03/27/2006 at 01:00 AM EST
Angela Bassett was absent-mindedly checking her messages at home in L.A. on the afternoon of Jan. 27 when she heard the words that sent her into full-fledged panic mode: "My water broke!" The message, from the surrogate mom who was carrying the boy-and-girl twins of Bassett and her husband, Law & Order: Criminal Intent actor Courtney B. Vance, came five weeks prior to the babies' due date. "I was like the classic crazy dad: 'What do I drop, what do I do, what do I take, where do I go?'" recalls Bassett. "I called my neighbor to drive me because I was a nervous wreck."
But the nerves quieted as soon as twins Bronwyn Golden and Slater Josiah arrived via C-section with Bassett and Vance looking on. "We had watched a lot of births on the Discovery Channel so we wouldn't faint when we got there," says Bassett. Healthy despite their early arrival, "they were so tiny," she says. Since bringing them home in mid-February, "we continually try to go back to the way we used to do things," says Vance, "and we have to say, 'Wait a minute—there are a couple of new sheriffs in town!'"
At long last. For Bassett, 47, and Vance, 46, the twins' arrival marks the completion of an emotional seven-year journey that began when the couple—who met as classmates at the Yale School of Drama—first started trying for children two years after their 1997 wedding, with no luck. "There are a whole lot of avenues to have a child," says Bassett. "And we were on like the next-to-the-last street."
Deeply religious, the couple—who cowrote a new book about their journey, Friends: A Love Story—say they never wavered in their belief that they would become parents. "I had faith, so I never really got discouraged," says Bassett. Meanwhile, Vance was ready to investigate adoption when a family friend suggested surrogacy, in which a surrogate mother would carry the couple's own embryo. "My friend told me that Jesus was had by a surrogate, and I said, 'Thank you for that,'" recalls Bassett. "It's a story you have heard over and over, and to think about it in 2006, it makes sense."
After settling on an agency, the couple—who decline to discuss the medical specifics but say that the babies are biologically both of theirs—were matched with a potential surrogate mother. "You go from unacquainted strangers to hyper intimacy in a nanosecond," says Bassett. But they were soon put at ease by the surrogate, a married mother of two whose identity they are keeping private. "Once they helped us find our surrogate family, we became so close," says Vance, who flew in from the New York City set of Law & Order for the monthly ultrasounds.
Then came the news that the surrogate was carrying twins—a development Vance had dreamed about seven years earlier. "I didn't know how or when, I just knew we were going to have twins," he says. At the doctor's office, "we saw the first heartbeat, and it was like, 'Wow! Look at that! Wow! There's another one!'"
Now that the babies are finally here, the couple—who remain in touch with their surrogate and continue to send photos—are slowly adjusting to life with two needy newborns. "I was the queen of, 'I can be ready in 15 minutes,'" says Bassett. "Now if I can put some clothes on by 5 p.m., it's quite an accomplishment." Although they have the help of a live-in nanny, the pair trade off bottle and diaper duty—with the ever-organized Bassett even creating Excel spreadsheets to keep track of everything. And at just two months old, the babies' differing personalities are already emerging. "Slater is chill and relaxed, and that's the way he was in the womb," says Vance. "Bronwyn was always moving. She came out like that, left arm in the air. She's drama!"
A future drama school grad in the making? For now, the new parents are simply marveling at their altered priorities. Although Bassett has no plans to take a break from acting—her next film, the family drama Akeelah and the Bee, opens in April—her life has changed in ways both big and small since the babies' arrival. During the recent Oscar weekend, "there were so many offers to go to this party and that party," says Bassett. "It was a lot more fun to sit and gaze at my two little stars."