Eileen Finan
February 15, 2017 11:15 AM

In December, Thomas Rhett and his wife Lauren were on a week-long safari in Tanzania — a rare break from touring for the singer — when Lauren started feeling sick.

When the country star offhandedly suggested his wife take a pregnancy test, Lauren scoffed. “I was 100 percent sure I was not pregnant,” she tells PEOPLE exclusively.

Months earlier, the couple had quietly started the process of adopting a baby from Africa — and stopped trying to have a baby on their own, she says.

“When we began the adoption process, we said, ‘Let’s wait, let’s give this adopted child his or her time with us and then we’ll continue our family,’ ” Lauren explains. “So I was convinced it was food poisoning.”

 

But just in case, she decided to check. Certain the result would be negative, Thomas Rhett left his wife with their friends, Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard and wife Hayley, who were on safari with them, for a treadmill workout when Lauren took the test.

Sure enough, it was positive. “I’m jumping up and down, Tyler’s giving me a bear hug and Hayley’s running out of their room and I’m like, ‘Thomas Rhett is not even here!’ ”

The trio ran to the gym and blurted out the news.

“I was in complete and utter shock!” says Thomas Rhett, 26. “No one is ever prepared for something like that. It is almost like we suddenly had twins.”

It was, the couple says, the sweetest surprise they could imagine. With not one, but two, babies on the way, “we feel more than blessed,” Lauren says.

after our first [mud bath] play date 🐘💙 #LuggardandLaur #soundsgoodtogether #besties @dswt

A post shared by Lauren Akins (@laur_akins) on

The couple, who first met as kindergartners and who celebrated their four-year anniversary in October, held the idea of adoption in their hearts long before they began the legal process.

Lauren, who has a nursing degree, has been volunteering and taking mission trips to Uganda and Haiti with the non-profit 147 Million Orphans, an organization for which Thomas Rhett raised more than a quarter million dollars in a benefit last year, and the two say their involvement with the group fueled an interest in adopting.

“We tried to get pregnant for a little bit before,” says Lauren, 27, whose own mother was adopted. “It was a good chunk of time and our family is extremely fertile, so I was expecting it to happen easily. I was like, ‘Maybe this is the Lord’s way of telling me adoption is what he wants me to do.’ And I was okay with that.”

“It’s funny to me how we tried so hard and then we didn’t try at all and it happened!” Lauren says. “We feel like it’s all part of the plan.”

Lunch in the bush 🍴🌾 #TheVogueTripTravel #OurSingita #Singita_ #Africa #TheVogueTrip

A post shared by Hayley Hubbard (@thevoguetrip) on

The couple hope to finalize their adoption well before their biological baby arrives in early August to allow time to bond. Meanwhile, Thomas Rhett says he’s seeking out as much parental advice as he can.

“I’ve been doing as much talking to other artists who have kids as possible,” the singer says. “I had dinner with Dierks Bentley and his wife the other night and I got a few tips from Dierks. He was like, ‘Well, you’re not going to get any sleep and Red Bull is going to be your best friend!’ ”

The singer, who kicks off his headlining Home Team tour on Feb. 23, says he’s already converted his bus to make it baby-friendly. “I took a whole row of bunks out of my bus and got a baby crib put in there. So we’re getting life on the road ready for when we do bring them out there.”

Today was amazing @dswt

A post shared by ThomasRhettAkins (@thomasrhettakins) on

Adds Lauren: “And we put two dog crates in there as well, so literally our whole family can go on tour if we all want to stay together.”

Although the couple is still processing the shock of all the sudden changes, “I think the way it all worked out, both of us have such a peace about this whole process, that it’s so right,” Lauren says. “We could not be happier. We feel like 2017 is going to be our big year.”

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