“Who’s this beautiful angel?” was Liz Smith’s first thought when she saw the bright blue-eyed girl on her way to work as director of nursing at Franciscan Children’s hospital in Brighton, Massachusetts. It turns out that she was a NICU preemie, and she was going to change Smith’s life forever.
Eight month old Giselle was a ward of the state, and had already been at the hospital for five months. Born premature and weighing a little below 2 pounds, she was also diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome.
Born in July 2016, the state of Massachusetts took custody of Gisele on her third month and transferred her to the neonatal intensive care unit of the Franciscan Children’s hospital. As a NICU preemie, she had a feeding tube and her lungs needed specialized care. In her five-month long stay, not a single visitor came by to see Gisele.
Social services were trying to place Gisele in foster care when Smith saw the baby. She knew the moment she saw the infant, “I’m going to foster this baby. I’m going to be her mother.”
This was not exactly the way Smith envisioned her life as a mother. She had a nurturing and caring nature, and always thought that motherhood would be in her future. Growing up in Andover, Massachusetts, at 19 Smith lost her mother to liver cancer. She decided to honor her mother by following her example.
“My mom was a pediatric nurse who always put others first. So I grew up wanting to be a nurse, too.” Smith was a middle child with two brothers and two sisters, and when her siblings started having families of their own, she was dismayed when she did not follow suit.
“I never imagined becoming a mom would be a challenge. It’s a desire you can try to push away and fill with other distractions, but it never goes away.”
Smith soon became “the world’s greatest aunt” to 13 nieces and nephews, but she yearned for more. Her sister Elly Smith, 40, said “I always pictured Liz as a mom, since she’s a nurturer by nature.” Smith tried other options, but she couldn’t afford in vitro fertilization and she didn’t even want to consider adoption.
Gisele, however, changed her mind. “Since the moment I met her, there was something behind her striking blue eyes capturing my attention. I felt that I needed to love this child and keep her safe.” She immediately started the paperwork to foster Gisele, eager to see the NICU preemie grow strong and healthy.
When Gisele was 9 months old, Smith was able to her Gisele home, with the agreement that the state would still endeavor to reunite her with her birth parents.
“Leaving the parking lot of the hospital with Gisele and a car full of baby stuff, I was in shock that it was happening. I was excited but nervous, realizing that I was committing everything I had to this child who might not be in my life forever.”
The state soon determined that Gisele’s parents couldn’t care for her, paving the way for the baby’s adoption. Smith was both thrilled and saddened by the development.
“The day I got the call that their parental rights were terminated was very sad. 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.”
The NICU preemie thrived under Smith’s loving care, and she was officially welcomed as member of the family in October 2018. Phil Smith, 44, said “This is the mother-daughter relationship my sister has waited a long time for. It’s plain to see that they have brought a completeness to each other.”
Now 2, Gisele still has her feeding tube, but has gained 23 pounds and enjoys cheese, avocados, and pizza. Energetic and loving, she has certainly come a long way from being the lonely NICU preemie at Franciscan Children’s hospital.
To find out more about their amazing story, see video below: