One of the first things neonatal nurse Katrina Mullen observed about the 14-year-old girl who gave birth to triplets in her Indiana hospital was that she appeared to be alone all the time.
Mullen, 45, says she’d be there alone for days at a time, sitting by her babies’ bedside. She was perplexed as to why Shariya Small never brought a packed lunch or snacks to eat. Was she being looked after at home? Did she have any help?
Mullen, on the other hand, did not press the issue. Small, who was in eighth grade at the time, made it apparent that she did not want to discuss personal matters.
Mullen recalls that she understood that if she gave her time, she’d most likely open up to her.
Serenitee, Samari, and Sarayah, triplets born in 2020 at 26 weeks gestation, spent more than five months in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Community Hospital North in Indianapolis.
Mullen taught Small how to care for newborns, while Small taught Mullen about TikTok. However the barriers didn’t come tumbling down until Mullen disclosed to Small that she had put a kid for adoption when she was 16 years old.
Something changed after she told her she was a teen mom, Mullen explains. That’s when they really developed trust.
Small told Mullen that she felt like individuals were judging her.
Mullen provided Small her mobile phone number before the triplets were released. Small had still not disclosed any information about her family at that moment.
Mullen told her that if she requires need anything, just call her. If she need to talk or have a question, she is available.
Small started constantly messaging and FaceTiming Mullen.
When she was crying and overwhelmed, Mullen come to her aid. She couldn’t fix it, but she would listen to Small, support her, and say, ‘You can do this,’ Mullen recalls. However, she was growing concerned about her support system. She couldn’t figure out why she kept phoning her.
Mullen took a day off and travelled an hour to Kokomo, Indiana, where Small was staying with a cousin. Mullen was shocked to see the triplets sleeping together in an infant playpen, while Small was confined to a sofa.
It was not a place for her to raise babies, Mullen explains.
Mullen was particularly worried about Small’s kid, Samari, who has been suffering from intestinal issues since birth. According to her, he was extremely skinny and covered with eczema.
Samari’s formula had been changed by a doctor, but nevertheless he was still vomiting and losing weight, according to Small.
According to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Samari was hospitalized at a local hospital and diagnosed with failure to thrive, which occurs when a child’s weight measurements fall below the third or fifth percentile owing to poor nourishment. Samari’s diagnosis was reported to the Department of Social Services (DSS).
Mullen got a call from DSS shortly after.
The caseworker said that Shariya and her babies were being removed from their home, Mullen adds. Then she says, ‘Shariya said she’d like to come live with you. Would you be willing?’
Mullen had three children at the time: SeQuayvion, 16, ShaKovon, 14, and JJ, 7. She also has two sons, Sevonté, 23, and Shai, 22. But she didn’t pause.
Mullen adds that she knew it would be hard to get foster care for all four of them. No one would take a teen mother and her preemie triplets. She just kept telling herself, ‘I have to do this.’ Shariya was brilliant and tough, and all she needed was a secure place to plant her roots. She knew it would be difficult, but they’d work it out.
Mullen, who was not yet a foster parent, completed all of the required courses. Friends and family members sent cribs, strollers, clothing, and bouncy chairs.
It was like a baby bomb went off in her living room! Mullen says, laughing.
Small and the infants were cared for by Mullen for 668 days. Small graduated from an alternative high school with an A-average during that period and is currently exploring local institutions. She intends to work in social services.
Mullen is impressed with Small, who turned 17 last month. Mullen said she’s learned how to deal with challenging emotions, is working on her communication skills in counseling, and always prioritizes her children’s needs.
Mullen continues that, at first, it was mostly me doing everything for the babies and her observing and participating when she felt comfortable. And she’s now in charge. She’ll watch them if Small wants to go hang out with her friends and do stuff that teenagers do.
But she is just her backup, as she points out.
Mullen is also Small’s legal mother, having adopted her on February 6. The tale went viral when Mullen published an adoption day picture on a Facebook community for foster parents.
Mullen exclaims, She is so proud to be Shariya’s mom! She never ceases to amaze her. She never raises her voice when she is upset with the infants. She’s just starting to grow into this amazing lady.
Mullen has put up a GoFundMe page to help build a financial cushion for Small and her children.
Serenitee, Samari, and Sarayah, all aged two, can count to twenty and are “learning new words” in English and Spanish every day. Mullen, their grandma, is affectionately referred to as “LaLa.”
Has it been simple? No! She pushes boundaries like any other adolescent, Mullen says. But she adores her. She is her mother, and is not going anywhere.