NICU Nurse Adopts Struggling Teen Mom And Her Three Premature Triplets

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Where would we be without those we can go to when we need help? Be it a partner, a beloved friend, or a close family member, that person you turn to when you find yourself lost is invaluable.

For those without someone like that in their life, struggles can pile up and weigh them down. The story of one young mom facing a brutal world on her own only to be helped by an unexpected friend is the perfect example of this.

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Can’t Do It Alone

“It takes a village to raise a child” is an old proverb that refers to the sheer amount of effort, involvement, and community help it takes to raise a baby in this world. You need not only the child’s parents, but their family, family friends, trusted community leaders, and more to ensure that they’re growing up somewhere healthy and secure.

A woman in a cardigan holding a baby to her chest.
Pexels / Kristina Paukshtite
Pexels / Kristina Paukshtite

Unfortunately, this simply isn’t possible for many children out there, which means they won’t receive all the support they might need during their youth.

Unfortunate Circumstances

It isn’t always the fault of the parents, either. The world is a cruel place that can rip things away from people when they least expect it, leaving them without vital resources or local supports.

Small being interviewed by Today.

A woman in Indiana saw this exact injustice happening to a young girl attending her hospital and decided she would step in to provide what she could to help, which wound up fostering a miraculous connection between the two.

It all began when the young girl in question, who was only 14 years old, gave birth to triplets.

Five Months Of Waiting

Shariya Small’s three babies arrived extremely early. Triplets Serenitee, Samari, and Sarayah were born at only 26 weeks, a far cry from the usual 40. They had to spend over five months in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Community Hospital North in Indianapolis.

Photos of her three babies the day they were born.

Katrina Mullen, 45, is a neonatal nurse who works in that very unit. She noticed Small’s presence right away.

“She’d be there alone for days at a time sitting at her babies’ bedside,” she told Today. She added that Small never had any food with her to eat, but would stay all day.

The Waiting Game

Mullen was worried about Small, wondering if there was anyone at home who properly took care of her or if she had any support, but it became clear that Small, only in eighth grade at the time, didn’t want to divulge any personal details.

Mullen being interviewed by Today.

“I knew if I gave her time, she’d likely open up to me,” Mullen said.

So she stuck to what she knew best and taught Small all about newborn care and what was being done to ensure the healthy growth of her babies. In turn, Small started teaching Mullen about modern youth culture staples like TikTok.

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A breakthrough happened between the two when Mullen revealed that, when she was 16, she had a son that she put up for adoption.

Small and Mullen enjoying some ice cream together, Mullen taking a selfie of them both.
Facebook / Katrina Mullen
Facebook / Katrina Mullen

“Something shifted after I told her that I was a teen mom,” Mullen says. “That’s when we really developed trust.”

After that, Small confided in the nurse, telling her she felt that people were judging her for having a child at 14, let alone three of them.

“I never judged her,” Mullen assured.

Continued Friendship

The triplets were eventually ready to be discharged, all having developed healthily, making it through their stay at the hospital. Before they left, Mullen gave Small her cell phone number.

A photo of Smalls, her three kids, and Mullen together.

“I said, ‘If you need anything, you just call me. If you need to talk, or you have a question, I’m here,” she explained.

That invitation clearly stuck, as Small was quick to begin texting and FaceTiming Mullen regularly.

“I’d help her when she was crying and overwhelmed. I couldn’t fix it, but I would listen and support her and be like, ‘You can do this.'”

Growing Concern

“But I was becoming increasingly concerned about her support system. I couldn’t figure out why she was calling me so often.”

A photo of Smalls, her three kids, and Mullen playing together.

During one of her days off, Mullen drove out to the home Small lived in with a relative. The scene she walked in on shocked her, as not only were the triplets made to sleep together in one infant playpen, but Small herself was only allowed to sleep on a couch.

Mullen immediately decided, “It was not a place for her to raise babies,”

Just Not Enough

There were also health concerns regarding one of the triplets, Samari, who had chronic digestive issues. He looked “extremely skinny” and was covered in eczema.

The three kids sitting on a bench together.
GoFundMe / Katrina Mullen
GoFundMe / Katrina Mullen

It wasn’t Small who wasn’t looking after him either, as she had brought him to a doctor that switched his formula, but he still couldn’t keep anything down. That day, the two brought him to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with failure to thrive, which means his weight measurements fell below the third percentile due to inadequate nutrition.

The Department of Social Services was notified of the diagnosis, as it’s often an indicator of neglect, and a caseworker informed Small that her babies would be taken out of her care.

A Desperate Plea

This same caseworker then called Mullen.

Mullen kissing the top of her granddaughter's head.

“And then she goes, ‘Shariya said she’d like to come live with you. Would you be willing?’”

Mullen already had three children at her home. She’s the mother to SqQuayvion, ShaKovon, and JJ, who were 16, 14, and 7, respectively. She also had two adult children, Sevonté,’ 23, and Shai, 22.

Despite all that, she didn’t hesitate for a second at Small’s request.

“I knew it would be impossible to find a foster home that would take all four of them. No one was going to take a teen mom and her preemie triplets,” Mullen said.

With A Little Help

She knew right away that this all happened for a reason. “I just kept thinking, ‘I have to do this.’ I knew Shariya was intelligent and resilient and she just needed a safe place to put her roots. I knew it would be hard, but we’d figure it out.”

Small and her three kids posing for her first day back at school.
Facebook / Katrina Mullen
Facebook / Katrina Mullen

Mullen then sped through all the classes she needed to become a foster parent. Her friends, family, and other community member donated items like strollers, clothes, and bouncy chairs for the babies.

“It was like a baby bomb went off in my living room!” Mullen said as she laughed.

Success With Support

She was both Small and her babies’ official foster mom for 668 days. During that time, Small was able to graduate from high school with an A- average and even toured nearby colleges so she could continue her education. A recent post confirmed she’ll be attending Marian University to study social work.

Small in her graduation cao and gown.
GoFundMe / Katrina Mullen
GoFundMe / Katrina Mullen

Mullen is so proud of all Small has become. Through a stable housing situation and regular therapy sessions, she learned how to regulate her emotions and become a better mom. Mullen said that Small always put her kids’ needs before anything else.

Growing As A Mother

“In the beginning, it was me pretty much doing everything for the babies and her observing and participating when she felt confident. And now she’s in charge,” Mullen explained. “I’ll watch them if she wants to go hang out with her friends and stuff that teenagers do.”

Small and her kids, as well as Mullen and the rest of her family, on Small's adoption day.
Facebook / Katrina Mullen
Facebook / Katrina Mullen

“But I’m just her backup.”

Also in that time, Mullen graduated from being Small’s foster mom to being her real, adopted mom. It was with their adoption day photo that their story went viral for the first time.

Comfort And Stability

“I’m so proud to be Shariya’s mom. She just amazes me every day. When she’s frustrated with the babies, she never raises her voice. She’s just blossoming into this incredible woman.”

A photo of Smalls and her three kids together.

There’s a GoFundMe running to help Small “build a financial cushion” for herself and her kids. Thanks to their story being shared across the Internet, not only has their goal of $20,000 been met, but it’s already been greatly surpassed, as she currently has $108k raised.

A Hopeful Future

Small’s babies are a few years old now and are learning every day. They’re learning both English and Spanish, and lovingly refer to Mullen as ‘LaLa’ in place of grandma.

A photo of Smalls, her three kids, and Mullen together.
TODAY / Dustin + Bree Photography
TODAY / Dustin + Bree Photography

“Has it been easy? No! She pushes limits just like any other teenager,” Mullen said. “But I love her. I’m her mom—and I’m never going anywhere.”

This beautiful story is a testament to how even being emotional support can be a great help to those in need, and can grow into a beautiful, deep connection between two people helping each other grow.

Mullen is nothing short of an angel for all she’s done, and Small is so brave for having fought through and overcame the adversity she was facing. Both are strong, admirable women, leading this inspiring story that has hopefully encouraged others to always help when they can.

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Daniel Mitchell-Benoit

Dan is a content writer with three years of experience under their belt, having mostly covered viral media but now shifting toward spirituality and astrology. He’s a strong believer in using one’s beliefs as a means of self-improvement and being in touch with whatever messages the universe has to offer.

He can’t wait to share his insights with a[…]