In 2007, a breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment left Hoda unable to bear children. At 41, Savannah doubted that she’d be able to conceive; after having her first child, she experienced a miscarriage and went through two rounds of IVF. Now she and husband Michael Feldman are parents to Vale, 7, and Charley, 5.
After she recovered from cancer, Hoda, with ex-fiancé Joel Schiffman, adopted Haley, now 5, in 2017 and, two years later, Hope, now 3. In an intimate chat with Good Housekeeping, they reflect on their good fortune, some hard-earned lessons and the importance of their friendship.
The challenges of starting a family
Savannah: I stopped even letting myself hope or believe I could [get pregnant], because the years were getting on.
It wasn’t that I thought it was impossible; I just thought it wasn’t likely. I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I just tried to tell myself that it would be OK if it didn’t happen: Maybe it’s not meant for me, and that’s OK because I’ve already been blessed so much in my life. I’m not entitled to have a baby too. Looking back, that mindset was probably a self-defense mechanism.
Hoda: I remember that my oncologist called and we were talking about freezing my eggs. She basically said that given my age and [my breast cancer treatment], it was pretty close to a dead end. I was in my room and I just sobbed. I thought, Well, that’s that, isn’t it? Like, you almost blame yourself. Why didn’t I do this? Why didn’t I do that? So I just pushed it away, because the reality seemed impossible to bear. How do you survive knowing you can’t have what you desire and what you feel like you actually physically need?
The importance of support systems
Savannah: My mom got me through the personal trials of my 30s. It was great to have her, because she was just always so certain. She’d say, “Well, of course you’re going to have your family, Savannah!” It felt good.
Hoda: I don’t think I would’ve adopted if it hadn’t been for Joel. Having a stable relationship in that moment was really important. Once that fell into place, it didn’t seem as scary to me. I also read about Sandra Bullock and the children she adopted. I’d always felt a weird connection to her, though I only knew her from the show. But she was my age, and I just thought, Wow, she’s really cool. I called her, and we talked. She said adopting was the most important thing she’d ever done. When I had made the decision to adopt and was on the plane to pick up my [first] daughter, I called her again. She said, “It’s about to begin!” Sometimes all you need is a model before [you realize], I can handle it.
Being an "older" mom
Savannah: Hoda and I are both at a point in our careers where we have a lot more certainty about our schedules — that helps. By this time in life you’ve seen a few things and you know how to weather the ups and downs. I’m glad my kids don’t have the stressed, anxious and insecure 30-year-old version of me. The peace and calmness that comes with age is a great thing for kids to see in action.
We live in New York City, and there are a lot of older parents, so you don’t stick out like a sore thumb. But sometimes I wonder, on a Saturday afternoon when I’m really tired, Do younger parents feel this way? And the answer is yes. I know them, they’re my friends — and they’re exhausted. All parents have those moments of low energy and times they’re frustrated. That’s just the nature of it.
Hoda: All of a sudden all the things about having little kids that seem like a problem, you see in a whole different way. And I find myself being so much more patient and calm than I ever would have been at a younger age. You realize we sometimes blow things out of proportion.
I got a letter at my house from some lady, and she said, Who do you think you are, having those kids at this age? It was handwritten, with a stamp on it. And I remember thinking, She took a piece of paper out on her desk and wrote this down, folded it up, put it in an envelope, got my home address and put a stamp on it and mailed it. I’ve come to learn that there are two ways to live your life. You can live your life worrying about what people think of your life, or you can live your life. And I realized that sometimes I was living my life being concerned about the perceptions of it. I sort of had this epiphany: I have a choice.
Dealing with mom guilt
Savannah: The first time I put [Vale] in her nursery, I lay down on the bed and started sobbing. Mike said, “What’s wrong?” And I said, “This is the farthest apart we’ve ever been.” She’d either been in my belly or in my arms or in my room, and I just felt sick. I almost felt physically ill to be apart from her — and it still happens. I’m feeling guilty right now. I’m probably late to [pick her up from] the bus. I don’t know how to overcome it. I just know that it’s real. I wish it weren’t, but it really is. I mean, I feel guilty all the time, and all I do is hang out with my kids.
Hoda: I do have some guilt, obviously. But at the same time, I want them to love work, because work is going to be part of their lives, and it’s cool and it’s exciting and Mom loves it. “You’re not pulling me away, and what I love more is coming home to you” — like, you try to make sure that they get both pieces of it. But it is [hard] ... especially when you wait so long for something, you don’t want to miss a minute.
Working closely with another mom
Hoda: I have some nights where I really messed up and I know I did, and I come in the next morning [thinking], I feel terrible for what I did. What was I thinking? Why did I think that was going to work? They went to bed crying. Like, I don’t want that to be me. But then I talk to Savannah. [She’ll say], “That was my Wednesday.” It makes you feel less alone.
Savannah: Sometimes it’s enjoyable to just vent to each other. We trade parenting tips or ideas, or sometimes I listen to Hoda FaceTime with her kids. It’s amazing to be in a very high-pressure job but also have someone who understands the other high-pressure job you have and can carry it with you. They’re not going to judge if you are bringing some of that to work.
The myth of "balance"
Hoda: Some days I hit a home run; some days it’s all terrible, and then you reset the next day and try again. There’s no quick fix for balance that I can give. I mean, look, you try to give 100% at home and 100% at work, and then that’s it. And then you see how it shakes down, but I think that’s the best way to do it.
Savannah: I don’t know what balance is. Sometimes you’re out of whack — and sometimes you have a good day. I don’t even think in those terms. My family is my priority — it’s not even a close call — but I have a job that I just love. And so I try to do both to the best of my ability.
A key parenting takeaway
Hoda: Our kids sense every single thing we do, and they feel everything. They know if you’re being real and they know when you’re not. You have to really figure out who you are, because your kids are taking notes. Just be truthful and be true to yourself, and your kids are going to turn out just fine.
Savannah: I want my kids, particularly my little girl, to have a positive body image. I say all the right words, but I’m not sure that’s what she sees every day. It really makes you look hard at yourself, and there’s nothing I care more about than for her to grow up feeling confident and strong and just loving herself. And so for me...I said to myself, Well, you’d better straighten this out right now, you’d better get your head on straight, because this little girl is watching you.
This story originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of Good Housekeeping. Subscribe to Good Housekeeping here.
To hear Hoda and Savannah talk more about their paths to parenthood, sign up to attend our We Are Family Parenting Summit on March 31.