“When you’re a mom late in life, you realize the gift it is,” says Kotb, 53. “I’m not saying I wouldn’t have realized it when I was younger but trust me, when you’re a new mom for the first time at 52, you get on your knees and say thank you. Because you get to do something you didn’t think you had a shot at.”
After a battle with breast cancer a decade ago left her unable to have a child, Kotb thought she might never become a mom. Since welcoming Haley — who was born on Feb. 14, 2017 — “everything has changed.”
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“It’s like the tectonic plates have shifted,” she says. “I have a crystal-clear understanding about my purpose in life, which I didn’t before, and it’s to love her all the days I’m allowed to.”
“I think it is the greatest way to instantly prioritize your life and realize what matters,” adds the television journalist.
Kotb just published her first children’s book, I’ve Loved You Since Forever, which was inspired by Haley as well as Kotb’s long journey toward becoming a mom.
“Somewhere out there this child is there for me and that phrase, ‘I’ve loved you since forever,’ was something that I had written down because that’s what it felt like,” she says about the title of her book.
I’ve Loved You Since Forever is available now.
For more from Hoda Kotb, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.