Nineteen and a half hours into labor with her first child, actress Gabrielle Carteris contrived a way to take her mind off her contractions. She would watch a little TV. As luck would have it, her favorite show, Beverly Hills, 90210, was about to begin. This is, of course, the phenomenally popular Fox series about L.A. college kids in which Carteris, looking far younger than her 33 years, costars as bookish, bespectacled Andrea Zuckerman. And on this balmy Wednesday evening in May, a very pregnant Andrea just happened to be going into labor herself.

Hunched beside Carteris as she sat up in bed in a delivery room at L.A.'s Cedars-Sinai Hospital, Charles Isaacs, 34, her stockbroker husband, was staring at a very different screen: a fetal heart monitor, which showed a strong and steady heartbeat emanating from the couple's healthy, soon-to-be-newborn daughter. Carteris, even while immersed in the latest pulse-quickening episode of her prime-lime soap, could not help but notice the bizarre coincidence here. "There was Charlie sitting on the bed watching the fetal heart monitor," she recalls, snuggling with him now on a sofa in the den of their single-story gray stone house in the San Fernando Valley, "while I'm watching Andrea's husband, Jesse [played by Mark Damon Espinoza], watching her fetal heart monitor."

Finally, at 10:04 p.m. on May 11, Kelsey Rose Isaacs made her long-awaited debut, weighing in at a hefty 7 lbs., 10 ozs.—and emoting lustily.

"She really is a 90210 baby," says Carteris today as she enters Kelsey's room to breast-feed her infant daughter. Mom isn't exaggerating. Carteris's pregnancy could not have been more timely had it been preordained by the show's producers. In fact, it practically was. Last summer, when Carteris and Isaacs decided to have a child, Carteris sought the blessing of producer Aaron Spelling, 90210's paterfamilias. "Would you be mad at me if I had a baby?" she asked.

"It was adorable the way she said it," Spelling recalls, chuckling. "No one has to ask if they can have a baby. But Gaby's just that way."

Spelling, like any shrewd producer, had the show's writers work Carteris's planned parenthood into Andrea's storyline. Then, as Carteris recalls, "one day last August, they said, 'Gabrielle, whenever you're ready,' " she recalls. "And it was that night that I got pregnant."

Such astonishing liming comes as no surprise to Carteris's cast males. "Gabrielle has her act together more than anybody I know," says Ian Ziering, who plays Steve. "She's incredibly organized. She organized the cast party. Christmas parties, charity events. And the baby." At first, Ziering didn't believe that the scripts could possibly accommodate Carteris's pregnancy. "But of course everything worked out as per Gabrielle's plans," he says. "Things have a way of doing that for her."

Despite her reputation, life has not always gone according to plan for Carteris. She and her twin brother, James, now a children's clothing designer, were born in Phoenix, the only children of restaurateur Ernest Carteris and his wife, Marlene, a Realtor. Six months later the marriage ended, and Marlene took the kids to San Francisco, where she opened a children's clothing boutique. Her parents, Sidney and Ray, moved in to help raise the children, and Gabrielle became especially close to her grandfather, who died when she was 9. "I still cry when I think about Sidney," she says. "He was a tremendous human being. When my daughter was born, I looked at her, and I knew that he lives on in her."

Although Ernest rejoined the family briefly when Gabrielle and James were teenagers, their parents never reconciled, and Gabrielle resented what she saw as her father's earlier abandonment of them. "It's only now I can say we are really friends," she says. Just recently, she, Charlie and Kelsey flew to New-York City, where Ernest manages a restaurant in Bloomingdale's department store, to introduce him to his new granddaughter.

What might be termed the 90210 phase of Carteris's youth began when she entered Redwood High School in Marin County, Calif. Until then she had been a loner, a voracious bookworm whose only other passion was ballet. "I'd never had a social life with my peers," she says. "So I got into parties and experimentation"—with drugs and alcohol. Jim Carteris laughs at his sister's admission. "Who didn't?" he says. "That's consistent with being a teenager. Gaby is probably the most levelheaded person I know. She had a good reputation with everybody—and we had a school of 3,000 people."

"I was a very good student," Carteris says. "Like Andrea." Sensible Andrea, though, would have never become a mime. Gabrielle did, at 16, touring Europe with an eight-person troupe. After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., in 1983, she began performing in regional theater. TV roles followed, including a brief stint as a runaway teen on the NBC soap Another World.

Then, in May 1990, a matchmaking friend suggested that Isaacs, who had been Carteris's stockbroker in Manhattan for three years, lake her out on a date. "Things progressed pretty quickly after that," says Isaacs. So did Carteris's career. Three months later, she was invited to enroll in 90210's fictional West Beverly Hills High School. A bicoastal romance ensued, until Carteris put her fool down. "She's very direct," says Isaacs. "She said, 'The commuting has to stop.' I had to think about whether I wanted this thing to work." In early 1991, Isaacs moved to L.A. to join her, and they wed on May 3, 1992, in a Jewish ceremony at Santa Barbara's Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel attended by all her 90210 cast mates, with the notable exception of Shannen Doherty, with whom Carteris is not close. "I'm sad for her," she says of her cast mate's much-publicized problems. "I think she has a painful road. She's young, I know, but youth is not an excuse."

She still regards the rest of the ensemble as her surrogate family. She is pals with Jason Priestley and Luke Perry, and her closest girlfriend is Jennie Garth, who has already dropped by to see Kelsey. Loyally to the cast kept Carteris working throughout her pregnancy; still, she says, "the last couple of shows were very emotional, very hard to do."

Especially unnerving was the episode in which Andrea finally gives birth, through a cesarean section, to a sickly baby weighing only 2½ lbs. That show was filmed in March, when Carteris was in her seventh month. Her obstetrician, Ruth Cousineau, had warned her that, given Carteris's petite 5'1" frame and the robust fetus she carried, a C-section might be necessary. To preclude that possibility, Dr. Cousineau, to Gabrielle's great relief, decided to induce labor a full week before Carteris's May 17 due date.

At 12:30 a.m. on May 11, at Cedars-Sinai, Carteris was given a shot of the labor-inducing drug Pitocin, and soon her contractions began. At 10 a.m., after Carteris's water broke, Dr. Cousineau prescribed an epidural anesthetic—to be injected into the spinal column to block sensation from the waist down. After receiving the epidural, Carteris felt comfortable enough to entertain visitors, including her mother, who had flown in from San Francisco, and her husband's mother, Hilda, and stepfather, John Whitby, from Pennsylvania. Isaacs shooed them all out around 8 p.m., "so I could be with my wife," he says. That also happened to be when 90210 came on.

When Kelsey finally poked her head out, "there was a real silence," says her mother. "I didn't cry then. I was really happy and proud—and worn out. This was the greatest moment in my life." Two days later, she says, "we were at home. It was 6 in the morning, and I was singing to her. I thought, 'Oh, my God, she's everything in the world.' And that's when I started to cry."

Kelsey does most of the wailing these days—whenever she's hungry or needs changing. In mid-July it's back to work for Carteris—with Kelsey in tow—as 90210 begins its fifth season. For its first working parent the show has built a nursery.

"I feel very blessed," says Carteris. "There are so many women who have to go to work right away and have to leave their child, and I get to go to work and watch my daughter grow up. It's a tribute to the people I work with."

In a world fraught with perils that have left her feeling, at limes, "very helpless and very frightened," she says, she has no fears about bringing up Kelsey. "My child has the potential to truly make a difference in this world," says 90210's most relentless optimist. "Without her, it's one less hope."

MICHAEL A. LIPTON
JOHN HANNAH in Los Angeles

  • Contributors:
  • John Hannah.