Although Jen Lilley and her husband Jason Wayne celebrated the arrival of their daughter on July 30, Julie almost made a very Hallmark-esque entrance into the world over the weekend.
Lilley, 34, started having contractions on July 26, but didn’t let them stop her from attending Hallmark’s annual summer TCA event in Los Angeles that evening with Wayne, where she met a helpful new acquaintance from her Hallmark TV family.
“I started having contractions earlier in the day on Friday, but they weren’t consistent,” Lilley tells PEOPLE. “I was absolutely determined to get to the Hallmark Channel TCA party that night, so I put myself on bed rest to slow down any progress. Our poor driver was absolutely panicked when I told him I might be in labor,” she recalls. “But I told him not to worry if he does end up taking us down the road to Cedars [hospital] at the end of the night.”
The Love Unleashed star continued having contractions throughout the event, which at one point increased from 12 minutes apart to five minutes.
“These were different than the Braxton Hicks contractions I’d been having since mid-second trimester. They started in my back, rolled to the front,” she explains. “They were exactly a minute long, and lasted the entire dinner hour. Jason was slightly nervous, asking, ‘Shouldn’t we go? Dr. Brock said to head to Cedars when they were 10 minutes apart.’ I said, ‘We’re so close to Cedars, I think we’re fine.’ “
Around that same time, Lilley remembered hearing from her producer friend Kim Arnott that fellow actress and Hallmark star Ashley Williams was a midwife and might be a good person to consult, just in case.
As it turns out Williams, who was also in attendance at the event, is a doula — a woman trained to provide support for women in labor — and was happy to check in on Lilley.
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“It was a first for me,” Williams says of being asked to use her doula skills at a social event. “To be at a rocking party and have someone tap me on the shoulder and say ‘Jen Lilley is in the bathroom and she’s in labor!’ I was asked if I was a midwife and if I could help. The answer, of course, is ‘No. I’m a doula!’ But that doesn’t mean I can’t be helpful.”
The Christmas in Evergreen star continues: “Of course I see Jen and she is just stunning. Not in the bathroom, but just chatting and laughing with friends. She was cool as a cucumber. I asked her how she was feeling, how I could help. And the truth is, she totally had it. She was completely relaxed and giggling. I told her that no one’s eye makeup will ever be so perfect when they give birth. ‘Your pictures are going to be so pretty!’ We sat together and I asked someone to bring her a gigantic bottle of water.
“I had a feeling it was very early in labor and might’ve been just that we were all simply dazzled by Kristin Chenoweth’s performance!” Williams adds. (Chenoweth made a surprise appearance at the event and performed two songs). “A lot of the time contractions can get going leading up to a birth, even days before, due to dehydration or excitement. It was a hot night. And did I mention Kristen Chenoweth’s performance? Her singing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ would’ve sent anyone into labor, even those of us that weren’t pregnant!”
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Lilley agrees that she felt relaxed about the situation and was glad to meet Williams under such festive circumstances.
“Ashley arrived, asked me a few questions, and was as calm as I was,” Lilley says. “She told me to drink water, have some dessert, and enjoy the party. So we did. The contractions relented later that night so I decided to go to bed and figured when it was time to head to the hospital, I’d wake up and know. Little Julie certainly has a sense of humor.”
Williams was delighted to make the connection and share a small part in Julie’s arrival.
“I am so excited to hear the awesome news of her sweet baby arriving,” she says. “It’s my favorite thing in the world to champion women, especially in this powerful time in their lives. I was honored to have been a part of it!”
Lilley and Wayne’s family is now a party of five: Julie joins two sons, 3-year-old Kayden and the family’s 14-month-old.
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