Post-Ellen DeGeneres — and the dazed and confused episode that followed their break-up — Anne Heche was hard at work on the film John Q (opening Feb. 15). The actress calls playing a tough hospital administrator opposite co-star Denzel Washington a relief from her woes. "Doing the movie was a real celebration for me in the transition of my life," she declares. "After you get the gift of trauma, you're able to open up to many things. I was closing a chapter of pain and crossing into joy."

Now married to cameraman Coley Laffoon, Heche expects their baby next month. Though she reportedly knows the baby's sex — and even has a name in mind — the future mum's keeping, er, mum. In lieu of info about her unborn child, she offers up many adjectives. "It's an awesome thing," she says. "I'm elated, anticipatory and thrilled."

Heche's last experience with pregnancy was on NBC's defunct soap, Another World — where the Call Me Crazy author often had identity crises while playing twins Vicky and Marley. In her costume as a soap mom, she recalls: "The pillows under my clothes kept getting bigger, like my stomach is now. They didn't add padding to my thighs and butt. That's real life. I'm just hoping the birth will be less painful than the one on TV!"

In John Q, Heche turns down Washington's son for a heart transplant because insurance won't pay for it. The dilemma carries special resonance for the mother-to-be. Says she: "I can already feel how far I would go to protect my baby."

And as for the years she spent in that much-ballyhooed romance with DeGeneres, Heche has no regrets. "Each choice I've made has helped to bring me to where I am today," she muses. "I haven't talked to Ellen since I left. I have no idea what she'll do if she sees me in public... I know that it's always more painful to be left. It wasn't easy to break up.

"I loved my relationship with her," adds Heche, clearly emotional. "I would never say a bad word about her. I wish her success in love."