“We used to go on vacations all the time, but then suddenly Sarah was pregnant,” the Shameless actor tells PEOPLE of life prior to son William Wolf‘s birth in 2009. “All our energy was going to the baby.”
But when the couple welcomed twins Violet Moon and Knox Blue last March, they felt a little more prepared for what was in store.
“It is not easy, but all three are beautiful babies,” says Howey. “We’re a very close-knit family, just bigger.”
Shahi, 36, gave birth to Violet (who is the older twin by two hours) and Knox at their Sherman Oaks, California, home — a decision the couple made after watching a documentary called The Business of Being Born.
“You have more control during a home birth and with hospital births, there is a system in place and we didn’t like the whole system,” Howey explains. “[Sarah] did not like the idea of being injected with stuff and having a c-section.”
Howey says he helped deliver the babies with the aide of a doula, midwife, and — for the twins — a licensed OB/GYN, and contends that he understands home births are “not for everybody.”
Naming their brood was a little easier: Howey says the pair “went through a bunch of different names” before settling on Moon as a middle moniker for Violet, as it is Shahi’s mother’s maiden name.
“Moon is the English translation of Sarah’s mom’s name,” he shares. “[We] were going to name her Moon, but we decided that was better as a middle name. We liked Ruby and Olive — we liked colors for a girl — and then I came up with Violet.”
He calls Knox’s moniker “old timey” and says Wolf is named as such because he “wanted to go with an animal name.”
“Names are tough because one person loves it and another person hates it, but these kids were not going to be named Steve or Michael or anything like that,” he says.
Just a couple of months after giving birth, Shahi flew her newborns with her to New York City, where she was filming Person of Interest.
Meanwhile, Howey, 38, stayed with Wolf in Los Angeles, where he was filming Shameless.
“It wasn’t ideal,” admits Shahi. “But we made it work with lots of communication.”
Recently reunited in Los Angeles, Shahi says she and Howey are “in the trenches together” as they establish their routine.
“It can be overwhelming,” says Howey, who gives their nanny a lot of credit for making their lives easier.
“But Sarah and I work really hard now to schedule workout time together. Or we’ll run to the kitchen and do a tequila shot really fast — just do something together. Then it’s right back into the playroom or changing a diaper.”
For more from Howey and Shahi, including how the twins get along (or don’t!), pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
— Patrick Gomez