For a pediatric nurse, meeting her daughter for the first time seemed as if it was written in the stars.
Elizabeth "Liz" Smith of Massachusetts, U.S., always wanted to be a nurse and a mother. But she struggled with infertility for years. When she learned that having a baby through in vitro fertilization (IVF) was no longer an option, that was when she met her daughter.
“I came out of the medical unit one day and in the stroller was this beautiful little girl,” Liz recalled on The Today Show. “I said to the nurse, 'Who is this beautiful little angel?' to which the nurse replied, 'This is Gisele.'” It was love at first sight.
Her fellow nurses at the Franciscan Children's Hospital told Liz about Gisele, who was born prematurely at just 29 weeks. She weighed only a pound and 14 ounces and had neonatal absence syndrome (NAS) — she had been exposed to narcotics during pregnancy. The baby girl was placed in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to be weaned off the drugs carefully.
Liz, who was the hospital's director of nursing, started seeing Giselle every day. "It was kind of my reward after a long workday," she shared on the hospital website.
Baby Gisele needed a "medical foster home" to experience life outside the hospital to thrive. "When I initially started fostering her, the goal was reunification with her birth parents," Liz told CNN. "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."
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Gisele's birth parents were allowed supervised visits, and Liz genuinely felt that they wanted to be there for their child. "They were always supportive and noticed how healthy she looked when they did see her," she shared.
The visits, however, became fewer and then eventually none at all. When they didn't visit Gisele for five months, the state took custody of Gisele in October 2016, declaring her biological parents unfit to care for her.
"It was very bittersweet. I was experiencing this tremendous gain and happiness in my life where others were experiencing the opposite," Liz shared.
Gisele went on to live with Liz, and in 2018, the pediatric nurse with her family and co-workers gathered in court to legally become the little girl's mom. The judge read Gisele's name aloud, now with Liz's surname, and said as he stood in honor of the solo parent, "When a judge walks in the room, everyone stands out of respect. But today I stand in respect for you, Liz, because you deserve the respect from this room. A birthing day is a miracle. But adopting a child from miles away is destiny. That's what brought you two together."
Cherishing every minute of motherhood
Gisele, now age 2, has made tremendous progress. She's still feeding via a tube to get her nutrition but had started eating by mouth. She recently developed a liking for pizza and avocados.
Liz, now age 45, is still wrapping her head around something she didn't think was a possibility a year ago.
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"The specialist thinks she is just remarkable," Liz shared. "They can't believe the strides she has made and how healthy and strong she is. Her resilience is inspiring to me, and every day I'm amazed by her," she added.
"You can't just love a certain percentage. You have to give it your all," Liz said. "To witness how [the power of love] can transform a life and to witness how it transformed her life and mine is unbelievable, I have never been happier or stronger. I couldn't imagine life without her."
Watch Liz and Gisele's interview at The Today Show below.