Fifty-two-year-old Hoda Kotb might just be one of the most beloved TV hosts in America – so when she’s going through struggles, millions empathize with her. But when she and the rest of her Today show team appeared on TV screens nationwide on May 12, 2017, it told everyone that Kotb’s troubles were finally over. Why? Because on the show with her that day was another person whose existence Kotb couldn’t even have imagined a few years prior.
Hoda Kotb has overcome several huge obstacles in her life. She was born in Oklahoma to Egyptian parents but spent a lot of her youth moving around to different places, including Egypt. Moreover, while she had loving parents, she was dealt a crushing blow when she was just a junior in college. Her father passed away suddenly of a heart attack, leaving her devastated.
Despite this tragedy, however, Kotb kept driving herself towards success, knowing that it would have made her father proud. In 1986 she graduated from Virginia Tech armed with a BA in broadcast journalism, and from there she pursued her chosen career with singleminded determination. She literally hopped in a car and drove around the South for ten whole days seeking TV work.
During those ten days, Kotb faced rejection after rejection. Eventually, therefore, crushed, she gave up – but then something miraculous happened. As she was unhappily heading for home, she got lost and saw a sign for a TV news center. She then drove to the center and submitted her tape – and a director liked it. What’s more, though he couldn’t quite pronounce her name, he hired her on the spot.
That one lucky break got Kotb up on the ladder to TV stardom. From 1992 she was a reporter for New Orleans news station WWL-TV, which made her a much-loved personality in that city. She then went to NBC to work as a correspondent, and after that she became a host of Today, which is what she’s now best known for. But in the midst of her success came a life-threatening illness.
In 2006 Kotb was told that she had breast cancer. However, there had been no history of the illness in her family – nor indeed any sign that it was there at all. It was, therefore, a complete shock to her. Anyway, in order to get rid of the cancer, in March 2007 she had a mastectomy alongside reconstructive surgery. And to try and prevent the cancer from ever coming back, she was also given medication. It was all, naturally, very tough on Kotb, but there was one particular thing that hurt her the most.
“[The] hardest part of this process is knowing that cancer has robbed me of the chance to be a biological mother,” she told Today in October 2008. “The medication I take every day to kill the stray cancer cell that may be swimming in my blood stream essentially shuts down my reproductive system. That is really tough.” And that wasn’t all.
In addition to the cancer and the discovery that she would never be able to carry a child, Kotb had also gone through a breakdown in her marriage. As she was fighting her battle with cancer in 2007, she divorced from her husband Burzis Kanga – on Valentine’s Day, no less. And although Kotb has never publicly revealed the reason behind the split, it’s clear that it was a painful time for her.
Over the next few years, moreover, the realization that she couldn’t have children began to weigh very heavily on her. “There was a hole,” she told People magazine in March 2017. “People would say, ‘Oh, do you have kids?’ And I’d feel like, ‘Ouch.’ I knew inside it was supposed to be for me.” Indeed, it got so bad that she even briefly considered dropping her TV career and working with children instead.
“Hoda is such a grateful person. She’s not a whiner or complainer, so she rejoiced in the blessings she had, and she loved being an aunt and found great joy in that,” Kotb’s friend and co-host Kathie Lee Gifford told People. “It seemed like that was enough for her. She never let on that it was something missing in her life.” But there very much was.
So it was that Kotb decided to make the big step of adopting a child. In 2016, then, she brought up the subject with her long-term boyfriend, businessman Joel Schiffman. “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,’” she told People. “And he said, ‘I don’t need a day. Let’s get this journey going.’ At that point I blubbered like a baby.”
For confidentiality reasons, Kotb has never shared the exact details of the adoption process with the media. However, we know she went to a licensed agency and that the adoption was finalized within only a few months. In February 2017, then, the agency called her up to let her know that there was a child for her. And by coincidence, the baby had been born on Valentine’s Day.
In April 2013 Kotb told Today about the moment when she was told she could be a mom. “I was FaceTiming with somebody for a work thing and my phone buzzed. For the adoption, I had the word ‘project’ written in my phone… and I saw it said ‘project,’ like, someone from the project was texting me. I sat in my office, and I took a pen and I wrote down ‘11:54 a.m.’ Like I knew that was the moment my life was going to change, so I scribbled it down and I dialed the phone.”
“And the woman on the other end said, ‘She’s here.’ Like… that’s all. ‘She’s here.’ And that was it. And everything changed.” Kotb named the baby Haley Joy – the “joy” part having an obvious meaning. She also took some time off to care for the little girl, although before long she returned to work on the Today show. What’s more, it turned out that her colleagues there had a special surprise for her.
On May 12 – Mother’s Day weekend – Matt Lauer brought out a special guest for Hoda Kotb. It was little Haley Joy, of course – all wrapped up in the arms of her grandmother. It was a lovely sight to see, and just as lovely were the things that Kotb’s co-workers had to say about her and her new baby. “You have the best mother in the world,” Savannah Guthrie told the little girl.
“I’m holding my baby on Mother’s Day weekend,” Kotb said on Today, embracing Haley as easily as if she’d been holding babies all her life. “I’m so happy.” And it was a moment made all the more touching by the love everybody in the studio had for one another. “It’s so fun to share her here because I sort of feel like she belongs to all of us here a little bit,” Kotb said.
Little Haley certainly looked very cute in her pink dress. And all of the Today hosts passed her around, cooed over her and admired her smile. So, even though Haley already has loving parents, it seems as if she’s got a whole host of loving surrogate aunts and uncles as well.
It was a great surprise and a great television moment. But how are mother and daughter doing now? Well, they’re just as close and just as adorable. Over Memorial Day weekend, Kotb filmed her daughter attempting to say her first word. What’s more, she showed it to Kathie Lee Gifford on Today the following Tuesday. “I think my child said, ‘Hellooooo,’” she said in delight. “Please witness it for yourselves – a miracle.”
It’s not surprising that Hoda Kotb would use the word “miracle” given all that she had to go through before getting a child. Now that she has one, though, she’s determined to show her off as much as possible. And fans of Today, not to mention its hosts, are perfectly happy to accommodate her. We’ll bet that she’ll be appearing on the show again as she reaches her milestones.
The story of Hoda Kotb and Haley Joy has become an inspirational one for women over 50 who still wish to start families. It’s also inspiring for cancer survivors who fear that they may never be able to be parents. Watching Kotb become a mother has been a wonderfully uplifting story, and hopefully she’ll be on our screens providing updates on her daughter for many more years to come.