Something was gnawing at Hoda Kotb: She wanted to be a mom.
But, already in her early 50s, “I was at a point where things were not in my favor,” she recalls to Us. “Every time I had a pang like, ‘I wish I could,’ I pushed it away.”
Eventually, those feelings became all-consuming. Inspired by Sandra Bullock, who adopted her two children — “I felt if she could do it, it could be done” — and a gut-wrenching viral photo of an orphaned Syrian refugee, she finally decided to take action. “All of a sudden, I thought, ‘Why not me?’” confesses the host of NBC’s Today. “I wanted it to go from a dream, a wish, a prayer to a reality.”
So, in 2017, she adopted daughter Haley, now 17 months, with longtime love Joel Schiffman. “I have spent 50-plus years without a child and now wake up in the middle of the night, like ‘I have a baby!’ ” gushes Kotb, 54. “I can’t believe I get to do this. It’s the coolest thing ever.”
She shares her joy with Us.
Us Weekly: How did Joel react when you said you wanted to be a mom?
Hoda Kotb: I told him, “I need to discuss something with you and it’s a biggie. Don’t answer now. Take a week, a month, whatever.” I said I wanted to explore adoption. He looked at me and said, “I don’t need a minute.”
Us: Do you hope you’ve inspired others to adopt?
HK: One of the best things is when people come up and say, “I’m adopting. I thought it was too late for me, too.” I’m moved to tears. I’ve made so many choices but none was more important or monumental. It’s the best one and I just saved it for later in my life.
Us: What was the hardest adjustment?
HK: My whole life, my career has been riding shotgun with me. But now, with Haley, it feels like, for the first time, I can see clearly. I understand my purpose. I understand why I’m on this earth. All of a sudden, the most exciting part of the day is after work when I’m holding her. Not when I’m interviewing someone, even if it’s Beyoncé!
Us: Do you ever felt guilt when you leave?
HK: I do. When you wait so long for something, you don’t want to miss anything. Inevitably, I do. I come home and my babysitter or my boyfriend says, “You are not going to believe what happened!” But I also want her to know I enjoy work.
Us: Why is it important for her to see mom chase after her dreams?
HK: My mom was a working mom and she never said, “Mommy wishes she could be home.” I want Haley to know you can be a loving mom and also be a multifaceted person. Would I like to spend every waking second with her? Yes. But I also know that to be happy, you have to have other things you enjoy. I want her to know work is a good thing if that’s what she wants to do.
Us: How do you and cohost Savannah Guthrie support each other?
HK: We can commiserate, especially when we feel like we’re putting a lot of time into work. When you go home, you only get to put them to bed and that’s all you get that day. But we also talk about every little accomplishment. We exchange pictures. I told her Haley escaped from the crib and she was like, “OK, here’s what you need to do.”
Us: What has Kathie Lee Gifford taught you about parenting?
HK: As a result of Kathie Lee’s advice, one of the first words Haley learned was “please.” Well, she says, “peas.” I want her to know that you just don’t say you want something and it gets handed to you. You have to ask for it nicely and be polite. Kathie raised incredible kids. You can only dream of your kids being raised like that, so I take her advice to heart.
Us: Do you have an embarrassing mom moment?
HK: I was taking Haley on a flight, just me and her. I was seriously praying, “Please don’t poop.” Immediately, as we were taking off — it was gigantic! Twenty years ago, if I were a mom, I might’ve been embarrassed. Now, I really don’t care. I will say, “I’m so sorry! Wow, you picked the wrong seat.” But she’s a baby. Everyone’s been through it.
Us: How has being an older mom changed the way you tackle motherhood?
HK: She’s teaching me to be more patient every day. I’ve also learned not to sweat the small stuff. Sometimes, you get caught up like, “Do we have milk? I need more Aquaphor.” Then I look at her and stop worrying. The other day, I walked in and she held on to my neck and just laid there. I stood there and thought, “If this were my last moment, it would be the very best moment of my life.”
Us: As she grows up, what are your hopes for her?
HK: I want her to be strong and gentle. I want her to know who she is, to be polite and determined, but also know when it’s OK to take a rest. I struggle every day trying to figure out how to teach that.
Us: How has your relationship with Joel changed since you became parents?
HK: It keeps getting better. I didn’t how sexy it would be to watch my life partner dance with our daughter in the kitchen. It’s the best thing ever, a whole other level of love that I haven’t experienced.
Us: Will you adopt again?
HK: Never say never. I don’t want Haley to ever be by herself. When you’re an older parent, you think about those things more than you would if you were in your 20s. I always say, if it’s meant to be, it’ll just happen. I’ll just put it out in the universe and see what happens.
Kotb hosts NBC’s Today show, weekdays beginning at 7 a.m. ET.