Photography: Elizabeth Messina

“They are divinely different,” Brooke Shields says of her two daughters. At 31/2, Rowan, who already knows the word “paparazzi,” is “so sharp and so bright and so articulate and so intuitive,” Shields says, while baby Grier “smiles and giggles and coos; she's in an altered reality.” Just three months after welcoming her second child, Shields went back to work, appearing in the FX drama “Nip/Tuck” in the wickedly dark recurring role of Dr. Faith Wolper. “I am someone who has never not worked,” says the actress, who has graced runways, stages, and screens large and small since she was 3. At the same time, she is embracing with new confidence and contentment, a role she was destined to play.

postpartum depression, which she chronicled in her 2005 book, “Down Came the Rain.”

“Knowledge is definitely power,” she says; “I knew that if anything were to happen, I would be prepared to deal with it.” Unlike her first pregnancy, which resulted from “countless IVF treatments,” Shields says, “this pregnancy was naturally conceived. For the first three months, while she starred on stage in “Chicago,” she “was exhausted, but I was so unbelievably in shape, and I was eating so well," she recalls. “I continued yoga after my Broadway run, and hiked.”

Reflecting on Rowan’s birth, Shields says, “Just being a first-time mother is frightening enough; being rushed in for an emergency C-section was such a shock to my system.” This time, “I had a planned C-section; we were prepared for it, so I was not scared.”

And blissfully, Shields says, “I’m having such a different experience with my second daughter; I’m so connected to this baby.” Still, as she strives to balance the demands of motherhood and career, she relies on lessons learned during the bleak months after Rowan was born. “The thing that I’ve learned the most is that it is so justified to ask for help,” she says. “It’s really hard to be a mother. Women feel like they have to be perfect; we expect so much of ourselves.”

While she admits, “For me to be wellrounded, I need to have my passions,” Shields says, “I’m never not thinking about my children. I’m a full-time mom in my brain, and I am a full-time working person.” Women without an outside outlet “have truncated part of their lives,” she believes. “Give your brain a chance to think of something else besides your kids; it could be anything, from a weekly knitting session or a book club or fundraising to an advertising job or real estate or academia.”

She also advises that “women need to be okay with using the resources available to them. If I have someone helping me in any way, whether it's a relative or a nanny, I enjoy my children more,” she says.

New mothers should be reassured: “You will get your body back. You will sleep again. It will always get better.” It takes conscious effort and time to adjust to parenthood. She and husband Chris Henchy “had the biggest fight” on their first romantic post-baby getaway, Shields confesses. For a while, a child “dissects” your marriage, but it also “unifies you in a way that you are now bonded on a completely different level.”

With Rowan, “I wanted perfection instantly,” she concedes. But now she knows: “It’s very difficult to become a first-time parent. It changes everything but in a brilliant way. Things have a way of settling into the next level of unbelievable closeness. You come out a completely different and yet enriched person.”

> Written by Kim Knox Beckius