(CNN) — Liz Smith had always dreamed of becoming a mother and building her own family, but her road to motherhood was rough. She suffered from infertility and went through several treatments that didn't work.
The pediatric nurse's dream began to come true in 2016 when she crossed paths with Gisele, a 3-month-old girl who had been transferred to the Massachusetts hospital where Smith worked. Gisele was born premature to a mother who had used drugs and the baby had resulting health problems. She weighed less than 2 pounds.
And that wasn't all: The infant had no visitors for several months at the hospital, Franciscan Children's.
But hospital staffers paid special attention to little Gisele, and one nurse asked Smith whether she had met her.
"I said, 'No, why?' She said, 'She needs a medical foster home and you two are the perfect pair,'" Smith recalled Thursday on CNN's "New Day."
Smith had never considered foster care or adoption until a week after the conversation with her co-worker, when Smith saw Gisele in a stroller.
At that moment, Smith, now 45, said she knew she wanted to be her mother. But a lengthy legal process was ahead, given that the baby was a custodian of the state when she arrived at Franciscan Children's.
The state had been discussing putting the child in foster care and Smith stepped forward, saying she would care for Gisele. The baby went to live with the nurse in April 2017.
"It was an emotional roller coaster," Smith told CNN later Thursday. "When I initially started fostering her, the goal was reunification with her birth parents. 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."
Smith said the birth parents had supervised visits but they became less frequent over time.
"I could tell they believed they would one day be her parents and believe they wanted to be," she said. "They were always supportive and noticed how healthy she looked when they did see her."
The state terminated parental rights last June after they determined the parents could not adequately care for Gisele, Smith said. "It was a very bittersweet. I was experiencing this tremendous gain and happiness in my life where others were experiencing the opposite."
Co-workers, friends and family joined Smith in October for the adoption day.
Gisele, 2, has grown to be a giggly, spunky little girl. Her health has been stable and she continues to improve, Smith said.
"She is thriving. She has a feeding tube where she still gets the majority of her nutrition through, but other than that, the specialist thinks she is just remarkable," Smith said. "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."
Smith and Gisele's lives have changed dramatically for the better. And the toddler continues to teach Smith the beautiful meaning of life and motherhood.
"We talk about the power of love, but to witness how it can transform a life and to witness how it transformed her life and mine is unbelievable," Smith said. "I have never been happier or stronger and just I couldn't imagine life without her."
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