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It's been a big year for TODAY anchor Hoda Kotb. The highlight? Becoming mom to Haley Joy, the baby girl she adopted in February. Hoda opened up about her first year with her daughter, and why being a mom is her favorite role yet, as part of our 2017 Voices series, a collection of essays and interviews with the people behind some of the year's biggest stories.
If I had to describe my year in one word, it would be rebirth, because I feel like my life started in 2017. I feel like I had a life before, but I don't remember it, and it seems incredibly insignificant compared to what happened in 2017.
This was truly a year when I figured out what mattered. I figured out what love really is. It's the year that I figured out that there's a future ahead, beyond mine, that I care deeply about. This Valentine's Day baby changed everything.
My favorite memory is probably when I went to pick (Haley Joy) up. I hadn't met her yet, but I felt like I always knew her. I was in a room — this room where I guess so many moms-to-be have waited for their child — and I was standing there, and I heard her outside the door. I heard her crying. And my heart was just pounding, and I thought to myself, "Oh, my God, I hear her." They opened up the door and this woman walked in, holding her, and handed her to me. And literally, when they put her in my arms, it was like the missing piece. Without hesitation. She fit. I wept so hard that I worried they thought I was crazy.
That moment was the moment my heart felt at peace. I felt the most peaceful I've ever felt in my life right then, and every day since. On the bad days — and there are bad days — like, she wasn't sleeping, I bring her downstairs, I'm holding her, she's crying, I'm trying to get a bottle, the dog knocks over a picture, it shatters, I realize he went No. 2 on the floor, I'm standing there, she's wailing, the glass is in the way, the dog is barking, I can't let him out, I'm by myself in the house. And I said to myself, "I would have begged for this day a year ago." Every moment is a great moment for me. I know motherhood has its trappings, but when you've waited as long as I have for it, you don't think about that.
What I thought becoming a mom was, and what I realize it is now, are like night and day. I just didn't know what I was capable of. I guess I didn't know what was missing in my life. I thought my life was full. I had great family, great friends, a great boyfriend, a great job. I have a great life! And sometimes you don't know what you're missing until you find it, and that's really what happened. I didn't realize how much of a hole I had in my heart, that only she could fill. It's like a Haley-sized hole got filled. And she did it in one second.
Now, she's the cure. To everything that ails me, she's the cure. It doesn't even matter what the problem is. I've never looked at someone and felt all my problems melt away. I didn't even know that emotion was possible. I didn't know any of these emotions were possible. I thought I understood love, but I didn't. I thought I understood motherhood — because I have a great mom — but I didn't.
I've had my breakdown days, don't get me wrong, but you realize how lucky and blessed you are. People say, "Wait for the twos!" and I say, "Girl, I can't wait for the twos! I can't wait for all of it!" This is all going to be good for me.
In 2018, I'm looking forward to more firsts with Haley. I didn't think I'd have firsts at 53! I'm so excited about all of it. I love our family. One thing I've been trying to do, in a world of chaos, is make peace in our home. I want Haley to feel peaceful in our home. I want (my boyfriend) Joel to feel peaceful when he goes off to work. Let the world do what it does — I can't do anything about that — but I can control one little thing.
We'll have candles burning, we'll have music playing. We'll have our days, but for the most part, that's my hope for 2018: just a peaceful place to land.
As told to Rheana Murray