'She Gives Life a Whole New Meaning'

'She Gives Life a Whole New Meaning'
Nicole Richie and Joel Madden
Lester Cohen/WireImage

02/28/2008 AT 12:00 PM EST

Padding downstairs with her 6-week-old daughter, Harlow Winter Kate, in her arms and her boyfriend, Joel Madden, by her side, Nicole Richie apologizes for running behind schedule. "I was joking with Joel today – I think it's impossible to be on time with a newborn," says the new mom, barefoot and makeup-free as she settles into the baby-gear-filled living room of their Glendale, Calif., home. Adds Madden: "It takes an hour just to get out of the house. Like, 'Oops, now she has to eat. Now she has to change!'"

Clearly, Richie, 26, and Madden, who turns 29 on March 11, are adjusting to life in the New Baby Time Zone. The Good Charlotte frontman warms a bottle of breast milk and begins Harlow's evening feeding – stopping to burp her after every two ounces – while he and Richie reflect on the past year. A onetime Hollywood wild child who underwent rehab at 21, Richie – singer Lionel's daughter and Paris Hilton's former cohort on The Simple Life – is much more settled these days. "I didn't just wake up one morning and say, 'Okay, today I'm going to change,'" she says. "It was more of a gradual, day-by-day thing."

With Harlow settling in for a snooze on her dad's chest, Madden and Richie talked with People's Lisa Ingrassia and Marisa Laudadio about their new lives.

A year ago, would you have imagined this scene?
Joel: [Parenthood] was not in the plans. But it's the best thing that's ever happened to us. It was a gift from God. It was a big surprise but neither one of us even skipped a beat.
Nicole: Yeah, it was never like a bad thing. It's weird – even though we had only been together a few months, we had lightly talked about having a family. I think we always knew.
Joel: We just get each other. We're both laid-back people. It's never been a job to be in this relationship.

How have things changed since Harlow arrived?
Nicole: It's crazy. It's almost like I don't even remember what life was like before her. She gives life a whole new meaning and a whole new purpose.

How did you first tell Joel you were pregnant?
Nicole: I picked a really bad time! I couldn't hold it in. He was flying from Japan to Europe, so right before he gets on a 16-hour flight I was like, "I have to tell you something."

How was your pregnancy?
Nicole: I didn't have morning sickness, and I was waiting for it. I was tired a lot but that was really the only thing. And according to [Joel], my hormones were really bad.
Joel: Nicole is really laid-back. You can tell her anything and she's like, "Whatever." And that was the first time I'd seen her get worked up. I'd be like, "Whoa, this is not the girl that I know." Like, if I was late – which is usually no big deal – it was like, "Where were you? You know that I've been waiting here, you couldn't even think to call?" It was cute.

Did you have any cravings?
Nicole: Nothing really crazy. I would eat breakfast for dinner and dinner for breakfast.
Joel: She never liked chocolate, and now she likes chocolate.
Nicole: Yeah, I've always been a cheese/salt person.

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