By Lesley Messer
November 08, 2010 12:00 PM

Cradling her sleeping son in her arms as a makeup artist preps her for a PEOPLE photo shoot, Saturday Night Live comedienne Rachel Dratch goes straight for the jokes. Sitting in her New York City apartment at a table littered with baby books and vitamins, Dratch begins barking orders. “I want full makeup on the baby as well!” she says, laughing. “False eyelashes, Victorian rosy cheeks and metallic eye shadow!”

She’s lost sleep but not her wicked sense of humor since giving birth to son Eli Benjamin on Aug. 24. But Dratch, 44, turns serious to concede that motherhood is a huge transformation. “This whole [experience],” she sighs, “leaves me speechless.”

And until now Dratch had also been silent about the identity of Eli’s father-her boyfriend of just over one year, John Wahl-whom she refused to name publicly during her pregnancy, to preserve their privacy. “But then all the reports were saying ‘the unknown father,'” recalls Dratch. “I was like, ‘Maybe this has gotten too mysterious!'”

While the truth about Eli’s dad isn’t “the crazy story” that some may have expected, nonetheless, “it’s crazy for me,” says Dratch. “I thought my life was headed a certain way, and then I got a major surprise.”

The big plot twist was conceiving Eli. Before she met Wahl, Dratch had come to terms with the likelihood that-given her age and lack of a romantic partner-she’d probably never have a baby. “It was painful,” she recalls. “I knew I didn’t want to have kids on my own, but I’d always envisioned myself with them. I was letting go of that.”

The actress recalls trying to focus on the positives of not being a mom, like being able to dash out and meet friends at a moment’s notice. “I was just like, ‘This isn’t the vision I had for my life, but I’m just gonna have to go with it,’ ” she says.

Then last summer she met Wahl, a California-based consultant to natural-foods businesses, at a pub near her home. “I’ve never met a dude in a bar,” she laughs. “I guess on the thousandth time, you can finally do it!” The two began chatting and, after just six months of casually dating, Dratch was shocked to learn that she was expecting. “I was hyperventilating,” she says of looking at the pregnancy test. “I could not believe my eyes.”

Numb, Dratch told Wahl, who, while floored, was supportive and volunteered to help raise the baby. “It was a no-brainer,” says Wahl, 42, who moved to New York City as soon as he could, to be close to his new family. And while he has his own apartment, he’s very hands-on. “I wanted to be a part of Eli’s life every day.”

As for Dratch’s living situation, the actress enlisted celeb designer Nate Berkus to help her convert half of her apartment’s single bedroom into a nursery (“He did a good job,” she gushes) and filled up her living room with supplies, including a “deluxe stroller” gifted by SNL castmates Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. “I have more baby stuff than I know what to do with,” she laughs.

Today Dratch’s schedule is consumed by work (she is penning a book about her pregnancy, guest-starred on 30 Rock‘s recent live episode and appears on The Women of SNL special Nov. 1 on NBC) and spending time with Eli. She discovered she was uniquely suited to handling a newborn’s erratic sleep schedule. “Everyone says, ‘You’re not getting any sleep,’ but I’m used to this. The SNL hours gave me a bit of an advantage.” Agrees Poehler: “Rachel has all the right skills to be a great mother: kindness, humor and the ability to sleep in 15-minute intervals.”

But her patience in spite of sleeplessness still wows her boyfriend. “It stuns me how tireless she is,” Wahl says. “She’s running on new-mommy euphoria, and it’s entirely beautiful to watch.”

The two are still happily dating, and though they’re parents, Dratch is unsure if marriage is in their future. “It sounds crazy, but we’re still getting to know each other,” she says. “Right now we’re both just focused on Eli.” And whenever she looks at her son, Dratch seems completely at peace. “This has taught me, You never know,” she says. “I feel super lucky.”