Spotted in the halls of L.A.’s Cedars-Sinai hospital on Jan. 12, the tattooed new dad created a bit of a buzz. But Good Charlotte singer Joel Madden wasn’t wringing his hands, wiping his brow or showing the usual symptoms of first-time father anxiety. Instead “he always had a smile on his face,” says a patient. “He looked over the moon.”
He had plenty to be excited about: Just one day earlier his girlfriend, Nicole Richie, 26, gave birth to their first child, 6-lb. 7-oz. daughter Harlow Winter Kate Madden. “We are very blessed she’s healthy and beautiful and so good already,” a thrilled Madden, 28, told PEOPLE a day after Harlow’s debut. “We are very happy.”
Ditto for grandpa Lionel Richie, who met the family’s new addition shortly after her arrival. “While it may take me a moment to adjust to being called Granddad, I am extremely happy and proud of Nicole and Joel,” Lionel, 58, said in a statement, adding that the pair “are going to be wonderful parents.”
They put their skills to the test quickly when the couple brought baby Harlow to their Glendale, Calif., home on Jan. 12. “She barely cries, even when Daddy is changing her diaper, and believe me I suck when it comes to diapers, but I’m learning!” Madden wrote on his design company’s Web site Jan. 14. And though Richie hasn’t gotten much sleep—no surprise there—”she is beaming every time she sees the baby,” says a Richie friend. “She’s so in love with the baby.”
Not long ago, starting a family would have seemed like the last thing the former Simple Life star was prepared to take on. A former drug addict who entered rehab in 2003 after an arrest for heroin possession, Richie seemed to be spiraling out of control again a year ago. Amid much speculation about her dwindling size (she has denied suffering from an eating disorder), she was arrested in December 2006 after driving the wrong way on a freeway. She pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of marijuana and Vicodin. (She was sentenced to alcohol education classes and 90 hours in jail, of which she served just 82 minutes due to overcrowding.) “It was bad decision after bad decision after bad decision,” Richie told Diane Sawyer in August as she confirmed her pregnancy. “I’m in a completely different place right now. I owe the baby my life.”
With the strong support of Madden, whom she began dating in 2006 and plans to marry, though no date has been set, Richie was determined to get healthy. “She’s matured a lot over the past year,” says a source close to her. “She’s got a new mind-set.” Along with giving up alcohol and drugs, Richie reconnected with her biological mother as well as her adoptive parents, Lionel and Brenda Richie (who have been divorced since 1991). “There was just something inside of me that felt a responsibility to mend any issues that I’ve had with my parents in the past,” she told Access Hollywood in November. “I put them through a lot.”
Richie is also finally taking a bit of advice from her parents. “Life isn’t just about having fun. That was something Lionel and Brenda always put a lot of emphasis on when [Nicole] was growing up, but she finally embraced it,” says a source close to Richie. Case in point: She and Madden created a charity, the Richie-Madden Children’s Foundation, in Harlow’s honor, and through it donated her baby shower gifts to 100 new moms.
Richie also overhauled her eating habits. “Since she got pregnant, she’s made a real effort to eat real meals,” says another source close to Richie, who had to give up sushi and caffeine and give in to her spaghetti and meat-sauce cravings at all hours of the day. “She has been staying away from fast food and focusing on nutrition.”
To Madden, impending parenthood changed both their lives. “We’re different people already,” he told PEOPLE last summer. “It’s a whole new world.” He spent months revving up for his role as “Superdad,” as he puts it. Along with designing baby clothing for his DCMA Collective fashion line and placing earphones on Richie’s belly so the baby could rock out in utero, Madden has also made it a habit to tune in to Nickelodeon. “With the baby on the way, I’ve been getting really into kids TV,” he said. “I’ve been slowly submerging myself in that world so by the time my kid is old enough to enjoy that stuff I can be a part of that.”
But will they be prepared for the dreaded teen years, when Harlow is old enough to get a tattoo like Mom and Dad? Richie’s not worried. “[The baby] is going to be so embarrassed by Joel’s tattoos and my tattoos,” she told Access Hollywood. “You never want to be like your parents.”
But the mother-daughter similarities are hard to hide, according to Madden. “[Harlow] looks so much like her mom it’s crazy!” Madden wrote on his site.
Richie only hopes she can guide Harlow through example. “I don’t want my daughter, who is obviously very impressionable, looking up to someone constantly making bad decisions,” she told Diane Sawyer. “I never took [being a role model] seriously before…. [Now] I have to really be someone that I would want my child to look up to.”