THE PARENTS: Ashley Eural, 34, and Daniel Eural, 35, of Burlington Township, N.J.
THE KIDS: Levi Brown, 4; Asher Lee, born June 29, 2021
THEIR NAMES: Both were drawn to Biblical first names; their sons’ middle names honor family members on Ashley’s side, since the boys have Daniel’s last name.
Despite the arduous experience of bringing their firstborn into the world — a three-day labor, a rough start to nursing, a bout of postpartum depression — Ashley and Daniel were certain they wanted another.
But Ashley kept thinking: Not yet.
She wanted her body to feel like hers again. Besides, kids were expensive, and if they had another, they’d have to postpone the costly home projects on their punch list.
Then COVID-19 shifted her perspective. “We knew a lot of people who passed in the early part of the pandemic, and a lot of people who had gotten sick. I thought: Things come and go; people are coming and going. I felt like it was the time to prioritize growing our family.”
It was family that brought the two together, beginning in high school, when Ashley sang with a gospel group called Families United; it included her older sisters, her three aunts, her parents, and a few friends. Daniel, a pianist, often accompanied the group along with his twin brother and other musicians.
But it wasn’t until after high school — Ashley at Burlington County Community while Daniel attended University of the Arts — that the two realized their friendship might be something more.
“She went to a family reunion in Tennessee, and I just missed her like crazy,” Daniel says. “I couldn’t wait for her to get home. I thought: She’s it. That’s the one.”
When Ashley transferred to a college in North Jersey, Daniel would go up to visit; occasionally, the two ventured into Manhattan for jazz or other musical shows.
“She was different from any other girl I’d talked to. She was always honest. She didn’t seem afraid to be herself,” Daniel says. “I loved her heart. And I loved that she loved God.”
Ashley felt the same soul-deep compatibility: “I felt like I could be myself, and I could trust his motives and his heart.”
Memorial Day weekend of 2012, as Ashley’s parents readied for their annual cookout, they seemed especially bent on preparations: extra food, additional guests. Ashley was sweating in her blue sundress when, in front of 30 relatives and friends, Daniel blurted, “I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?”
They wed the following year. For months, Daniel had been substitute teaching and working part-time at Home Depot while Ashley was finishing graduate school; they weren’t sure how they were going to pay for the festivities or support a married life.
But a few months before the ceremony, Daniel landed a job as band director at a middle school. “God worked that thing out,” he says.
Both wanted children. Ashley envisioned singing with them, teaching them how to turn everyday events into melody, as her grandfather had with his daughters and grandchildren, who would croon, “You look clean, you smell clean, you are clean” in supple harmonies. “Every part of our life had a song to it,” she recalls.
Daniel remembered the time he spent with his father playing basketball, building a backyard shed, fixing cars. “I wanted to do that with my sons — or daughters — as well. Taking what you’ve learned and passing it down to the people you love.”
Ashley learned she was pregnant on the day of her 10-year high school reunion; they’d been using an ovulation tracker, so the news wasn’t a shock. “He got home, and I was still in the bathroom,” she recalls. “We both were silent. I went to my reunion with this big secret. When we got home, we planned how we would tell people. And we prayed.”
The next nine months brought relentless morning sickness, a swirl of anticipation, and fears. “I was excited about being a father,” Daniel says, “but also scared. I was nervous about it all: how to hold him, how to feed him, how to put him to sleep. Everything.”
Ashley’s anxieties focused on labor, especially since she knew the statistics about Black women and delivery complications. “The medical community has not always been fair to Black women; every worst-case scenario was running through my mind,” she says.
Her induction at Virtua Mount Holly Hospital began with a Pitocin drip and very slow progress. The next day, doctors broke her water. “I ended up getting an epidural,” Ashley says. “My contractions were off the charts, but I wasn’t dilating. I remember praying, calling the doctor, Daniel doing massages, having ice chips. I just powered through.”
On day three, she pushed for 30 minutes. “They put him in my hands,” says Daniel, “and I was in love. I said, ‘I’m your dad. Nice to meet you. We’ve been waiting a long time for you.’ ”
As for Ashley, “I was tapped out — physically, emotionally, mentally. I wanted to hold him and just be.”
At home, at least for the first week, it didn’t get easier: Her breasts ached and her milk was slow to come. Daniel, meantime, was obsessively charting each wet or poopy diaper. “I remember trying to convince Ash that everything was going to be OK.”
The second time around — pregnancy in the midst of a pandemic, and with a toddler at home — was more strenuous. High blood pressure meant weekly doctor’s visits and careful monitoring.
But for this birth, they hired a doula who brought aromatherapy and massage oils; Ashley could walk and stretch between contractions. Daniel was able to cut the umbilical cord.
Now there are golden moments: all four of them in bed, Levi jumping and Asher giggling delightedly. Also, there are days when Levi refuses to get dressed, Daniel’s at work, and Ashley can do nothing but crumple to the floor of Levi’s room with a wailing infant in her arms.
“I’m trying to keep cool,” she says of a recent morning. “I’m exhausted, and my breasts hurt. We just sat on the floor for 10 minutes. Then we got up and … pressed on.”