Liz Smith with her daughter Gisele, who was 9 months old when Smith brought her home from the hospital. Picture: Carla Kath, Washington Post

Washington - Two years ago, Liz Smith, director of nursing at Franciscan Children's hospital in Brighton, Massachusetts, was headed toward the elevator at work when she saw her: a tiny girl with bright blue eyes and a single soft brown curl swept across her forehead.

"Who's this beautiful angel?" Smith asked the nurse who was wheeling the infant down the hall. "Her name is Gisele," the nurse told her. The infant, a ward of the state, had been at the hospital for five months, but Smith had never seen her before.

Smith learned that Gisele, then 8 months old, had been born premature at another hospital in July 2016, weighing just under 2 pounds. She had neonatal abstinence syndrome - a result of her birth mother using heroin, cocaine and methadone during pregnancy.

The state of Massachusetts took custody of Gisele when she was 3 months old and transferred her to Franciscan Children's because her lungs needed specialized care, and she had a feeding tube. The baby did not have a single visitor in her five months at the hospital.

Social service workers were trying to place her in foster care.

"Gisele," Smith told herself all the way home that evening. "Gisele." It was at that moment, said Smith, that she knew: "I'm going to foster this baby. I'm going to be her mother."

Liz Smith, who had hoped to conceive through in vitro fertilization, found out her health insurance wouldn't cover the treatment, and she couldn't afford it on her own. Her sister suggested adoption or fostering, but Smith didn't want to consider it.

Then she saw Gisele.

"Since the moment I met her, there was something behind her striking blue eyes capturing my attention," she said. "I felt that I needed to love this child and keep her safe."

After putting in a request to foster Gisele, Smith went to the baby's hospital room every day after work to sit next to her crib and talk in a soft voice.

Three weeks later, in April 2017, when Gisele was 9 months old, she received permission to take Gisele home with the stipulation that every effort would be made by the state to reunite the infant with her birth parents.

Her friends at work threw her a baby shower and helped to set up a crib in her bedroom.

Although Gisele's birth parents were initially granted supervised weekly visits, ultimately the state determined that they were incapable of caring for the infant, and their parental rights were terminated. No other family members were found who were able to take the baby.

Smith was thrilled that she could apply to adopt Gisele, but she understood the sorrow of the situation for the birth mother and father.

"The day I got the call that their parental rights were terminated was very sad," she said. "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 Washington Post