Hoda Kotb‘s journey to both first- and second-time motherhood is a touching one.
The Today co-host, 54, announced on Tuesday during a call-in to the show that she had adopted a baby girl named Hope Catherine, who rounds out the family alongside 2-year-old daughter Haley Joy and boyfriend Joel Schiffman.
“It’s a girl! And her name is Hope!” Kotb could be heard saying through audible tears over the phone as her fellow Today personalities wiped their own eyes.
Adoption has been a beautiful, emotional road for the longtime television journalist, who revealed she had adopted Haley at age 52 after the baby girl was born on Valentine’s Day 2017. Ten years earlier, Kotb battled breast cancer, leaving her unable to conceive.
She told PEOPLE in 2017 that she thought she would never be a mom: “Sometimes in your life, things just don’t work out for whatever reason, so you say, ‘Well, I wasn’t meant to have that.’ But it was really hard to come to terms with it,” Kotb said. As a result, friends told PEOPLE she never spoke publicly of her desire to have children.
Privately, though, “there was a hole,” Kotb said at the time. “People would say, ‘Oh, do you have kids?’ And I’d feel like, ‘Ouch.’ I knew inside it was supposed to be for me.”
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As Kotb began making arrangements in 2016 to move in with longtime partner Schiffman, 61, she broached the topic of adoption. As she recalled to PEOPLE, “I was afraid to even say it out loud, because then it felt so real. I said, ‘Think about it for a day or a week or whatever.’ And he said, ‘I don’t need a day. Let’s get this journey going.’ At that point I blubbered like a baby. It was like the dam burst.”
Kotb worked with a licensed New York adoption agency — to simplify the process, she left Schiffman’s name off, though she said, “Haley will call him Dad” — and within a matter of months, finalized her adoption of Haley.
But when she began the process of applying for a domestic adoption in 2016, “I didn’t know what to expect,” she previously told PEOPLE. “The process can take two weeks, two months, two years, never!”
“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,” Kotb continued. “I decided to go on with life but just believe.”
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But things worked 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 recalled. ” ‘I was like, ‘Who? What?’ “
With a girlfriend by her side, Kotb flew to another U.S. city to pick up her newborn. Once the pair arrived to meet baby Haley, “You’re standing in a room waiting, and somebody walks in holding your daughter,” Kotb said, 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,” she added at the time. “It was as if she had been with me forever.”
Kotb added with a laugh about being in disbelief over becoming a mother, “I wake up sometimes and go, ‘Oh my God, I have a baby!’ But it feels totally real. I guess if you’ve been waiting this long for something and you wish for it, pray for it, hope for it, wonder if it will ever be, and then it happens, nothing’s more real. Nothing.”
Aside from their shared love for the city of New Orleans, Kotb has a very special experience in common with Sandra Bullock: They have both welcomed their children through adoption.
The two women bonded over their respective journeys during an interview for the Today show in June 2018. “You don’t even know who you’ve inspired,” Kotb said to Bullock, 54, who’s mom to daughter Laila, 6½, and son Louis, 9.
“Hundreds of thousands of children that are ready to be your child, you’re a forever parent the minute you accept the love of that child,” the Ocean’s 8 star responded as she broke down in tears. “It’s amazing to me how we can take away people’s happiness by telling them this is the box that you have to stay in. There is no box.”
Haley Is a Big Sister! Hoda Kotb Adopts Daughter Hope Catherine — See Her First Photo
Kotb told Entertainment Tonight last month that while she and Schiffman were thinking about another child, they weren’t sure about the timing just yet.
“We don’t know when, but it is something that is important to me and to Joel,” she revealed. “We like the idea of Haley [having] a sibling because she has had such interesting circumstances to grow up. So it would be nice to be able to share it with somebody.”
“I always had this thing inside me like a voice that I couldn’t quiet,” Kotb recalled to ET. “It was a voice that [told me I] wanted to be a mom, but I thought it was too late. You can push a voice like that away for a long time but sooner or later it comes back up, and you have to address it.”
She added, “I think the thing we all need to know [is] when your child arrives for you, that child is right on time. So your time may be when you are in your 30s or in your 40s or your 50s, but your child is right on time.”
Hoda Kotb Shares the Inspiration Behind Daughter Haley Joy’s Name: “She’s Got a Beautiful Way About Her”
Ahead of Mother’s Day last year, Kotb revealed whether she planned on giving Haley a sibling — and the final answer might have been still be up in the air at that point!
“Well, how should I say this? I guess ‘Never say never’ is the right way to put that!” she told PEOPLE coyly in May 2018, noting that “everything changed” in her life since she became a parent the previous year.
“I know who I am now. I’m Haley’s mom, and I think I always was,” Kotb explained. “But if you would have asked me years ago, ‘What are you?’ I probably would have said journalist, first. But now I know who I am.”
“And I know who we are as a family and I think that means everything to me,” she added. “[Haley] defines who I am and she also defines priorities and things that matter.”
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