Baby, It's You!

09/04/2003 AT 01:00 PM EDT

By the time Brooke Shields gets to her 9:30 breakfast meeting, she's already been up nearly five hours, thanks to Rowan, her 3 1/2-month-old daughter, who awoke at 4:45 a.m., ready to feed a full two hours ahead of schedule. "She changed her routine this morning," Shields says with a sigh as she arrives at the W Hotel in Los Angeles. Though Shields, 38, sounds like any new mom – fatigued, sleep-deprived and bemused by the baby paraphernalia, "all the just-in-case stuff" she totes everywhere – she's still very much Brooke: courteous, well-organized, slyly funny. "I have to nurse in 45 minutes," she warns as she slides into her chair, looking gorgeous in a pale brown blouse and jeans. Precisely three-quarters of an hour later, she asks a waiter to find the woman who's minding Rowan. "Tell her I'm ready," she deadpans. "If you can't find her, just tell all the babies you see that I'm ready to nurse."

But don't let Shields's ready humor and infectious joy fool you. She has achieved her giddy happiness the old-fashioned way: She earned it. The birth of Rowan Francis Henchy, who weighed in at 7 lbs. 5 oz. after a cesarean delivery on May 15, followed a difficult period that began in 1999 with the breakup of the actress's two-year marriage to Andre Agassi and continued with the suicide of her close friend and Suddenly Susan costar David Strickland and the cancellation of the show. Even after Shields found new love with sitcom writer Chris Henchy (Spin City), whom she married in April 2001, heartache persisted on two fronts. There was her father Frank's protracted battle with cancer – and Shields's own struggle with infertility. Frank, 61, passed away in April, shortly before Rowan was born. Now, Shields and Henchy take no minute of parenthood for granted. "I'm amazed every day, watching Brooke and the baby," says Henchy, 39. "It's amazing to see a living soul that has come from this marriage."

At the time of their wedding, Shields and Henchy already knew that attaining parenthood might be tricky. Nine months earlier Shields had been diagnosed with cervical dysplasia, a condition involving abnormal cells that, if left untreated, can lead to cancer. "The treatment wreaked havoc on my cervix, creating scar tissue," she says. "It's like jumping in a pool with no water. There's nothing to help the little guys swim through." But the complication actually strengthened the couple's bond. "Knowing we wanted children helped us decide we wanted to be married," she says.

With that understanding, Shields and Henchy tried to get pregnant right away. After six months without success, they turned to in vitro fertilization, a method that would join his sperm and her eggs in a petri dish, then return them to her uterus as embryos. In late 2001, after Shields finished a starring run on Broadway in Cabaret, they took their first swing at IVF, and seemed to hit a home run. But three months later, Shields suffered a miscarriage. "We were crushed," she says. "Up till then, I thought simply because it was time and I wanted to have a baby, it would work out."

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