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Hayek's work is never done — as a mom, or for charity
Updated 2/5/2009 2:58 PM ET
NEW YORK — Salma Hayek was born to be a mom.

Her daughter, Valentina, turned 1 in September, and Hayek can't stop gushing about her child, who's now in Central Park while Mom works at their Uptown hotel and awaits the arrival of her boyfriend and Valentina's father, François-Henri Pinault, from Europe.

"There was a lot of crying on both sides because I'm not used to separating from her. I guess I have to start separating a little bit. I'm still with her all the time," says Hayek, whose iPhone screen is a close-up photo of her cherubic child. "She's such a happy baby."

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Motherhood has given Hayek a new sense of purpose. On Thursday, she's launching the second annual Pampers/UNICEF program to stop the spread of maternal and neonatal tetanus. In its first year, the program provided money for more than 45 million tetanus vaccines.

"I've done a lot of social work, primarily with abused women and women's rights. I had the baby and I had so much on my plate, and I said that this year, I'm taking a break from charity. I cannot do it all.

"But then this came along. And I said no. Then I read what it was, and I was so screwed because you cannot walk away from this one."

Last fall, Hayek traveled to the African country of Sierra Leone, where she saw the ravages of the disease firsthand.

"Before we got to the hotel, we stopped at a hospital. (A woman) was trying to breast-feed the baby, and the baby wouldn't take it anymore. I said, 'I think we shouldn't be here.' As we walked out, two to three minutes later, the baby died," she says. "I'll never forget the look of desperation on that woman's face. How can you not get involved, especially when you have a child yourself?"

Hayek is outspoken and at times eye-openingly candid, as she quietly, thoughtfully recalls encountering a newborn child in a clinic during her trip to Africa.

"The baby was perfectly healthy, but the mother didn't have milk. He was very hungry. I was weaning Valentina, but I still had a lot of milk that I was pumping, so I breast-fed the baby," she says, her voice dropping.

"You should have seen his eyes. When he felt the nourishment, he immediately stopped crying."

Does she want more children? "Maybe. We'll see. I have to work a little bit. I am 42. I had her at 41. I don't sleep because she doesn't sleep, but I have a lot of energy," she says. "I don't feel like, 'Oh my God, this is too late.' When you turn 40, it's a lot easier than 30. They lied when they said you get old when you're 40. The best is the 40s."

She certainly looks fresh and chipper. Hayek, in black pants, sweater and newsboy cap, sips coffee and comes across as a whip-smart, forthright girlfriend you'd consult for relationship advice. You can ask her anything — like whether she was addicted to nursing Valentina, as a British entertainment magazine reported. Hayek shakes her head, saying she stopped breast-feeding her daughter months ago.

"We were two weeks off, and then she grabbed it again. One time she asked me for it and I said no. It was so easy. I explained to her why. She looked at me and she understood. She kissed me and that was it," she says. "I underestimated my child. It's the best thing somebody can do for their child. (But) you have to know when to stop."

Her daughter goes everywhere with her, and now, Hayek and Pinault, who's the head of the French luxury retail group PPR (which owns brands including Gucci and Balenciaga), juggle their schedules to make their long-distance relationship work. The two called off their engagement last year but remain a couple.

"This is the best father. I was meant to have this baby with this man. I am so happy I didn't settle and I waited for him," she says. "Had I not, I don't know what my life would be like. You always have to believe there's a greater future, and you have to recognize it when it comes."

Valentina aside, Hayek has been transitioning back into work mode, which includes a six-episode arc on NBC's 30 Rock as Alec Baldwin's va-va-voom love interest. She also runs two production companies, one of them responsible for ABC's Ugly Betty, and is considering two movie scripts she'd like to star in this year.

"I'm having a hard time picking because I don't want to do violent things, I don't want to do too-dark things, and I'm getting those offers," she says.

"I'm being very picky. I haven't worked in a long time, but I'm doing pretty great. I don't want to go to a dark space right now."

Posted 2/4/2009 9:08 PM ET
Updated 2/5/2009 2:58 PM ET
Back to the grind: Salma Hayek will appear on 30 Rock and is looking at movie scripts.
By Stephen Lovekin, Getty Images
Back to the grind: Salma Hayek will appear on 30 Rock and is looking at movie scripts.