06/02/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT
Wendy Bellissimo called Brooke Shields
on May 14 with some good news: She had just put the finishing touches on the nursery for Shields's L.A. home. But Shields had a pretty big announcement of her own. "She was in the hospital getting her epidural," says Bellissimo, a nursery and baby-product designer. "I couldn't believe she picked up the phone! She was so excited. She'd waited so long for this moment and couldn't believe that it was finally here."
Early the next morning her wait finally ended: Shields gave birth to daughter Rowan Francis at Manhattan's New York University Medical Center, with TV writer-producer husband Chris Henchy, 39, by her side. "I wanted my daughter to have a strong name," Shields, who turns 38 on May 31, told PEOPLE. "It's an Irish name. It felt right." Adds pal Victoria Gotti: "The baby is beautiful."
Rowan has also brought some much-needed sunshine to Shields, who lost her father, Frank, to prostate cancer on April 25, and who had previously undergone several failed attempts at in vitro fertilization. "She said she was getting really worried that she wasn't going to be able to have a child," says Bellissimo. "And now she does!" Adds Shields pal Mindy Weiss, a wedding planner: "It took her so long that being a mom is something she's really looked forward to." While Shields had solicited birthing advice from friends like actress Diane Lane, she also had a bit of delivery room experience herself, after getting an up-close view while researching her role as a doctor in the 1995 miniseries Nothing Lasts Forever. "The doctor pulled me into the room and said, 'We need an extra hand here!' " Shields recalled recently. "I ended up cutting the umbilical cord. So I know what to expect."
She is just as assured about other aspects of motherhood, insisting that it won't take a village to raise Rowan. "I don't want to farm out my children to people," she has said. "I don't want my children loving a nanny or not having mom at their recital or whatever it is that's important to them." The Suddenly Susan vet hopes to act in another TV series, which would offer a work schedule conducive to being a mom. (Husband Henchy will be busy with his new ABC sitcom I'm With Her—based on his experience as a celebrity's husband—which debuts this fall.) "When she goes back to work," says Weiss, "she'll take her daughter with her."
Thanks to yoga classes several times a week and long walks with Henchy (the couple married in 2001), Shields managed to "stay calm" during her pregnancy, says Weiss. Even so, Shields admitted to some baby jitters. "It can be daunting," she says. "You think, 'I'm going to pick the wrong crib, and it's going s to ruin my child's life!' " Not likely, says Bellissimo: "Brooke has great mothering instincts with everyone in her life, so with her own baby she's going to be incredible."