A NICU nurse adopted a teenage mother so she wouldn’t be separated from her premature triplets, which she used to care for in the neonatal intensive care unit for months.
Shariya Small’s teenage life turned upside down when she gave birth to triplets at 14 years old. She just became a teenager but she had to tend to three babies, feed them, and change their diapers, while other kids her age were busy studying and having fun.
What made it even more challenging was her babies were premature. She gave birth to them at 26 weeks so they had to spend the first four months of their lives in incubators.
At her age, Small was not ready to become a mother. The responsibilities of looking after three children were too much for her.
Luckily, the NICU nurse, Katrina Mullen was there for her and her babies since day one. She didn’t only take care of the children but she also offered Small a shoulder to lean on.
Mullen talked to Small a lot and gave her advice on motherhood and childcare. “I would go sit in the office with her and talk about basically anything,” Small shared.
“I would tell her some of my secrets and she talked to me about her experiences with being a teen mom. That’s one of the things we clicked on while I was in the hospital.”
Before they were discharged, Small exchanged numbers with Mullen and they continued their blossoming friendship outside the hospital.
Mullen kept her promise to Small and answered all her phone calls and text messages. They would also video call each other on FaceTime whenever Small needed help handling her son’s feeding tube.
Mullen, the NICU nurse, expressed her generosity by sending them gifts and packages. Eventually, she started visiting Small and her children despite the two-hour round-trip drive.
“She would drive from Brownsburg to Kokomo just to see me and the babies for like an hour,” Small said.
Mullen’s co-workers noticed how close she was with Small and the triplets, which initiated a running joke in the hospital.
They would ask Mullen if she had brought the babies home with her yet and how her “adopted” daughter was doing.
Small and Mullen’s relationship got even better until one day, Small brought back her son to the hospital. She needed someone to look after him and Mullen offered her help wholeheartedly.
However, this incident made the Indiana Department of Child Services examine the living situation of Small and her children.
The case officer concluded that the three children needed to be in foster care, which scared both Small and Mullen.
“Just from being a nurse, I knew there would not be many foster homes that would take a teen mother with three kids,” said Mullen.
Mullen agreed to adopt not only Small but also her three children so they could all live together. Though she is a single mother and has five other children, Mullen was determined to help her newly-adopted kids.
After signing the paperwork, she eagerly sent Small a text message that melted her daughter’s heart, “I can’t wait for you to come home!”
Mullen made room for Small and her kids and made some adjustments at work so she could help her with the triplets. Now 15 years old, Small went back to school to finish her education.
“Everybody told me that I wouldn’t finish school, that I wouldn’t achieve my goals, but now I’m graduating as a junior and was accepted into two colleges with academic scholarships,” Small said.
When Small finishes high school, she plans to go to college and become a nurse, just like her mother.
Mullen, on the one hand, couldn’t be happier and prouder. “It’s been great,” she said. “Stressful? Yes. Sleepless nights? Yes. But worth it? Absolutely.”
Mullen set up a fundraiser for the future of Small and her triplets through GoFundMe. She hopes to use the proceeds for their education, housing costs, and a car for Small and the babies.
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