Gisele was 5 months old when Liz Smith first spotted her being wheeled down the halls of Franciscan Children’s Hospital in Brighton, Massachusetts, where Liz served as director of nursing. Liz was immediately captivated by the little girl, born 11 weeks premature, weighing just under two pounds, and addicted to opioids.
Gisele was born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a condition caused by her mother’s use of opioids while she was pregnant with Gisele. NAS babies typically suffer symptoms of withdrawal within 72 hours of birth, which can last up to six weeks. Symptoms include tremors or seizures, fussiness or a high-pitched cry, poor feeding, breathing difficulties, and fever. NAS babies also face continuing developmental, physical, medical, occupational and psychological issues that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars throughout their lifetime.
An estimated 21,732 babies were born from 2000 to 2012 suffering from opioid withdrawal, the equivalent to one baby every 25 minutes, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It is a dire outcome of the opioid epidemic, which took more than 47,000 lives in 2017 alone.
Liz stayed by Gisele’s side as her parents’ visits dwindled. Meanwhile, Liz, at age 40, had just learned that her chances of becoming pregnant had slipped to zero. When the state took custody of Gisele a few months later, Liz began fostering the little girl, helping her through cocaine and heroin withdrawal and feeding her through a gastrostomy tube. The initial goal was to reunite her with her birth parents. But at 9 months, Gisele’s parents gave up their parental rights. Liz adopted Gisele on Oct. 18, 2018.
Gisele is now 2, and while she is still on a feeding tube, she has started to crave pizza. She also enjoys dancing along with other toddlers her age. Liz is grateful to officially be a mother to Gisele. The judge who granted her adoption said it was as if they were meant for each other.
“When a judge walks in the room, everyone stands out of respect,” the judge said. “But today I stand in respect for you, Liz, because you deserve the respect from this room.”