Every Reason to Smile

10/17/2002 at 01:00 PM EDT

Faith Hill

Faith Hill

Audrey spent her first three weeks in the hospital. Initially Hill and McGraw stayed there as well before moving into a hotel across the street. They visited every three hours. "I couldn't hold her for the first few days," says Hill. "That was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life." She fed Audrey her own breast milk stored in "these little bitty bottles." Lots of bottles. "I had a supply in the freezer for the entire city of Nashville. It was comical around the hospital. But Audrey was totally on my milk and did amazing." The baby came home on Christmas Eve, and doctors expect her to suffer no long-term effects from her premature birth. As Audrey's first birthday nears, says Hill, the baby, now weighing in at 20 lbs., "is fat and happy, perfectly normal, though not quite up to the size and weight she should be."

Hill is finally down to the size and weight she likes to be -- thanks to months of yoga and four-mile treadmill workouts. But that wasn't the case in March, when she sang the Pearl Harbor theme at the Oscars corseted into two "amazing" Versace gowns. "I had been wearing sweats and these were so tight, I couldn't breathe," she says. "It was crazy. I was trying to suck everything in. I have to say, though, it was about the first time I actually looked like a woman. I had hips. I had breasts. Because really I'm built more like a boy." And her postpartum curves weren't the only thing making her self-conscious. "I was still breast-feeding," says Hill, who worried that might become too obvious, live on global television. "If there's applause or you're in the middle of something, you raise your arms and all of a sudden, 'Hello -- anyone thirsty?' You have absolutely no control."

Most days, though, Hill has managed to weave motherhood seamlessly into her professional life. While finishing the CD, she usually scheduled her studio time between 9 p.m. and midnight, so McGraw would be home to watch the girls. When that wasn't an option, she brought Audrey into her vocal booth -- placing her in a car seat or rocking her as she sang. "If Audrey giggled or grunted between takes, we used it, but if she screamed over Faith's voice, we'd stop," says her producer Dann Huff. "Faith's all business in the studio, but there's a family vibe."

They keep that vibe on the road, where they've been since September, traveling from Louisiana (where they taped Tim's Nov. 27 NBC special) to L.A. (where they taped Faith's), Europe, New York and, next, Asia.

Back home the family lives a down-home life in a brick six-bedroom house just outside Nashville. Gracie and Maggie attend private school and Faith and Tim faithfully appear at every Christmas program and class party. They've been known to pop into the local Baskin-Robbins for ice cream (Faith's favorite: one scoop each of vanilla and chocolate) or to Dotson's for fried chicken. "She's country; she doesn't think she's better than anybody," says waitress Teresa Smithson. "They don't act like they got a lot of money."

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