in 2001 when the actress starred on Broadway in Cabaret
, quickly began to suspect something was up when she sat down with Shields last month for a cup of coffee. The first clue? "She ordered dessert," says Gotti. "Chocolate pudding." Giving Shields, 37, a careful once-over, she noticed a little pouch—"like she had swallowed a basketball"—around her pal's midriff. So, treading where only girlfriends dare, "I said, 'Hey, I hope you don't take offense at this, because I know how you are about your weight, but are you pregnant?' She looked at me and just couldn't hide it."
As a joyous Gotti stood up and shrieked, a blushing Shields said, "Nobody knows!" Except, of course for her husband, comedy writer Chris Henchy, 38. Shields admitted that she is due in early May—then swore Gotti to silence until she could tell family and friends. At 11:45 p.m. on New Year's Eve, Shields phoned with mixed tidings. On a down note, she said, her father, Frank, 61, had just begun what she hoped was a final round of chemotherapy after two years of battling prostate cancer. The good news? "I'm ready to tell everyone about the pregnancy!" Shields, who downed crackers early on to battle nausea, stays fit by taking prenatal yoga and long walks with Henchy. "She looks wonderful," says her stepmother Didi, 62. "She's glowing." She's also getting some hands-on baby-care experience by spending time with a 4-month-old niece. As for Shields's own pretty baby, says Gotti, "she doesn't know if it's a girl or a boy, and she doesn't want to know."
Shields and Henchy first began trying to conceive not long after they wed in April '01, according to Gotti. (Shields's first marriage, to tennis star Andre Agassi, ended in '99.) Every day they play Name That Baby. "She's totally enjoying her pregnancy," says Gotti. Friends expect she'll enjoy motherhood too. "Brooke is attentive, reliable, cheerful, slyly smart and without a bone of pretension," says James Toback, her director in 1999's Black and White. "If there's a better recipe for becoming a great mother, I don't know what it is."
New York Post columnist Victoria Gotti, who met and befriended