"I was putting so much time and energy into just my work, but I was raised [to believe] that family comes first," the actress explains

By peoplestaff225
Updated August 05, 2014 02:00 PM

It was the magical moment that started Katherine Heigl and Josh Kelley‘s happily ever after: a picturesque wedding in the mountains of Utah.

“It was Narnia, a winter wonderland. It was magic,” the actress says in the September issue of Good Housekeeping.

But soon after they tied the knot in 2007, the couple began thinking about their family plans, inspired by Heigl’s sister, who was adopted from South Korea.

“My family had its own unique look,” she says. “And I wanted the one I began with my husband to have the same look, in a way.”

Cheyenne Ellis for Good Housekeeping

The couple adopted daughter Naleigh, now 5½, in 2009, and Heigl soon found herself caught up in balancing her new baby girl with a demanding work schedule — long hours on location in Atlanta.

“I would come home angry and frustrated that I’d missed everything with my kid that day,” she recalls. “I didn’t get to wake her up from her nap or do bath time or bedtime. I’d have to sneak into her room and kiss her when she was sleeping, hoping not to wake her up.”

Eventually, the desire to spend her days with her daughter was too strong and Heigl took a leave of absence — before signing off permanently — from Grey’s Anatomy.

“I felt like my priorities were messed up. I was putting so much time and energy into just my work, but I was raised [to believe] that family comes first,” Heigl, who will return to television this fall in NBC’s State of Affairs, explains.

And once the hands-on mama was home mostly full-time, the couple were ready to expand their family further and, in 2012, they welcomed home a second daughter, Adalaide, from Louisiana.

Although Heigl was ready to relish her days with a newborn, she jokes, big sister Naleigh had other plans.

“We brought her home and right away Naleigh was like a little mommy,” she shares. “She’d say, ‘No, no. You’re not holding her right.’ Or, ‘She needs to eat again.’ I’d be like, ‘Would you back off? Just give me a minute!’ ”

Courtesy Good Housekeeping

She adds, “Naleigh would go off to her ballet classes and other stuff, and I would sit with the baby at home. I would read, and she would lie on my chest, and we’d lie on the couch with, like, four dogs and watch Friday Night Lights.”

Now the family of four — plus their pack of pooches! — reside in Utah and Heigl can’t envision raising her children anywhere else.

“We had big dreams of expanding our family, moving to the mountains and having a quieter life. Utah is spectacularly beautiful, the people are wonderful and kind, it’s an easy commute from L.A. — and there’s no traffic!”

– Anya Leon