"In the moment (I) knew she needed and deserved every ounce of love I had to give her," says Smith.
Usually, nurses who care for children in the hospital do just that—they care for children while they are hospitalized. But when no one came to visit a tiny baby for several months, one nurse at a Massachusetts hospital did more than just care for her. She stepped up and, eventually, became that baby's mother.
As the Senior Director of Nursing at Franciscan Children's in Massachusetts, Liz Smith was feeling pretty good about her professional life but felt like something was missing from her personal life. She'd always wanted to be a mom, but by 2016 that hadn't happened for her yet.
Although she'd always imagined her family would include a partner, when she was almost 40, Liz decided to start planning a family on her own. Unfortunately, a fertility specialist gave her some bad news when her lab results ruled her out as a candidate for IVF. "When that door closed quickly and suddenly," Smith explains in an interview posted to Franciscan Children's website. "it was a bad day."
But that very bad day turned into one she will never forget when she went to work and met Gisele, a baby girl who had been born prematurely and exposed to drugs which resulted in neonatal absence syndrome, the name for a collection of problems babies can experience when withdrawing from narcotics. Weighing just 1 pound, 14 ounces at birth, Gisele was hospitalized for several months, but no one ever came to visit her, so Smith decided that she would. "I went to see her every day," Smith said, "It was kind of my reward after a long workday."
Eventually, it was time for Gisele to leave the hospital, and her special visitor became a medical foster parent (Gisele still had complex needs and required a feeding tube).
"It was an emotional roller coaster," Smith tells CNN. "When I initially started fostering her, the goal was reunification with her birth parents. I always had that as a reality in the back of my mind while I was taking care of her, but in the moment (I) knew she needed and deserved every ounce of love I had to give her."
Unfortunately, Gisele's birth parents could not overcome the obstacles that were preventing them from parenting their daughter, and when the state terminated their rights they did not appeal. Smith expected that she would be happy, as she would now be able to raise Gisele, but she felt bittersweet about the turn of events. "It was a day I was really sad. I was really happy. But I was really sad for them. I was gaining her but they were losing her. And to try to battle addiction and being a mom, that's impossible," Smith says.
On October 18, 2018, Smith officially adopted Gisele, who is now 2 years old. Her health has improved a lot since her early life, and although she's still getting nutrition from her feeding tube, she's also eating real food.
"If you told me a year ago she would be asking for pizza I would not have believed you," her mom explains. "She's doing remarkable, it's just a slow progression, but in the right direction."
Smith says she has never felt happier or stronger, and clearly, neither has Gisele, who recently interrupted her mom's interview with CNN to sing "You Are My Sunshine" on national television. When she was a baby no one came to see her, but now she has a mom (and a whole country) that loves her.