When Jen Lilley welcomed her and her husband's newborn daughter Julie Evangeline at the end of July, she wasn't sure if she'd be able to add another Hallmark Christmas film under her belt — but the actress told PopCulture.com that she was "so grateful" the network asked her to return so quickly.
"I was so grateful that they let me do a Christmas movie this year," Lilley told PopCulture.com exclusively. "They knew I had a baby and they said, 'Do you want six weeks off or do you want eight weeks off before you return to camera?'"
Praising Hallmark as the most "female friendly" networks she's worked with, she added, "I don't know any network that is so female friendly. They're incredible. I was really, really delighted that I got to still get a Christmas movie under my belt this year, having had a baby at the end of July."
Praising Hallmark's vast collection of holiday movies as "synonymous with Christmas," she gushed over "the caliber and quality" of the films "that they pump out in such mass quantity. They don't miss a beat."
"I'm just completely in awe of this network and so happy I get to be on it," she said.
Filming on her latest Christmas project — Angel Falls: A Novel Holiday — started in October in North Bay, Ontario, Canada, with a rigorous filming and post-production schedule to keep it on pace with a seasonal release.
Not only is Lilley a brand new mom to her daughter Julie, she and her husband Jason Wayne are also the adoptive parents to 3-year old Kayden and foster parents to his 20-month-old brother, with plans to adopt him in the very near future. But being a mom to three kids under 3 years old is something she said she never imagined for herself.
"Even when my husband and I started fostering ... we thought, oh we'll just foster and pat ourselves on the back and be just such nice people that foster, and then give the babies back and it'll be fine," Lilley said. But that all changed with Kayden, whose adoption was finalized in June.
"And then Kayden was actually our first placement and we ended up adopting him. I'm thrilled about it. But it's just so funny, because we thought it was going to be three months, and three months turned into forever pretty quickly," she gushed.
While motherhood was something The Spirit of Christmas star "always considered doing," she "wasn't sure whether I wanted to ever be a parent. Kayden definitely paved the way. Once you're a parent there's no going back," she said, adding that she credits Kayden for opening that part of her heart. "He gave me permission to explore pregnancy and have that chapter of my life. Because otherwise I don't think I would've ever gotten pregnant either. I would've just been foster parent, that's it."
As far as her and Wayne's plans on creating holiday traditions for their growing family, Lilley — who described herself as someone who "100 percent" loves holiday movies as much as the typical Hallmark fan — said she's excited to have a household of young children with whom to share the magic of the holiday.
"I'm really looking forward to this Christmas more than any Christmas prior, because Kayden's 3, and so he really starts to understand all of the concepts. He understands that Santa Claus is a thing, and he understands that he has a sleigh. He understands the naughty and nice list. There's so many things that I'm really looking forward to," she gushed.
"I've fostered other children, but they've been older where they don't really believe in the magic of Christmas, so it's our first experience having our own child who is in our house, who really understands the magic of Christmas and just getting to see it through his eyes, which is really refreshing. It does bring you back to your childhood."
Angel Falls: A Novel Holiday stars Lilley, Carlo Marks and Eric Close, and premieres Sunday, Dec. 15 at 9 p.m. ET on the Hallmark Channel.