made. My friends still love me when I haven’t responded to their texts. My readers still love me (like me? “love” feels presumptuous here) when I haven’t written anything in months. 

I do not have to be in constant motion with a trail of checked boxes behind me in order to be loved. 

Out of desperation to embrace this truth and in an effort to not become a drill sergeant of my own sabbatical, I took the opposite approach.

I have been passive. Idle. Unassertive. 

It’s almost as if I’ve been waiting for rest to happen to me. As if I could just say, “I’m going to rest for a month!” and it would naturally occur, a happy coincidence.

The more I think about that, the more ridiculous it seems. 

You cannot just say, I want to be healthier! and expect tangible results. You cannot claim a desire to be more hospitable, more brave, more of anything without a plan in place. You cannot just say, “We are working on our marriage!” and sit back and wait for things to improve. Working on your marriage could involve a lot of things. Honest communication. Date nights. Therapy. Intimacy. All of the above.

I cannot announce, “I am on sabbatical!” and expect rest to find me.

I have to enter into it. Willingly. With a plan. 

It is day 16 and I can feel myself getting fidgety. I haven’t “accomplished” much this month. I found myself reading in the backyard yesterday while the baby napped, feeling oddly guilty about the unfolded laundry waiting for me inside. And here’s the truth: I hate that I feel this way. I hate that I think about laundry while I’m reading a book. I hate that I think about responding to e-mails while I watch TV. I hate that anytime I am (allegedly) relaxing, I feel a twinge of discomfort, as if I am doing something wrong.

So today, I sat down and made a list. I didn’t overthink it or overanalyze it. I just sat down and made a list of things I want to do this month, all in the name of rest. I want to think of rest as active, not passive—as something I do, not something that magically happens to me if I sit still long enough.

Some of these I’ve already done and some I still want to do. Some feel indulgent; some feel practical. But all of them feel … proactive. This isn’t about finishing a list, or becoming the best person who has ever rested, or getting an A+ on my sabbatical. It’s simply about being intentional with this gift, and stewarding the time well.


Having a plan helps. And I’m not gonna lie—the check marks still feel good.  

*From Hannah Brencher.

P.s. I’m not a freak. “Go to the dentist” has been on my to-do list for 6+ months and as soon as I go, I can erase it from my brain. More space in my brain = more space to rest. Or, probably, more space to keep a log of everything in the fridge.

P.s.s. I love you, Brett. Thanks for approving this blog post. You can have the rest of my La Croix.

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Ashlee Gadd

Ashlee Gadd is a wife, mother, writer and photographer from Sacramento, California. When she’s not dancing in the kitchen with her two boys, Ashlee loves curling up with a good book, lounging in the sunshine, and making friends on the Internet. She loves writing about everything from motherhood and marriage to friendship and faith.

Six-month-old Faves.


Presley is six months old today.

Pardon the cliche, but how? It’s true what they say: the last baby goes too fast. All of it, all of her. We’re still forcing her in a swaddle at night and cramming her body into a bassinet where I am 99% certain her toes and head would touch each side if she wasn’t crammed in a swaddle. Every night Brett asks, “How much longer are we going to do this?” and I say, “One more night.”

He talks of buying a baby monitor and moving her into her own room. I pretend not to hear him. Is this really the last time a baby will sleep at the foot of my bed? The mere thought makes me want to cry. Maybe we should buy a bigger bassinet instead?



Here are a few things we’re currently loving at the 6-month mark:

Babiators - I cannot even handle the cuteness of these sunglasses. They are everything I never knew I needed for an infant. Five stars.

Bibs Pacifiers - Look. This is what you need to know about BIBS pacis: none of my kids took a pacifier, until Presley, until THIS PACIFIER. It. Is. A. Game. Changer. What braces?! Who cares!! Did you know I can put this thing in her mouth and she stops crying?! These aren’t the cheapest pacis on the planet, but I would pay double, triple (can you really put a price tag on silence?) for these bad boys. Shoutout to Joanna—a stranger from Instagram—who sent these to me. I think of you often. I am indebted to you forever. Thank you.


Chewable Charm paci clip - Speaking of pacis, now that we are a family who uses pacis, we clearly need a paci clip (or a pacifier leash, as I formerly called it before I realized it had a different name). Fun fact: Rachel (who owns Chewable Charm) and I have known each other since elementary school. We go waaaaaaay back to the days of yore, or, more accurately, the days of Spice Girls. She makes super cute teething jewelry and teething toys. Presley is obsessed with this one.

Aden + Anais Snap Bibs - We are very much still in the spit-up phase, and while it’s super fun to simply hold a towel under your baby for 20 minutes after eating, I am learning that bibs are more efficient. And not just any bibs, these particular bibs. They are crazy absorbent, and a really good size! A lot of the cute stylish bibs for babies barely cover half their shirts but I am looking for something slightly smaller than a poncho to catch this spit-up / drool situation. These get the job done.

Zoli gum massagers - I can’t remember if we had these dating all the way back to Everett but we definitely had them with Carson and anything that has been tried and tested and loved by more than one of my kids is a winner in my book. This was one of the first teething toys Presley could hold on her own and it continues to be a favorite around here. P.s. another teething favorite: Sophie La Girafe - So Pure Teether (not to be confused with the regular Sophie, which for some reason we don’t like as much).

All the headbands - If you thought I’d be sick of headbands showing up on my doorstep, well, you’d be wrong. Currently loving Elyse & Dana (tiny bows! velvet bows! use Ashlee20 for 20% off!), and Cotton Grace Co. (currently on break). Sidenote: I think Pres might be ready for barrettes soon. What is happening. (Really. She gets a pretty bad combover on windy days. Where do you buy those for babies?!)

Gathr Changing Mat - I decided to forego the diaper bag this time around and bought a cute backpack from Nordstrom instead. The Gathr changing mat is the perfect addition and I have used it SO many times in the past six months (including yesterday—tending to a massive diaper blowout in the trunk of my car). Folds up super compact, easy to clean, pretty to look at. Five stars. I also registered for the midi mat and received that as a baby gift and am looking forward to using it this summer for play dates at the park, concerts in the park, movies in the park, basically anything taking place at or near a park.

Moms of babies: what are you loving these days? We are just entering solid food land, so I’m all ears for your recommendations. Teething stuff, too!


Ashlee Gadd

Ashlee Gadd is a wife, mother, writer and photographer from Sacramento, California. When she’s not dancing in the kitchen with her two boys, Ashlee loves curling up with a good book, lounging in the sunshine, and making friends on the Internet. She loves writing about everything from motherhood and marriage to friendship and faith.

Her and I, on film


Every day it’s something new. Her pajamas don’t fit. The infant bathtub is too small. Her body practically stretches the entire length of the bassinet. Every day, reminders all around of what is slipping through my fingers like sand, never to return again.

I’m surprised at how quickly I feel the ache.

I’m desperate to capture it all in as many words and photos as I possibly can. I don’t trust my own mind to remember this—the weight of someone so tiny, so fragile, the weight of love overwhelmingly heavy at the same time.

My sweet friend Kelli took these photos of us a couple months ago. I will cherish them forever and ever.

*Free People flowy dress styled by Stacy Smernes.


Ashlee Gadd

Ashlee Gadd is a wife, mother, writer and photographer from Sacramento, California. When she’s not dancing in the kitchen with her two boys, Ashlee loves curling up with a good book, lounging in the sunshine, and making friends on the Internet. She loves writing about everything from motherhood and marriage to friendship and faith.

The Island of Flannel Sheets

She’s wailing for me again. Always me, her harbor. In one swift motion I scoop her up like treasure, whisking her to my side of the bed—our own private island made of flannel sheets.

She slurps and claws at my chest with her too-long fingernails, leaving scratches on my skin like a cat marking its territory.

As if I wasn't already forever marked.

A piece of sweaty hair starts to curl next to her ear. I twirl my finger around it, glancing at a book on my nightstand just out of reach next to a mug of stale coffee and a half-full glass of water.

I say half-full because I’m holding her and how could anything be half-empty when my greatest prayer has turned to flesh?

She sighs, belly full. I lift her to my face, inhaling, thanking God for the scent of grapefruit and innocence and spoiled milk. Her eyes drift closed. I still can’t reach the book. Just as well.

I spent the last ten minutes writing a chapter of my own. I call this one: The Island of Flannel Sheets.

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Ashlee Gadd

Ashlee Gadd is a wife, mother, writer and photographer from Sacramento, California. When she’s not dancing in the kitchen with her two boys, Ashlee loves curling up with a good book, lounging in the sunshine, and making friends on the Internet. She loves writing about everything from motherhood and marriage to friendship and faith.

Presley Joy Gadd: A Redemptive Birth Story

Alternative titles for this birth story include:

“Give Her Anything She Wants”
“Better Safe Than Gas Station”
“I’ll Never Look At A Bagel The Same Way Ever Again.”

You'd think after having my second baby at 35 weeks, I’d be prepared for it to happen again. Alas, I was not. This is Presley’s birth story.


It was a Friday night, and I had spent the day not preparing to go into labor. By that I mean—the house was a mess, our fridge contained a rotting carton of strawberries (and not much else), my hospital bag remained half-packed, and the laundry had not been done in over a week. Well, except Presley’s load. Her dresser was the only one in order.

On my weekend to-do list:

*Register for hospital
*Schedule tour of hospital
*Pack hospital bag
*Type up instructions for C+C team regarding my maternity leave

While I had secretly hoped to go into labor early, in my fantasy this happened around 37 or 38 weeks, not 35. In fact, I had spent the majority of my pregnancy—from 16 weeks onward—getting weekly shots of progesterone to prevent early labor. (So glad I got those 17 shots in my butt for nothing!)

I digress.

At 6:30pm, I was sitting in bed eating a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios for dinner, prepping to record two episodes of the Coffee + Crumbs podcast. As I sat in bed chomping on cereal looking over my outlines, I started feeling contractions. At first, I didn’t think anything of it, but then I realized they were coming pretty close together, and they weren’t stopping.

“Hey babe!” I yelled from our room, “Don’t be alarmed, but I’m having a lot of contractions.”

Telling Brett not to be alarmed in any scenario is like holding a bone in front of a puppy and telling it not to get excited. They can’t help themselves.

We briefly discussed all the What If logistics—who will we call, who will take the kids, where is the infant carseat, blah blah blah. It still seemed a little far fetched, but then I started timing the contractions.


There it was, right there in the notes section of my phone. Contractions over and over again, exactly seven minutes apart. I kept timing while Brett and I talked about next steps. Ten minutes before I was set to hop on Skype, I texted Indi and April.


April and I had just read a birth story about a woman who gave birth in the parking lot of a gas station in the dead of winter, which is why “Better safe than gas station” became our mantra for the evening.

I called the doctor and got patched through to an advice line. I calmly told the nurse operator I was having contractions every seven minutes, and that I was slightly concerned because my last baby had come at 35 weeks.

“Ma’am, if you’ve had more than six contractions in one hour, you should go to labor and delivery.”

By that point, I had felt six contractions in roughly 40-something minutes. I texted April and Indi again. The podcast would have to wait.


Brett and I sprung into action in a very cool, calm, and collected manner, like two grown adults doing a fire drill. He called the grandparents; I took a shower. We circled around the house, throwing clothes and cell phone chargers in weekender bags.

The contractions kept coming every seven minutes, but they didn’t hurt at all and in the back of my head, I wondered more than once if I was really in labor.

I could tell Brett was starting to feel anxious and did not appreciate the fact that I was blow drying my hair. At one point he wandered in the bathroom and point blank asked, “Is that really necessary?”

“This is the last good shower I’m going to take for a while—let me live!” I responded with an eye roll. Once my hair was dry, I put on my favorite sweatpants with my Strong As A Mother tee, which felt like an appropriate thing to wear to the hospital.

My parents arrived within the hour and whisked the boys off to their house as we loaded up the car. I thought I was probably forgetting 15 things, but reassured myself I might not even be in a labor so it was fine.

The ride to the hospital was calm and uneventful, until we got there and couldn’t find the valet parking. (Lest you think my hospital is extra fancy, the parking garage is a pretty good hike from the entrance—hence the valet parking for women in labor). My doctor had given me a valet parking pass months ago, but of course the parking pass was in my car, which my parents had taken since it had all the car seats. We circled around the hospital three times before we found the valet, joking once again, how unprepared we were to have a baby (and how lucky we were that I wasn’t in any pain!).

When we pulled into the valet, Brett hopped out to explain we didn’t have our parking pass. I could see the nice 22-year-old guy staring at our car in confusion, so I got out of the car and dramatically rubbed my belly, hoping that would move things along. I wondered if I should moan loudly for effect, but that seemed a little overkill.

“Is she in labor?” he asked.

Brett and I looked at each other and awkwardly shrugged.

“We’re here to find out!”

He looked me up and down one more time, nodded, and gave Brett a valet ticket. We walked through the doors and no joke, had no idea where to go. The hospital is huge and we didn’t even know what floor labor and delivery was on. The woman working security helped us out, and up to the sixth floor we went.

L&D was booming that night and there were a lot of people standing around in the lobby. When we got to the registration desk, I told the receptionist I *might* be in labor, and that my contractions were coming every seven minutes.

While we waited for instructions, a cute nurse named Rachel hurried over with a huge smile on her face.

“Oh my gosh, I know you!” she said.

I froze, deer in the headlights, as she proceeded to tell me she follows me on Instagram and is a Coffee + Crumbs fan. What are the odds? I was simultaneously flattered and mortified and wondered if this person who knew me from the Internet was about to see me naked. I secretly hoped not.

(Rachel, if you ever read this: it’s not you, it’s me. I’m sure you are a total professional and a wonderful nurse; thank you for saying hi!)

After that chance encounter, someone else escorted me to triage, where I peed in a cup and got hooked up to all the things. I was 4 cm dilated upon arrival. A smiling nurse informed me that Dr. Cocher was on call that night.

“But wait, are you going to call Dr. MacNear? She’s my doctor,” I said matter-of-factly.

“Oh … I’m sorry for the confusion. That’s not the protocol around here. You’ll be seeing Dr. Cocher tonight. When it’s this late, we just use the doctor on call.”

I tried to wipe the look of horror off my face, as I started replaying every conversation I’ve ever had with my doctor in my head. I turned to Brett for affirmation.

“Didn’t she tell us that when I went into labor, the hospital would call her?”

Brett nodded, equally confused. I asked the nurse again, insisting that’s not what we were told.

“I mean … I don’t want to sound like a diva,” I smiled nervously, “But I am positive my doctor said she would be called when I went into labor.”

The nurse insisted, again, that what I was suggesting was “highly unusual” and “not the protocol.”

I silently wondered if I was going insane or if we were being punked or if I had somehow misunderstood my doctor all this time. The nurse looked at me like I thought I was Beyonce. For a split second, I thought about another doctor delivering my baby and I wanted to cry. Dr. MacNear was the first OB I’d ever really liked.

“Can you just … text her?!” I begged.

Seemingly against her better judgment, the nurse told me she would reach out to the doctor on call, and “see what they could do.”

I thanked her profusely as she disappeared, leaving Brett and I in our little curtain-wrapped quarantine. We not-so-slyly listened to her conversation on the phone. It sounded promising.

A few minutes later, she pulled the curtain back with a smile.

“Good news! Dr. MacNear will be delivering your baby. I told her you’re dilated 4 cm, and she said we’re not going to do anything to try to stop your labor. Looks like you’re ready to have this baby! We’re going to move you into a delivery room so just hang tight while we figure out which room you’ll be in. How’s your pain?”

My pain was technically nonexistent, but I wasn’t sure if I should say that.

“I’m not really in pain … yet,” I said, taking extra caution to emphasize the yet.

“Okay, that’s good,” she replied, “I asked Dr. MacNear about acceptable pain management for you and she said, ‘Give her anything she wants!’ so as soon as things start hurting, let us know and we’ll go over your options.”

Brett and I exchanged knowing looks and smiled. Hallelujah.

Thirty minutes later, we settled into our delivery room. By 11pm, I had changed into my delivery gown but had too much adrenaline rushing through my body to sleep. I still wasn’t in any pain. We dimmed the lights and I read a book while Brett attempted to get comfortable in his chair for the night. A nurse checked on me every hour or so, but the entire night was pretty uneventful.


{ Obligatory I’m-in-labor selfie }

There were a few posters and charts on the wall, and when our eyes landed on this one, Brett looked at me and very seriously said, “I’ll never look at a bagel the same way ever again.”


Me either, babe. Me. Either.

At one point I asked for an exercise ball because my back ached, but it was more of the same dull ache I’d experienced during the third trimester, and less intense-contraction pain. Every time someone asked if I was in pain, I said no.

Until 6am.

Having experienced a drug-free birth before, I knew for sure I did not want to do that ever again. And so, the very minute I felt an ounce of real pain during a contraction, I hit that little call button on the remote as if there was no tomorrow.

“Hello?” a nurse answered.

“Hi, this is Ashlee Gadd … I’m starting to feel some pain and wondered if I could get the ball rolling on that epidural?”

When I say I was starting to ‘feel some pain’—I should clarify: I’m talking like a dull menstrual cramp. But I didn’t want to take any chances. What if the anesthesiologist wasn’t available for hours?!

My fear turned out to be unfounded because he was in my room ten minutes later.

After discussing options with the nurse, I decided to get a walking epidural first, which was described to me as an “Epidural Lite”—it would manage the pain for 1-2 hours and I could still get out of bed, walk around, pee on my own, etc. They prep you just like they do for a regular epidural, which is great because when you’re ready for the real thing, you’re already good to go.

While I had never gotten an epidural before, I had received a spinal block before my c-section with Everett so I vaguely remembered the bee sting sensation and importance of staying very still. All in all, the whole thing took just a few minutes, and I felt better immediately.

(This would be a good time to give a shoutout to Ethan, my anesthesiologist, whom I will always think of fondly. Thank you for your service!)

You know those commercials where they splat an egg and say: this is your brain on drugs?

I don’t want to make light of that, but just so we’re all clear—this is my labor on drugs:


{ Just casually reading a book and grinning ear to ear.
Not pictured off to the side: another bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios. }

If I could sum up my labor with an epidural, that photo is it. I sat in a bed and read a book and ate cereal, smiling and laughing and feeling very much like my normal self.

At one point I took a lap around the 6th floor (and ALMOST WENT INTO THE WRONG ROOM; CAN YOU IMAGINE?!). While out on my leisurely stroll, I heard a woman screaming—and I mean screaming—in another room. A small wave of PTSD washed over me as I realized what I had sounded like during Carson’s birth. I shuddered and went back to my room, feeling extra grateful for modern medicine and that I actually got to have some this time.

I labored through the morning with the walking epidural and it was … dare I say, boring? Several times Brett and I looked at each other and just kind of laughed. Everything was so calm. Everything was so quiet. I read my book; he watched ESPN on the iPad. I sent off a handful of e-mails in one last attempt to clear out my inbox. Some lady came in and asked if I wanted to donate my placenta to science. I checked the ‘yes’ box and off she went.

Around 11:25, my nurse Anna came in to check me again. By that point I was 7 cm dilated and 80% effaced. Getting closer, but still had a ways to go. The walking epidural was becoming a bit of a mystery to me because it was only supposed to last 1-2 hours, but I still felt great 5 hours later. Every time someone asked me about my pain, I smiled and said I felt great. They looked a tad confused.

And no wonder because 20 minutes after being checked, the walking epidural wore off. And when I say it “wore off” I mean in one split second it stopped working completely. I went from smiling and laughing and reading my book like NBD to full on moaning through contractions, sweating, heavy breathing, basically everything short of screaming. I wasted no time hitting that call button, and was reassured an anesthesiologist would be there soon.

I labored in real, acute pain for about thirty minutes, having flashbacks of Carson’s birth the entire time. I could vividly remember the searing pain. The shocking volume of my own screams. The doctor asking what I was scared of. The nurse reassuring me the anesthesiologist was “on his way” (he wasn’t).

I inhaled and exhaled and reminded myself over and over again that the drugs were really coming this time.

Around 12:30pm, a new anesthesiologist flew through the door, profusely apologizing for taking so long. I could have kissed her on the mouth.

“Wow! I can’t believe you lasted this long. You got the walking epidural at what time?”

“6:30 this morning …” I grunted.

“Okay,” she said with a smile, “I’m going to top you off with another walking epidural, but if you’re still feeling any pain twenty minutes from now, let’s give you the real thing.”

Again, I could have kissed her on the mouth.

The second walking epidural definitely took the edge off, but twenty minutes later, I was still in pain. Not moaning-through-contractions pain, but I’m-feeling-this-more-than-I’d-like-to-and-that-makes-me-nervous pain.

At 1:10pm, I got the real thing, and by 1:20pm I was dilated 9 cm and 90% effaced.

For the next half hour or so, Brett and I were left alone to enjoy the proverbial calm before the storm. I started to feel nervous. He held my hand. We prayed.

As the clock inched closer to 2pm, I really started feeling the urge to push. We hit the call button a few times, but everyone kept saying, “We’re watching the contractions on the monitor; it’s not time yet.”

Right around 2pm, Anna checked me again, and announced it was time to get the doctor.

“I’ll be back in a minute with Dr. MacNear so we can start pushing, okay? Are you ready to meet your girl?”

I nodded, unable to speak. The second she walked out the door, I burst into tears. It’s hard to explain why, but this happened with all three of my kids. It’s as if nine months of anticipation suddenly hits me all at once right before they’re born.

I just felt … overwhelmed. With gratitude. With love. With everything.

Brett got closer to me and asked if I was okay. Again, I nodded, unable to speak. He knew.

“Alright, are you ready to push this baby out or what?!”

Dr. MacNear strolled in, and got settled at the foot of the bed with a confident smile on her face. It sounds cheesy, but her confidence gave me confidence. I knew I was in good hands. More people piled in the room—a NICU nurse, a respiratory specialist, there may have been more, I can’t really remember. After having Carson at 35 weeks, we knew the drill. A bunch of people fly in the room for the delivery when you’re having a preemie, just to be sure they’re okay. Oh yeah, I think the placenta science lady was there, too?

Anna got into position on my left side, and Brett on my right. He asked if we should turn on some music, and I shrugged. I didn’t have a birth playlist (although—thinking back on that now—we really should have made one while we were just sitting around the hospital all day doing nothing, whoops). Brett turned on United Pursuit radio on Spotify, and quickly tried to upgrade our account to premium so we wouldn’t be interrupted by commercials.

“Shoot,” he said, eyes on his phone, “It says you can only upgrade from a desktop.”

“It’s fine, babe,” I reassured him.

“I know … I just really don’t want our baby to be born to a Spotify commercial,” he joked.

Dr. MacNear interrupted us—“Okay, Ash, on this next contraction I want you to try pushing …”

I’m pretty sure my first push wasn’t really a push at all. Even though I had one successful VBAC under my belt, I had forgotten everything. Thankfully, Anna was there to coach me.

“On the next one, I want you to take a super deep breath like you’re about to jump into a swimming pool, and hold it while you push as hard as you can, okay? We’re going to count to five.”

I nodded.

With the next contraction, I took a deep breath.

“One … two … three … four … five!”

I blew the air out, trying to read Dr. MacNear’s face.

“She’s right there—I can see her head. You’re doing great,” she reassured me.

Another contraction came and went. I held my breath and heard them count to five while I pushed. Anna and Brett stayed close on either side, telling me over and over again that I was doing a good job. Another contraction, more pushing.

“You’re so close, Ash, she is RIGHT THERE. I think we’ve got one more. Give me your best push on the next one.”

I nodded at Dr. MacNear. Again, I took a quick scan of the room and could not believe how quiet it was. How quiet I was. In between contractions, the room was practically silent, save for the music streaming through Brett’s phone. Everyone was calm, relaxed, composed. I felt totally at ease.

A Spotify commercial started playing.

“No no no,” Brett said, “We are not having this baby to a Spotify commercial!”

We all laughed. Too late.

With the next contraction, I took a huge inhale, held my breath, pushed as hard as I could, and there she was.


My girl.

My baby girl.

It felt like a dream.

I hardly remember any details from what came next. They said she had a huge head. They said the cord was gorgeous. She was crying, and I knew that was good. A nurse stood over me and rubbed her back. There was a warm blanket on us. She had so much hair.

I loved her.


I do not remember being stitched up. I do not remember delivering the placenta. I do not remember the science lady taking the placenta. I didn’t care about any of it.

I remember sunlight suddenly pouring into the room, and how warm I felt, and how thankful I was to be fully, wholly present for those first few moments with my daughter.

My daughter.

At the hospital where we delivered, they call the first hour after birth the golden hour. They emphasize skin-to-skin and breastfeeding, and want the mom and baby to stay together as much as humanly possible.

I will always remember the sunlight on the hardwood floor.
I will always remember how the room lit up for her.
How much I lit up for her.


Brett took her to be weighed and you can imagine all of our surprised faces when the scale announced 6 pounds, 10 ounces. Someone made a joke about it being a good thing she came early, because she might have been 9 pounds if I had gone till my due date.


They put me in a fresh gown and handed Brett and I “Sutter Sunrise” mocktails—a mixture of orange juice, cranberry juice, and sprite. It might as well have been a piña colada served to me in the middle of a desert. We chugged those, asked for more, and soaked up a few minutes next to the window before getting moved to the recovery room.


Final thoughts?

Presley’s birth was, in one word, redemptive.

I know births don’t always go according to plan. I know this because my planned water birth ended in a scheduled c-section, and my scheduled c-section ended in a drug-free VBAC.

But this birth? With this baby? Everything went according to plan. I felt supported and cared for and listened to from beginning to end. I loved my doctor. I loved my nurses. I loved how quiet and serene and calm everything felt. I loved that I didn’t scream like a dinosaur. I loved that my first few moments with Presley were marked by mental presence, and not by excruciating physical pain.

Everything about having this last baby feels bittersweet … and I guess at the end of the day, I am just so grateful I was able to experience a relatively uneventful birth, with my beloved epidural, bringing a baby into the world to the sound of my own happy cries.

(Well, that and the Spotify commercial.)


Presley Joy Gadd
Born January 12, 2019
6 pounds, 10 ounces
19 inches


Thank you, Jesus … for this answer to prayer, for our missing puzzle piece, for always bringing sunshine after the rain, for her.

// Last photo by Kelli Seeley Photography.

p.s. You can hear me tell this birth story on the Coffee + Crumbs podcast today!


Ashlee Gadd

Ashlee Gadd is a wife, mother, writer and photographer from Sacramento, California. When she’s not dancing in the kitchen with her two boys, Ashlee loves curling up with a good book, lounging in the sunshine, and making friends on the Internet. She loves writing about everything from motherhood and marriage to friendship and faith.

Part of me

First song: Things Are Gonna Change by Canyon Hearts

Second song: You’re a Part of Me by Jillian Edwards featuring Zach Berkman


Ashlee Gadd

Ashlee Gadd is a wife, mother, writer and photographer from Sacramento, California. When she’s not dancing in the kitchen with her two boys, Ashlee loves curling up with a good book, lounging in the sunshine, and making friends on the Internet. She loves writing about everything from motherhood and marriage to friendship and faith.

just you wait ...

“Just you wait … girls are emotional.”⠀
“Just you wait … girls are dramatic.⠀
“Just you wait … girls are SO hard.”⠀

This was the script offered to me my entire pregnancy by well-meaning friends, acquaintances, and strangers at the grocery store. ⠀

I smiled and said nothing. ⠀
I wish I hadn’t said nothing. ⠀

Happy International Women’s Day, from me and the daughter I’ve prayed for all my life. Just you wait … she’s going to change the world. She’s already changing mine.

Photos by Brett Gadd, who offered to take pictures of his favorite girls one sunny afternoon a few weeks ago.


Ashlee Gadd

Ashlee Gadd is a wife, mother, writer and photographer from Sacramento, California. When she’s not dancing in the kitchen with her two boys, Ashlee loves curling up with a good book, lounging in the sunshine, and making friends on the Internet. She loves writing about everything from motherhood and marriage to friendship and faith.