The former Biggest Loser trainer — who brought 2-year-old daughter Lukensia home from Haiti just days after partner Heidi Rhoades delivered son Phoenix on May 3 — says despite feeling “despondent” at times throughout the process, she had hope that things would work out.
Michaels initially applied for adoption in 2010 through the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After waiting more than a year for a referral, the trainer learned that some of her paperwork was about to expire. If Michaels wanted to continue with the process, she would have to reapply.
It was then that she learned Haiti had children up for adoption.
“Adoption is a calling,” Michaels, 38, tells PEOPLE. “There is something in you that can’t be denied. You just know in the deepest part of your being that you are meant to find this little soul and guide them through life.”
As a teenager Michaels was diagnosed with endometriosis, a medical condition where tissue that normally grows inside the uterine walls instead grows outside the uterus. It often affects fertility but, she says, “at that time in my life, I didn’t even think I would want kids as an adult.”
It wasn’t until she was in her mid-30s that she “felt the calling to adopt. The adoption process was not a simple or easy one,” she explains. “There were moments where I was starting to think it was not going to work out.”
But Michaels says the wait was all worth it.
“That moment of getting Lu out of Haiti and the wheels of the plane touching down in New York … she was an American citizen after two years,” Michaels recalls, tears welling in her eyes. “It was a heavy moment.”
For details on Michaels’s new life as a mom and to see more images from our exclusive family photo shoot, pick up the June 4 issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
– Monica Rizzo