Last year, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins welcomed home the son she always wanted — after a years-long adoption journey.
“I feel the same way I did when I gave birth,” she says of adopting son Chance 16 years after welcoming daughter Chase. “It’s no different.”
But Watkins’ road to finding her modern family was anything but typical.
Forty years ago, the TLC singer, 47, was diagnosed with sickle-cell disease, which causes red blood cells to stick to vessel walls, blocking blood flow and preventing oxygen from reaching tissues; the lack of oxygen can damage organs and cause pain so severe it requires hospitalization.
Because of the disease, Watkins was told she’d never be able to have children, but she welcomed a daughter, Chase, in 2000. The R&B star always wanted to expand her family, though, and in recent years she began looking into adoption.
In her new book A Sick Life (written with Emily Zemler), Watkins reveals her emotional adoption journey. A few years ago, a woman in her hometown — Des Moines, Iowa — decided to place her child for adoption and made a plan with Watkins.
“I had brought everything and got his room together,” says Watkins, but the day everything was supposed to be finalized, “[the birth mother] stood my mom up at the lawyer’s office when it was time to sign papers. I was hurt.”
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Watkins didn’t give up hope. And in 2015, when that same birth mother in Des Moines became pregnant again, she promised Watkins the baby was hers. In May 2016, Watkins brought home her son Chance, nine months after he was born.
“We all just bust out crying,” Watkins says of the moment the judge finalized the adoption. “I’m not even a happy crier, ever, but I was bawling! I was so relieved because you love this person with all your heart — and to know that someone can still take him from you? I couldn’t imagine. I was so relieved once that part was over.”
Watkins says her new son has only filled her and daughter Chase’s lives with more love and joy.
“Chance has brought new life and fulfillment in our house and made us feel even more complete, and I can’t thank his birth mother enough for that,” she wrote in A Sick Life.
Indeed, Chance is a ray of sunshine — not just to Watkins’ nuclear family but to her musical family, as well. Now on tour with TLC bandmate Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas, Watkins brings Chance along on the road.
“He’s been a blessing,” she says. “He’s so happy, you can’t help but smile.”
And when he does cry, his rock star mom has a special trick to cure his blues. “Every time we play TLC’s ‘Creep,’ ” Watkins says, “he immediately stops crying!”
For more on Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins’ life as a mom, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.