Diaries Magazine

Presley Joy Gadd: A Redemptive Birth Story

By Agadd @ashleegadd

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.

Presley Joy Gadd: A Redemptive Birth Story

{ 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!

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