Zoë Saldana on Going Back to Work After Having Twins: ‘I Cried Every Day’

07/26/2016 at 06:15 PM ET

Zoë Saldana had a lot more than just getting into character on her plate while filming Star Trek Beyond last summer: Her and her husband Marco Perego-Saldana‘s twins Cy Aridio and Bowie Ezio were just 6 months old when she started filming.

“The first week back at work, I think I cried every day in my trailer,” she tells PEOPLE exclusively. “But I remember as soon as they would tell me ‘We’re ready for you on set,’ I would still skip to set. I love what I do.”

The 38-year-old actress acknowledges that she’s not the only one struggling with being separated.

“You do need to rest, you do need to have a moment to yourself, but right now this is my life as I know it. They’re 20 months old, and they’re starting to feel my absence,” she says.

“They still don’t really have an accurate concept of time, but they’re becoming a little anxious. And that’s when you ask people, you ask a therapist ‘Is this normal?’ You read books, you go on Google … But I always explain to them that I come and I go, but Mama has to work.”

She adds, “I also make sure that they see me happy when they come visit me at work — they need me to lead by example.”

Zoe Saldana
Araya Diaz/WireImage<

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Of course, the effects of motherhood weren’t only psychological for the star. “I remember telling [writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung] that I did not want to be a part of anything ‘stunt-y’ because my body was still trying to get back into shape and organs were trying to get back into their natural position,” she explains.

“You’re not as sturdy as you believe yourself to be and I wanted to give my body time. I didn’t want to force myself into anything. They were like ‘Oh my God, absolutely.’ ”

Happy Father's Day! Feliz día de los padres! Buona Festa del Papà Tu… Tú. Solo tú… Siempre tu

A photo posted by Zoe Saldana (@zoesaldana) on

Ultimately for Saldana, having pride in her career is paramount — and doesn’t get in the way of being a mom.

“I carry pain like a rock in my chest whenever I’m away from my husband and children, but I love what I do, and I can’t give that up,” she says. “If my boys never see me fight for my dreams, they’ll never fight for theirs.”

For more from Zoë Saldana, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.

— Catherine Kast

FILED UNDER: Exclusive , News , Parenting , Zoe Saldana

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Showing 16 comments

Meena on

Zoe seems like a nice woman and I wish her, her husband and her boys the best. However, while I am sure it was hard to go back to work, Zoe had options. Most women go back to work because they have to. So, it is hard for me to relate to someone who could never work a day again in her life and the lights would still be on and the food would still be on the table.

Sarah on

I agree with you, Meena. Great comment. I think she most likely is a lovely person. However, she probably doesn’t HAVE to work. Some moms leave their 6 month olds because if they don’t, there is no grocery money or coins for the laundry, or house insurance, etc. Literally. She works because she loves it, and that’s great. But she doesn’t HAVE NO CHOICE but to go to work. Personally, if I had that much money, I’d never leave my kids at that age. Work to live, not live to work. My 2 cents.

kelly on

shut up zoe. You got an autoimmune disease. beaten by your exes. what else is new? and who cares ? just say that you want to be white. admit it.

Meena on

@Sarah, very nice comment as well. If I would have had the choice, I would have waited until my son went to school. Oh, well, he is 19 now and I did the best I could. He is a great young man.

Please on

Meanwhile working moms with real jobs roll their eyes collectively.

ldstep on

Oh please. Zoe just stop it. You have finances to support all the options you have regarding your kids, childcare, travel……etc. in order to be with them.
There are Moms and Dads (here in the real world) that wish they had your problems. So sick of the Hollywood types acting like they know, and experience, the everyday hardships common folks go through regarding work and being present for their children.

Dixie on

Her twins are awfully black for having a white blue eyed father.

Chung on

I don’t know how such an unattractive woman became an actress?

Marc on

@Dixie, I know it’s odd…just saying.

Theresa on

I wish celebrities would admit that they WANT to go to work…. not NEED. It’s okay to enjoy your job but I hate the insinuation that she doesn’t have a choice. She does. She’s lucky.

Tam on

Wow you guys are so mean! So what if she’s filthy rich…that doesn’t change the fact that ALL moms miss their babies when they go back to work, or leave them for a short amount of time.
This mom shaming crap has got to stop!

Liz on

I love Zoe, she has a gorgeous family!

Hehe on

@chung well your dads Nasty tadpole made it and here you are

Hea on

She has a contract so she has to work. Same as everybody else who’s employed. Hollywood and the entertainment business depend on actors and actresses performing. I for one appreciate that my favorite performers stay in the business despite having kids. I take great pleasure in their work and I appreciate their talents and efforts.

Yolander on

I think she is a role model for balancing work and raising kids like most women do. Good for her.

Tyra on

Her kids are so cute.