When Hoda Kotb held her daughter, Haley Joy, for the first time she tells PEOPLE “it was like a puzzle piece that just snapped in — I felt it”

By Charlotte Triggs
March 08, 2017 03:45 PM
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After cancer left her unable to have a child, Today’s Hoda Kotb opens up about the emotional road to adopting her daughter. Subscribe now for the exclusive interview — only in PEOPLE!

When Hoda Kotb began the process of applying for a domestic adoption last year, “I didn’t know what to expect,” she says. “The process can take two weeks, two months, two years, never!”

So the Today show host, 52, who unable to have children following cancer treatment 10 years ago, says she left it up to fate.

“I thought if it’s meant to be, if my child is out there, then it will happen, and if it’s not, it’s the way it was meant to be,” she says, sitting down for an exclusive photo shoot and interview with PEOPLE at her Upper West Side penthouse on Feb. 23 — less than 10 days after bringing home her daughter, Haley Joy, who was born on Valentine’s Day. “I decided to go on with life but just believe.”

Credit: Brian Doben

Turns out things worked much more quickly than anticipated.

Within a matter of months, “I’m sitting at my desk, doing a Skype interview, and my phone rang and the adoption agent said, ‘She’s here,’ ” Kotb recalls. “I was like, ‘Who? What?’ ”

With a girlfriend by her side, Kotb flew to another U.S. city to pick up her baby. Kotb’s boyfriend of more than three years, 58-year-old financier Joel Schiffman, stayed home to help protect the confidentiality of the process.

(Schiffman’s name is not on the adoption paperwork, but Kotb says Haley “will call him Dad.”)

Once the pair arrived to meet baby Haley, “You’re standing in a room waiting, and somebody walks in holding your daughter,” Kotb recalls, her voice cracking. “I was exploding in tears. I thought they were going to take her away and say, ‘No, we have a hysterical freak here, get that baby back!’ ”

When she held Haley for the first time, “it was like a puzzle piece that just snapped in. I felt it,” Kotb adds. “It was as if she had been with me forever.”

Credit: Brian Doben

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For more on Hoda Kotb’s emotional adoption journey, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

Back in Manhattan, her apartment needed a few practical updates.

Having held back on any baby prep, not knowing if an adoption would ultimately come through, “I had no stuff. The only things I had when I got home were a Rock ‘n Play bassinet, Pampers and formula,” Kotb says, gesturing around her new nursery. “There was nothing in here!”

She quickly got busy ordering gear from a local shop, telling the owner it was all presents for someone else’s baby shower.

“They said, ‘We’ll get them to you in about three weeks,’ ” Kotb recalls, “and I go, ‘No, no, no, I need them on Wednesday!’ ”

Credit: Brian Doben

Having waited so long to see her dreams of becoming a mother realized, Kotb says she’s been extremely hands-on in the first weeks.

“I asked my babysitter, ‘Can you just come here and watch, and if I need to go to the pediatrician, will you tell me?’ ” says Kotb, who is currently on maternity leave from the Today show. “For now, I just really want to do the whole thing.”

“I’m not sleeping at all,” she says, “and I don’t even care.”