By Karen S. Schneider
December 13, 2004 12:00 PM

In the past month, Julia Roberts has had plenty of time on her hands. Time to flip through magazines. Time to ponder the perfect furnishings to give her nursery a vintage feel. Time to think up interesting baby names—and time simply to ready herself to be a first—time mom. (There was no shortage of advice; during her pregnancy, her representatives received hundreds of letters and books from fans, plus a stack of résumés sent by would-be nannies.) While the rest of the nation battled pre-Thanksgiving grocery lines and airport crowds—and while her costars in closer and ocean’s twelve promoted their December releases—Roberts was stuck in bed at an L.A. Hospital, tending to her other two productions: her twins. After experiencing early contractions on Oct. 23, she had checked in and remained hospitalized under her doctor’s supervision. Two days before thanksgiving, however, she was released to wait out the rest of her pregnancy—and celebrate the holiday with husband Danny Moder—at home. According to a friend, “she looked beautiful, just breathtaking, right up to the moment she gave birth.”

An event that happened sooner than she expected. Roberts, 37, went into early labor on Nov. 28, at 36 weeks pregnant, and returned to the hospital. There, at around 3 a.m., she gave birth via C-section to a boy and a girl weighing just over 5 lbs. each—and carrying rather curious monikers: son Phinnaeus Walter, a little-known name that harkens back to the old testament, and daughter Hazel Patricia, whose name has not been heard of since the days of Mildreds and Gladyses—and a sitcom busybody played by Shirley Booth four decades ago. (The middle names come from Roberts’s father, Walter, who died in 1977, and Moder’s mother, Patricia, who died in 2001.) Though the littlest Moders arrived a bit early (the average pregnancy lasts 40 weeks; for twins it lasts 37 weeks) there were no complications. According to a close source, Roberts planned to spend a couple of days at the hospital recuperating from surgery, then head home with Hazel and Finn, as his parents plan to call him, and take on what will surely prove to be her most demanding production to date: Bringing Up Babies. So far, so good, said her rep Marcy Engelman in a statement: “Mother and babies are doing great.”

Naturally. After the telltale tightening of her waistline last spring hinted that her long-held dream of motherhood was about to come true, Roberts had only one truly tough pregnant moment. Driving away from the doctor who informed her she was having twins, she told Oprah Winfrey, “I panicked in the car.” After that she never looked back—or even threw up. No morning sickness. No swollen ankles. As she she told USA Today, come from hardy stock.”

Indeed, until she was put on bed rest, pregnancy did not get in the way of her daily life with Moder, 35, a cameraman whom she met on the set of The Mexican in 2000 and married in 2002. On location in Italy for Ocean’s Twelve during her first trimester, she impressed coproducer and costar George Clooney—who only found out about her pregnancy, he says, by reading the news in the papers—by okaying a last-minute scene spoofing herself. (Her character, Tess, looking an awful lot like that movie star Julia Roberts, pretends to be a pregnant Julia Roberts.) Clooney called her willingness to play ball “a hard thing to do, because you’re using yourself as a target. But she jumped in with both feet.” Off-screen, whether at home in L.A., Manhattan or at her ranch in New Mexico, Roberts took pleasure in eating “nearly without pause,” she said, singing Joni Mitchell and Dave Matthews songs to her babes and, as usual, doing her own cooking and cleaning—including scrubbing the toilets until what she called her “enormous” tummy made it impossible for her to bend down. Moder was always there for her, “always very attentive and loving,” says a friend. “He wanted to take really good care of her and make her feel safe and comfortable.”

No doubt her early contractions jolted their serenity. (And plans. Until confined to bed in California, Roberts had planned to give birth in Manhattan, which she considers her true home.) Her hospitalization certainly unnerved friends and colleagues. Closer producer John Calley called it “spooky,” but Roberts assured her Closer castmates—who did the press rounds without her—that her bed rest wasn’t as dire as some reports indicated. “Just about everything has been an exaggeration,” she told them. The she added with a laugh, “I’m riding that wave to get out of work though.” Joking aside, the bedridden Roberts did more than read magazines and, as she said, “count our blessings.” Like all expectant mothers, she worried. “[About] everything a little bit,” she told Winfrey. “You know, sort of, like, someone says, ‘Oh, you know, you can’t feed honey to babies for their first year of life.’ What if you didn’t tell me that? What would have happened?”

She would surely have sorted it out. Still, the demands of dual diaper changes, feedings and baths have convinced the die-hard do-it-yourselfer to, as she said, “get some help.” According to a source in New Mexico, the new parents plan to arrive at the ranch soon after the holidays. Her next role will not require her to lose the baby weight; she’ll provide a voice in Ant Bully, her first animated movie, produced by Tom Hanks’s company. She may also show up on the red carpet early next year if she receives Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for her critically acclaimed performance as an unfaithful wife in Closer. Till then, she will likely do little more than try to figure out a nap schedule. “I’m an old lady,” said Roberts a few days before giving birth. “I don’t need to seem cool and interesting and crazy and on the edge.” Still, Closer producer John Calley hopes the new mother will keep working. “Being a mom is just overriding everything else in her life. But I don’t think she’ll disappear,” he says. “She’s a great actress. It’s hard to imagine her not using that creative capacity.” Legos, anyone?

Karen S. Schneider. Michael Fleeman and Alison Singh Gee in Los Angeles, KC Baker in Manhattan and Inez Russell in New Mexico