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For many people, being a parent is almost like a rite of passage. It is something we’ve been trained to believe is a necessary step in life—we get married, have kids, and watch our kids raise kids of their own. But for some people, becoming a parent is more than a rite of passage—it’s a calling.

Liz Smith’s siblings say she has always been a nurturer. When at the age of 19 she lost her mother to liver cancer, Smith felt it was her calling to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a nurse, eventually becoming director of nursing at Franciscan Children’s Hospital in Brighton, Massachusetts, but her desire to care for others extended past choosing a profession. Smith wanted to marry, and more importantly be a mother. All she needed to do was wait for the puzzle to come together.

But as the years went by, those pieces never fell into place. Her siblings went on to marry and have children of their own, but she did not. She tried to conceive through in vitro fertilization, but her health insurance wouldn’t cover the treatment. While Liz Smith prided herself on being “the world’s greatest aunt,” it didn’t quite fill the hole of motherhood she desperately wished to fill. Fostering or adoption wasn’t even on the radar.

That is, until she met little Gisele.

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In July of 2016, Gisele was born prematurely to an addict mother with neonatal abstinence syndrome. The state of Massachusetts took custody of Gisele, and she was transferred to Franciscan Children’s Hospital at three months for specialized lung care and a feeding tube. Though the state attempted to make contact with family, she received no visitors in five months and received care solely through hospital staff.

Liz Smith was attempting to catch an elevator when she first caught site of Gisele’s luminous, blue eyes and soft brown hair. Though the infant had been at the hospital for five months, Smith had never seen her before, and she was immediately spellbound. That night, while driving home, Smith knew what she had to do: “I’m going to foster this baby. I’m going to be her mother.”

For the agonizing three weeks leading up to when Liz Smith could finally take Giselle home, she would visit the baby’s hospital room every day after work to sit next to hear and talk. When the state gave Smith the clear, her friends through her a baby shower.

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“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.

Adoption, however, was not an easy process. Initially, the birth parents were allowed supervised visits that were ultimately terminated when the state determined the parents were unfit to care for the infant. Though she felt sympathy for the birth parents losing a child, she was thrilled to have the opportunity to adopt this child.

Throughout all the uncertainty, Smith not only brought Giselle up to speed with her developmental milestones, but helped her thrive. By 15 months, Giselle was walking and talking—a massive improvement from where the now-toddler was when Smith first brought her into foster-care. She was singing, laughing, and playing just like other children her age.

Credit: Ashely Pizutti

In October of 2018, Smith finally received the news she had been waiting for—she was finally a mother. A judge approved Gisele’s adoption and presented Smith with the documents that certified she was the toddler’s mother.

While many would say Liz Smith completely turned this child’s life around for the better, she wouldn’t say the same. All she sees is the immense amount of love and light this little bundle of joy has brought to her life.