It's a Girl! And a Girl!

updated 02/22/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/22/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

A YEAR AGO, AFTER HEARING SOME MOMENTOUS news from her doctor, NBC newswoman Mary Alice Williams sent a frantic computer message to her colleague Jane Pauley. It consisted of a single word: "HELP!"

Next, recalls Williams, "I walked into her office, which was next to mine, and said, 'I'm having twins.' "

Pauley, who has 8-year-old twins of her own, Richard and Rachel, calmly "stood up, held my hand, walked me over to a chair and was silent for about three minutes," says Williams, 43. "The first thing she said was, 'When mine were born, I felt so sorry for everyone else who only had one.' "

Heaven knows that in the four months since the Oct. 17 arrival of Laura and Sara—three weeks ahead of schedule—Williams has had reason to doubt Pauley's sanity on the subject of multiple births. There was that stretch, for instance, when the twins were up all night "on different schedules," at the same time that her older daughter, Alice, 3, came down with chicken pox and had to be bathed at two-hour intervals throughout the night to relieve her itching.

But in spite of such trials, Williams and her husband of five years, television producer Mark Haefeli, 37, are getting accustomed to the pace. "Three children seems, well, unseemly at my age," she says, only a trifle self-consciously. "But it's wonderful—a second life for me."

It was not so very long ago that Williams seemed happy enough with her first life. But a year after Alice's birth. William and Haefeli decided to try again. "We thought it was important for Alice not to grow up an only child," says Williams. "My brother and three sisters are the bedrock of my life in a way that even Mark and the children never can be." After long months of unsuccessful treatment with fertility drugs, the couple consulted their longtime friend John Cardinal O'Connor of New York about a Catholic agency adoption. Two days later they learned that Williams was pregnant. "I chalk it up to a little bit of divine intervention," says Haefeli.

Not that the twins were angels, even in utero. "Alice's pregnancy was so easy and idyllic, 'says Williams. "This one was so hard. I could tell they had different personalities, even in the womb. Sara came out all ready In grab life. Laura just barely opened her eyes until her actual due date." These days Sara is finished with four months of colic, says Williams. "She's chatting all the time, happy and smiley and interested in everything." Laura, on the other hand, is "still our wee one—and the easiest little baby."

With the announcement of her second round of impending motherhood, friends, family and neighbors began to shower the couple with gifts, including a special memento from Can-dice Bergen. Last May, Williams, playing herself in the Murphy Brown baby-shower episode, presented Murphy with a Thighmaster. Last September, Bergen returned it—and followed up with two pink baby undershirts emblazoned with the FYI logo of Murphy's TV news show.

Though Williams, unlike Murphy, is uncertain about the date she will return to work, she admits to being "really anxious to get back. I miss the daily press of deadlines and writing." That decision will be eased, no doubt, with help from Haefeli, who does dishes and laundry, and Cecelia, the same Irish nanny who helped out after Alice's birth and who, says Williams, "is legal and has a green card." In addition, Williams's days of sleeping in two-hour shifts have, mercifully, passed. "The babies are more settled now," she says. "They go down at 9 at night, are up at 4 in the morning and then down until 7. It's a legit, full night's sleep."

At this point, Williams sounds almost rhapsodic. "You forget how difficult and time-consuming it is to have a newborn at home, and having two at the same time is pretty rough," she says. "But now that they are giving back—communicating and smiling—it's wonderful. I know I'm very blessed."

Not so blessed, though, that Williams would like to take the leap again. "Mother of God, I am over the legal limit!" she says, surveying her active brood. "This plant is closed. "

TOBY KAHN in Montclair, N.J.

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