Shariya Small wasn’t ready to be a single mom when she gave birth to triplets earlier this year. The 14-year-old resented having to wake up at all hours of the night to change diapers and feed her babies. It was all a little too much for a teenager to handle.
All three of her children were born prematurely at 26 weeks, which only complicated the situation. They all weighed less than two pounds each and spent the first four months of their lives in incubators in the neo intensive care unit.
Fortunately, Katrina Mullen was the nurse assigned to look after Small’s children. She quickly formed a bond with the teenager and did her best to prepare her for the challenges of motherhood. When Small’s babies were discharged from the hospital several months after she gave birth, Mullen asked if they could exchange numbers, and the two have been a part of each other’s lives ever since.
“If you need anything, I will be there for you,” Mullen promised Smalls, and she meant it. “I immediately thought that I needed to give her a shoulder to lean on,” Mullen said.
The two of them met regularly in person or via FaceTime to talk about life and parenting. In addition to having been a NICU nurse for 23 years, Mullen has five children of her own of all different ages, so she had plenty of advice to share. She showed Small how to attach her son’s feeding tube. Mullen also offered to feed the triplets at night so Small could get some sleep.
Small said she has depended on Mullen since her children were born. “I would go sit in the office with her and talk about basically anything,” Small said. “I would tell her some of my secrets and she talked to me about her experiences with being a teen mom. That’s one of the things we clicked on while I was in the hospital.”
Mullen went on to send gifts to Small’s home in Kokomo, Indiana, including sleepers and chairs for the babies.
“She would drive from Brownsburg to Kokomo just to see me and the babies for like an hour,” Small said, a trip that took a total of two hours round trip.
Mullen quickly became known as Small’s surrogate mother around the hospital. “People would ask me if I had brought those babies home with me yet, or ‘how is my adopted daughter doing?’ because people knew that I was keeping in touch with her,” Mullen said.
But their relationship didn’t end there. Small had to bring her son back to the hospital and needed someone to look after the two girls while she was away.
“It was ‘no big deal’,” Mullen said of agreeing to watch the babies for “a couple of days.”
But the hospitalization prompted the Indiana Department of Child Services to investigate the living situation inside Small’s home. The officer assigned to the case determined that all three of her children needed to be in foster care, so she called Mullen in a state of panic.
“Just from being a nurse, I knew there would not be many foster homes that would take a teen mother with three kids… I didn’t want them to be separated. I wanted them to stay together,” Mullen explained. So, she agreed to adopt not just Small, now 15, but all three of her children as well even though she still had two high schoolers and a seven-year-old at home.
“I can’t wait for you to come home!” she texted Small after signing the paperwork.
Moving into the Mullen house has been an adjustment, but they have been able to make it work. Mullen changed her schedule to make sure she could look after the babies, and Small recently went back to school to finish her education.
“Everybody told me that I wouldn’t finish school, that I wouldn’t achieve my goals, but now I’m graduating as a junior and was accepted into two colleges with academic scholarships,” Small said.
Once she finishes high school, she plans on going to college to be a nurse just like her mother.
And Mullen couldn’t be prouder. “It’s been great,” she said. “Stressful? Yes. Sleepless nights? Yes. But worth it? Absolutely.”
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