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Kelley M. Hensley: Soap Star Mom

It’s a typical day for As the World Turns’ Emily Stewart. She arrives at the police station to offer Hal, the cop on whom she has a crush, some breakfast. Innocent enough — but she has an ulterior motive. Margo accuses Emily of coming by just to get a scoop for her newspaper, the Intruder. Hal defends Emily to Margo, but Emily admits that Margo was right: She did want a scoop. Hal and Emily realize that they will always be at odds professionally — the cop and the reporter — and that dating is not a good idea, but neither Hal nor Emily can stop kissing each other.

Kelley Menighan Hensley-Life is Clear as a Bell Now for this Soap StarAh, daytime television; where you can get lost in the lives of wonderfully wicked and passionate characters and escape real life for a while. As a mother and an actress, Chicago native Kelley Menighan Hensley is having the time of her life on As the World Turns. She has played the role of Emily Stewart for nearly 10 years and loves her job — but not nearly as much as she loves being a mother.

Hensley is mom to 3-year-old Sophie May, and she is expecting her second child. Married to fellow As the World Turns actor Jon Hensley, who plays Holden Snyder, Hensley describes motherhood as “the most important thing you can do with your life.”

Two Very Different Pregnancies
Hensley’s first pregnancy was all an expectant mom could hope for. Aside from some routine morning sickness, Hensley sailed through the pregnancy and delivered a 5 1/2-pound Sophie after only a few hours — and a few pushes — of drug-free labor. Though petite due to a small placenta, Sophie was perfectly healthy. This pregnancy, Hensley has “good days and bad days,” mostly due to a hernia she has had all of her life that was aggravated when she lifted 50-pound sandbags into her daughter’s sandbox.

But she’s not complaining. “The most important thing is that the baby is healthy,” she says, noting that this baby is expected to be bigger than Sophie was. Still, she has reservations about having an epidural or any other pain relief despite the fact that she’s afraid of the pain. “We’re very babied in this country,” she says. “In other countries, they push them [babies] out in the fields.” And hopefully there will be enough time to make that decision. If her labor is faster than her last one, “My doctor jokes about staying in the hospital across the street because it’ll be so fast.”

Hensley’s birth plan this time around calls for lots of music, and an immediate phone call to the doctor once she feels her first contraction. She also hopes it is easier on Jon. “My husband was a nervous wreck. I was more worried about him than I was about me,” she says of her first birth. “After each push, I would scream and then say, ‘I’m OK, I’m OK.’ It’s hard to see someone you love in that much pain.”

Pregnancy Nutrition and Fitness
Hensley is careful about her diet, avoiding red meat and eating lots of fish and turkey. She says it’s important for good nutrition to start before pregnancy. “If you don’t have a good diet, take a year off before getting pregnant and get healthy,” she says. “Fill your bones with really good things.”

Kelley Menighan Hensley-Life is Clear as a Bell Now for this Soap StarDuring pregnancy, she notes that it’s important to eat what your body craves — as long as it’s not only sweets and starches! “I crave leafy green vegetables,” she says. “If you don’t crave healthy foods, you have to force yourself to eat them.” But she also says you shouldn’t deprive yourself of anything. “If you want brownies after dinner, eat them two to three times per week. Celebrate food! It’s a great way to enjoy your body. Don’t think about your weight during pregnancy. Eat when you’re hungry. Celebrate your pregnancy!”

One of Hensley’s favorite snacks is edamame, boiled soybeans loaded with protein and isoflavones. When combined with a fruit smoothie (that her daughter also enjoys), this makes for a perfect meal, she says.

Hensley made sure she was fit before becoming pregnant. Prior to pregnancy, she walked every day, or used a treadmill during inclement weather. She lifted weights three to four times per week and utilized the services of a personal trainer. During pregnancy, however, she has a much different attitude: Don’t knock yourself out. “Months three to four, I did nothing,” she says. “I chased after my daughter and really didn’t care [about exercise]. It’s very liberating not to care about it. The happiest day of my pregnancy was when others could tell I was pregnant, there was no doubt about it.”

Life is Very Different Now

Hensley says motherhood has irrevocably changed her for the better. “Life is clear as a bell now,” she says. “I am 100 percent more emotional than before.” And it’s all because of Sophie. “The unconditional love you get from a child: they don’t care what you do, what you look like, they don’t care about anything but you. I’m not challenged by the piddly things any more. Very few things are very important to me.”

While having children has made the logistics of work a bit more complicated, Hensley has found balance between her personal and professional lives — and actually thrives when she has a lot to do. Her work schedule allows her to have days — and even weeks — off at a time, so when she does make the commute into the city and is gone from 5 a.m. until 8 or 9 p.m., it is not as difficult to do. “I have a partner who is there for me when I need him, and I have a nanny that I trust,” she says. “I love my job, and I want my kids to see that.”

Hensley breastfed Sophie for four months and even pumped her breastmilk while on the job. With this baby, she plans to nurse even longer.

Advice for Pregnant Women
Hensley’s best advice is to rest as much as you can during pregnancy. “Don’t beat yourself up about taking cat naps,” she says. “Your body is making a human being. Plus, you won’t be able to sleep for the rest of your life!” All joking aside, Hensley advises expectant mothers to listen to other moms who have been through pregnancy, and “borrow as many maternity clothes as you can.”

Advice for New Moms
Make sure you have a sense of humor about everything, Hensley says. “One time, my daughter was crying so hard in her crib before bed; she wouldn’t stop and I was worried she was going to hurt herself. So I pulled her out of the crib, put her on the floor and told her to cry there so she wouldn’t get hurt in her crib. She stopped crying immediately, wondering what I was doing putting her on the floor, and I just laughed. You have to laugh! And then she went to sleep.” If you feel stressed, just take a deep breath: “It all passes.”

Listen to your gut more than your mother-in-law or your neighbor, Hensley says, because your gut will never steer you wrong. Also, embrace every moment with your child because it goes by so fast. “You’ll feel like you need to have another one!”

In the end, Hensley reminds us that parenting is a circular and all-encompassing endeavor. “The best thing about being a mom is that you get to experience life all over again, through their eyes.”

At the time of this interview, Hensley was pregnancy with her second child, Spencer James, who was born on January 13, 2002. Her daughter, Sophie May