From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Knox Léon
5 lbs.

Vivienne Marcheline
5 lbs.

BORN
July 12, 2008

They were just minutes away from one of the biggest moments of their lives, but Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were completely relaxed—giddy, even. As Jolie prepared to give birth to twins via cesarean section on July 12, she and Pitt "were talking and laughing," says Dr. Michel Sussmann, the ob-gyn who delivered the babies at the Fondation Lenval hospital in Nice, France. But when Knox Léon entered the world at 6:27 p.m., followed by his sister Vivienne Marcheline one minute later, with Pitt cutting both babies' umbilical cords, laughter gave way to joyful tears. Although the proud dad was "perfectly calm, totally determined, very pleased to be at the birth of his children," says Sussmann, nothing could have prepared him for hearing those first newborn cries: "The emotion," he says, "was very strong."

The surgery only took 30 minutes, but the twins' arrival marked a relief-filled ending to a challenging few weeks for the couple: For the last 14 days of her pregnancy, Jolie, 33, was hospitalized for regular "surveillance," said her doctor. Meanwhile Pitt, 44, tended to the couple's four older children—Maddox, who turns 7 on Aug. 5, Pax, 4, Zahara, 3, and Shiloh, 2—and juggled daily visits to the hospital. "They are all very well," Sussmann told PEOPLE following a July 14 checkup of Jolie and the twins, who each weighed about 5 lbs. at birth. (Like many multiples of that size, the twins are expected to remain in the hospital for five to seven days.)

For a woman who regularly hops continents and flies herself across time zones, being confined to the hospital for two weeks was no easy feat. Still, with a room overlooking the dazzling blue Mediterranean Sea, the actress was able to rest comfortably both before the birth and after. As Jolie's rep Geyer Kosinski told PEOPLE, "Mother and children are healthy and are doing great."

Amid the global fanfare that greeted the twins' arrival—France's Nice-Matin newspaper cheekily heralded the event as "for the American press ... the most important since man walked on the moon"—everyone from the couple's Hollywood friends to the mayor of Nice have extended their congratulations. "The newborns are, as history shows, authentic Niçois [citizens of Nice]," Mayor Christian Estrosi declared while showing off Knox's birth certificate on July 13. Adds singer Wyclef Jean, a close Jolie pal: "I have a lot of well wishes for them."

While they settle into a new family groove, the multinational Jolie-Pitt bunch will remain at the Château Miraval, a sprawling estate in the French countryside where they have lived since late May (the family will likely return to the U.S. before the end of fall). And with so many kids so close in age, their parents will be working overtime. "With our eldest, we have that last half hour at night," Jolie told ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY in June. "Shiloh tends to be the first up in the morning. Everybody gets special time so we can make sure we know where they're at."

The couple, who employ nannies but don't have a live-in staff, also have support from Pitt's parents, Bill and Jane, and from Jolie's big brother James Haven, who flew in for the birth from L.A. Jolie's father, actor Jon Voight, also offered his support. "I'm waiting on her needs," says Voight. "If she asked me to come over, I certainly would be on the next plane."

But even with plenty of extra help, newborn twins are bound to be a jolt to the family routine. The initial news that they were expecting double "did shock us," Jolie told ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. (Multiples do run in the Pitt family: Brad's sister Julie has twin girls.)

As parents, Jolie and Pitt like to emphasize each child's individual strength: Maddox is "very smart but he's got a certain sense of calm," Jolie told PEOPLE in 2006; family comedian Zahara is "the biggest personality in the house"; Pax, who continues to work with a Vietnamese tutor, is his big brother's shadow; and Shiloh is a daddy's girl. Maddox attends the elite Lycée Français—French is the family's "second language," Jolie has said—which has schools around the globe, and at home everyone indulges in lots of arts and crafts and dramatic play. Still, as a mom Jolie can get tough when necessary. "You end up hearing yourself saying all those clichéd parent things: 'I don't care who started it, but I'm here to finish it,'" she told July's Vanity Fair. "But I really can discipline the kids when I need to."

She also finds inspiration in the memory of her mother, Marcheline Bertrand—Vivienne's namesake (see box)—who died of ovarian cancer at age 56 last year. A single mom who split from Voight when Jolie was 3, she raised Angelina and James and instilled a love of family early on. "When [she] passed, I realized that somebody who lives life with that kind of dedication to family," Jolie said, "is the most noble."

Now Jolie and Pitt are working to raise their children with the same kind of dedication. On the set of her summer hit Wanted, Pitt was on daddy duty while Jolie focused on work, recalls her costar Morgan Freeman: "You [would be] watching Papa with them. She was working and he was babysitting." And while Jolie was filming the upcoming drama The Changeling, "I saw her with kids on-set and she's just such a wonderful mom," says her costar Michael Kelly. "You see her with the kids and it's like, 'Yeah, that's the way it's supposed to be.'"

Now that their family has evolved once again, Jolie and Pitt are committed to welcoming Knox and Vivienne and to letting each of their children know just how much they are cherished. "Clearly I love it," Jolie said of motherhood last spring. "It's my favorite thing, to be a mom. It's the most challenging thing I've ever done, and it's the most important work I'm doing. It's the most fun I've ever had."

  • Contributors:
  • Reported by Pete Norman/Nice,
  • Dana Kennedy/Nice,
  • Peter Mikelbank/Nice.