updated 05/02/2013 AT 4:00 PM ET
•originally published 05/02/2013 AT 7:00 PM ET
Raising kids solo at any age is challenging, but raising kids and recovering from childbirth as a 40-plus single parent? That has its own unique difficulties, says Splash star Nicole Eggert.
Not that she’s complaining.
“The kids’ needs come first, work comes second and I come third,” Eggert, 41, tells PEOPLE. “It takes away from any social life you might want to have, but I do it because I love my kids. It’s something you can’t explain. I think it’s something only mothers know.”
Eggert, who is mom to daughters Dilyn, 14, and Keegan, 20 months, says it is absolutely difficult juggling parenthood and work, which includes her stint on Splash and her starring role in Past Lies, a Lifetime Original Movie debuting Friday, and that’s precisely why she doesn’t spent time dwelling on it.
The former Baywatch star says one of her biggest challenges was shedding the baby weight after Keegan, who was born six months shy of her 40th birthday.
“I was eating and exercising but something was off. I saw a doctor and he said I had a hormonal imbalance,” says Eggert, who adds that paparazzi photos documenting her postpartum weight loss struggles bothered her older daughter. “It’s shallow because the person inside is the same person. Dilyn knew me at 98 pounds and she knew me at 160 pounds when I was pregnant with Keegan. When the paparazzi would follow me and judge me it really upset her.”
Before doing Splash, Eggert says she dropped nearly 35 pounds by working out with a trainer and strict dieting.
Later, she says the controversial reality show helped her become even more fit. “[It] helped me build muscle. It was really hard, every day, six-to-eight hours a day of gymnastics, trampoline work and diving. But it did wonders for my body.”
Another perk the reality show? It helped ignite what she calls a “passion” for sports.
“I think I missed my calling in life and maybe I should have been an athlete,” says Eggert, who competes against Drake Bell and Rory Bushfield on Tuesday’s season finale. “The more I do these things, the more I realize I have a passion for it.”
“Is it too dangerous? No, I don’t think so,” she says. “Everyone needs to know their boundaries. Either you’re up for it or you’re not.”
In her case, she says, quitting after her injury was never really an option.
“I have this ‘I can’ attitude and I wanted to show my daughters what you can do, not what you can’t do,” says Eggert. “I wanted them to see that pushing yourself is so rewarding.”