Nurse Adopts the NICU Preemie Who Didn't Have a Single Visitor For 5 Months

Liz Smith
Facebook/Franciscan Children's

Sometimes motherhood finds you in surprising ways. That's the lesson many people are learning from the story of a nurse in Brighton, Massachusetts, who adopted her daughter after the premature baby was under the care of her hospital for five months without a single visitor. Gisele, now 2 years old, is the light of Liz Smith's life, and the devoted mom is sharing their unique and heartwarming adoption story with the world.

  • Smith first saw her daughter's bright blue eyes in 2016, when Gisele was being treated at her hospital for neonatal abstinence syndrome.

    As reported by Boston.com, Smith -- then director of nursing at  Franciscan Children’s hospital in Brighton, Massachusetts -- was walking to the elevator at work when she spotted an 8-month-old girl with blue eyes and a brown curl framing her face.

    “Who’s this beautiful angel?” she recalled asking a nurse who was wheeling the girl down the hall, according Boston.com. "Her name is Gisele,” the nurse replied. 

    Gisele had come to Franciscan Children's five months before and had remained there. She was a ward of the state who had been born premature at a different hospital in July 2016 at 1 pound and 14 ounces. She was suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome -- a condition in which infants must withdraw from certain drugs that they were exposed to before birth, such as opioids like heroin or other prescription drugs.

    The state had removed Gisele from her mother's care when she was 3 months old and moved her to the NICU at Franciscan Children’s hospital because her lungs needed specialized treatment. 

    She also had developed an oral aversion, a common occurrence in babies who have never experienced pleasure from eating, that made her reluctant to eat. At Smith's hospital, she was placed on a gastronomy tube to help feed her, and although she was starting to get better, she was falling behind on developmental milestones.

    “Franciscan was providing excellent care,” Smith explained, “but she had just never been outside the hospital.”

    Gisele was going to need a foster family quickly if she was ever going to get back on track with her development, but in the five months she had been in the hospital, not a single visitor stopped by to see the baby girl. Her social service workers had been trying, without success, to place her in foster care. 

    “Gisele,” Smith told herself as she drove home. “I’m going to foster this baby. I’m going to be her mother."

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  • Smith had always known she wanted to be a mom, but her life had simply not found its way to parenthood yet.

    Smith told the Boston Globe that it was her mother who first inspired her professionally and then personally for how she would eventually have kids. "My mom was a pediatric nurse who always put others first,” she said. “So I grew up wanting to be a nurse, too.” But after her mother died from liver cancer when Smith was 19 years old, she said that she knew that she wanted to honor her mother's memory by living a selfless life. 

    As Smith entered her 40s, she began to wonder when her family life would begin. “My definition of family was always: In my 20s I’ll get married, have kids, and have a big family like the one I grew up with,” she explained to the Boston Globe. “I think a lot of women can relate to the pressure that we feel that there’s an order to do things.”

    She decided to try and get pregnant on her own and attempted several rounds of IUI, which didn't work. She also was devastated to find out that she couldn't try in vitro fertilization; her lab results had changed and that disqualified her for IVF, so her insurance company wouldn't approve the procedure.

    “I never imagined becoming a mom would be a challenge,” she said, according to Boston.com. “It’s a desire you can try to push away and fill with other distractions, but it never goes away.”

    But when she saw Gisele, she immediately knew there was a connection. 

    “Since the moment I met her, there was something behind her striking blue eyes capturing my attention,” she said. “I felt that I needed to love this child and keep her safe.”

  • Once Smith made up her mind, she spared no time in making her intentions official. 

    Smith quickly put in a request to foster the baby girl, and as she waited for the paperwork to process, she would visit her every day after work. She would speak softly to Gisele and sit next to her crib so that she'd no longer feel alone. 

    “She was behind developmentally, and I wanted to get her out of the hospital and get her thriving,” she recalled. Three weeks later, Smith finally received the news she had been waiting for: Gisele was hers, though the state did stipulate that every effort would be made on their end to reunite Gisele with her birth parents. 

    But Smith was still going to celebrate the moment anyway. Her friends at work threw her a baby shower, even though the situation was less than permanent.

    “I was excited but nervous, realizing that I was committing everything I had to this child who might not be in my life forever,” she said. 

    For a while, Gisele's birth parents were granted weekly supervised visits but were ultimately determined to be incapable of caring for an infant, so their parental rights were terminated. Without another family member to take care of the girl, it seemed more and more likely that Gisele would be there to stay. 

    “The day I got the call that their parental rights were terminated was very sad,” Smith recalled. “My gain was another’s loss. It’s a feeling difficult to describe when you are experiencing this life-changing moment that someone else is as well, in the opposite way. The bottom line is: It’s devastating for another family.”

    Under Smith's care, Gisele began to flourish developmentally. By Halloween 2017, when she was 15 months old, Gisele was able to walk and knew several words. “Her first word was ‘badoon,’ for balloon,” Smith recalled. “Today, we still call it that.”

  • But it was only recently, on October 18, that Gisele and Smith officially became mother and daughter.

    Friends and family surrounded Smith and Gisele as a judge signed off on Gisele's adoption papers and presented Smith with legal documents that proved she was the girl's mother. 

    “When I became Gisele’s mom it really was a feeling I can’t even describe,” she told the Boston Globe. “It was this relief and stability and just so much to look forward to without all of the questions and the unknown.”

    “This is the mother-daughter relationship my sister has waited a long time for,” Smith's brother Phil told Boston.com. “It’s plain to see that they have brought a completeness to each other.”

    Gisele still needs help from a feeding tube, but she eats and is looking healthier and healthier every day. Her mom said she is energetic, loving, and loves to burst into song. 

    “Her new favorite song is ‘You Are My Sunshine,'” Smith explained. “And every time she sings it, I think to myself, ‘You have no idea.'”

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