When Shariya Small gave birth to triplets when she was only 14 years old, she had no idea how to be a mom. Luckily, a nurse, Katrina Mullen, took extra care of her. This is their inspiring story.
Lending a Helping Hand
Katrina Mullen was a kind, caring nurse. She clocked in for her shifts and was always willing to help those in the hospital where she worked, and there was one young girl who caught her attention.
The bond that would eventually spark between them would change her life forever. As she made the decision to approach this lonely teenage mom, she would alter the course of destiny. This is the story of how Shariya Small and Katrina Mullen became bonded forever.
When Shariya Small was only 14 years old, she received surprising news. It was over Mother's Day weekend when she found out that she was going to be a mother. The teenager had no idea what to do with this information. She had not planned on becoming a mother, but here she was.
She told People, "I was 14, I was like, 'I don't want to be a mom right now.'" What was the teenager meant to do? She quickly scheduled a doctor's appointment upon finding out this information. She knew that she had to see a professional to make sure everything was okay, but even more surprising news was awaiting her.
"I Was Speechless"
When she arrived for her checkup, Small thought she'd find out more about her baby, and the doctor would run regular tests to make sure everything was going smoothly and her pregnancy was progressing normally and healthily. However, she was in for the surprise of a lifetime.
She completed her ultrasound, and what she didn't expect to happen next was for the doctor to tell her that she wasn't just having one baby, but she was having three. Yes, triplets! Small told People, "I was speechless. I was panicking, but I had no time to panic."
Three Weeks Later
Three weeks after her first appointment, Small went into labor. She gave birth to three babies, two girls and a boy, at the Community Hospital North in Indiana on August 30, 2020. She named the babies Sarayah, Serenitee, and Samari. What is normally a joyous moment for most mothers was a confusing time for Shariya.
The young mom told People, "I felt like I couldn't relate to all the other moms on the floor." To make matters more complex, Shariya was only 26 weeks pregnant when she gave birth. A typical pregnancy is meant to last around 40 weeks, which means her triplets were extremely preterm and needed extra care.
Caring for the Babies
Since the triplets were born prematurely, they were admitted into the neonatal intensive care unit, NICU, at the hospital. Shariya would come every single day to see her newborns and watch them as they progressed steadily. Yet, she was always alone when she came for visits.
There was never a parent or friend accompanying her during this trying time. However, she was not as alone as she seemed to be. There was someone at the hospital who had noticed Shariya and was keeping an eye out for her. That woman was Katrina Mullen.
Nurse Katrina Mullen
Katrina Mullen works as a nurse in the NICU department of the hospital. She typically works three nights a week for 12-hour shifts. During these shifts, Mullen paid special attention to the teenage mom, who was always by her lonesome. She wondered what could be going on with Shariya.
Why did she never have someone with her and the babies? Why did she never pack a lunch for herself? Mullen told Today.com, "She'd be there alone for days at a time sitting at her babies' bedside." She wanted to help but didn't want to overwhelm her. "I knew if I gave her time, she'd likely open up to me."
A Familiar Feeling
Mullen wanted to lend a helping hand because she knew what Shariya was going through. Not only was she a single mother to five boys, but she had also been a teenage mom. When Mullen was 16 years old, she discovered she was pregnant. She knew what it felt like to become a mom at such a young age.
Mullen ended up putting her firstborn baby up for adoption. That was nearly 30 years ago. Now, there was a teenage mom at the hospital who seemed to be doing it all alone, and Mullen knew she could help her. The nurse told People, "I wanted her to know that I was a teen mom, and that I knew how scary it was."
Katrina didn't want to frighten the teenage mom, so she helped slowly. She made regular stops by Small's room to check on her and the babies. Eventually, Shariya began to feel more comfortable and left her room more and more. When she did venture out into the halls, she would make her way to Mullen's office.
Whenever Mullen wasn't busy caring for the babies in the ward, she would be designated as the charge nurse and working in her office. So, Small would come and join her. "It felt really good to finally have somebody to talk to that wasn't on my phone," the teenage mom said to People about her visits with Mullen.
A Developing Friendship
The visits became more frequent, and the two women began to bond. Katrina would teach Shariya everything to know about how to be a mom. She would show her how to change diapers, feed her babies, and more essential know-how about newborn care. Shariya would show the nurse how to use social media apps like TikTok.
Then, the relationship deepened even more when Mullen revealed her big news to Shariya. At last, she told her she had also been a teen mom. The nurse revealed to Today.com, "Something shifted after I told her that I was a teen mom. That's when we really developed trust."
It is hard being a teenage mom. There is a lot of stigma that comes with the role. Shariya admitted to her new confidant that she felt judged by the people in the hospital. However, Mullen never judged her. In fact, she could relate to the emotions the teenager was trying to process.
Mullen understood the difficulty of being a new mom. Let's not forget that Shariya is a mom with triplets and a teenager. It must have been such a relief for her to have someone like Mullen by her side. She had someone who could help her navigate being a mom without judgment.
Exchanging Phone Numbers
It took some time, but eventually, all three of Shariya's newborns were healthy and strong enough to be released from the hospital. One by one, they were discharged from the neonatal intensive care unit and were given to their mom to live and grow up at home.
After five months of being in the NICU, it was time for Small to say goodbye. Before all three babies were released, Mullen gave Shariya her number. The nurse recalled their conversation to Today.com, "I said, 'If you need anything, you just call me. If you need to talk, or you have a question, I'm here.'"
Shariya’s Support System
During their time spent together, Mullen became a support system for Shariya. She was the one who had the answers about what to do with the babies and could teach Shariya how to be the best mom possible. Shariya knew that Katrina was someone that she could lean on.
So, when she left the hospital, she continued to text, call, and FaceTime the nurse. Small admitted to People, "I was really overwhelmed. I would just call Katrina and she would talk me down and tell me what to do." Katrina would always pick up the phone on the other hand and offer her wisdom and love.
Katrina told Today.com, "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.'" While the single mom of five was happy to help with anything that Shariya needed, she was beginning to grow concerned about the teenager's situation at home.
"I began to feel like I was her only support," Mullen told People. She also spoke with Today.com and said, "...I was becoming increasingly concerned about her support system. I couldn't figure out why she was calling me so often." Then, something happened that caused Katrina Mullen to take matters into her own hands.
A Cause for Concern
During a FaceTime call, Mullen noticed that Small's son had a bad case of eczema and didn't seem to be one hundred percent. The nurse told Small that she was going to come for a visit. On her day off, she drove the hour to where Small was staying with a relative. What Mullen saw when she entered the house was distressing.
The triplets were sleeping in an infant playpen together while Small was sleeping on the couch. Samari was covered in eczema and scratches, had gone almost bald, and lost a lot of weight since he was released from the hospital. Mullen declared, "I said, 'You have to get him to the doctor today. He's not okay.'"
Worst Case Scenario
What happened next was a worst-case scenario for moms. Shariya secured a ride to the hospital while Mullen watched her other two children. When she arrived at the hospital, Samari was diagnosed with "failure to thrive." This diagnosis caused Child Protective Services to begin an investigation.
After completing their investigation, they determined that all four children, including Shariya, would have to be put into foster care. This was a worst-case scenario for the family. What would happen to the kids if they were put into foster care? However, there was potentially another option - one final hope.
The Big Question
The case worker called Katrina Mullen to update her on what was happening and ask one big question. Mullen told Today.com, "The caseworker said that Shariya and her babies were being removed from their home. And then she goes, 'Shariya said she'd like to come live with you. Would you be willing?'"
Mullen told the media outlet, "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." So, what was her answer going to be? Was she going to take this new addition to her family?
Without hesitation, Mullen agreed. She described what was going through her head to Today.com, "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."
Mullen still had three of her five children living at home with her, but now their family would grow by four. Within a few days of saying yes to the case worker, Shariya, Serenitee, Samari, and Sarayah came with all of their possessions to live with Katrina and her boys.
Nobody To Call Mom
"I had nobody else to call mom," Small told People Magazine. That changed when Mullen took the young teenager and her three newborns into her home. Upon deciding to welcome Shariya into her family, Mullen ensured she took all the appropriate classes and obtained the certifications necessary to become a foster parent.
Meanwhile, Mullen wasn't the only one working to get things in order. Friends and family lent a helping hand by donating tons of items. They bought Small and her triplets cribs, strollers, clothes, bouncy chairs, and more. Small was relieved. "I'm not alone anymore. I don't have to do everything by myself."
Not only did Shariya have someone to call mom, but she had a new place to call home. Luckily, she had someone who helped turn the worst-case scenario into one of the best outcomes. However, adjusting to a new lifestyle doesn't come as easily as 1, 2, 3. Getting into a routine still took time, patience, and hard work.
Mullen said to Today.com, "In the beginning, it was me pretty much doing everything for the babies and her observing and participating when she felt confident." Just like they did during those months in the hospital, the two women worked together to care for the triplets.
Normal Teenage Things
Despite being a mother to three, Shariya could still enjoy all the things the average teenager likes to do. She would hang out with her friends and attend high school, and during her senior year, she started to prepare for the next big step. She toured college campuses!
All of this was possible because of Mullen, who now gets to be the babies' babysitter after passing the reins of motherhood to Shariya. "…Now she's in charge," Mullen said about Shariya. She continued, "I'll watch them if she wants to go hang out with her friends and stuff that teenagers do. But I'm just her backup."
Shariya ended up graduating high school with an A- average. She decided that she wanted to pursue a career in social work so that she could help out people like herself. She wants them to know that they are not alone and someone out there understands what they are going through.
The teenage mom told People, "I want to help other teen moms, because I wanted somebody like that in my corner. I think I would be a big help." Shariya committed to Marian University and will study to achieve her dream of becoming a social worker. What an inspiration!
Being a Grandma
The best part for Katrina Mullen? According to her, now she gets to be a grandma. She revealed to People, "The most fun for me is being a grandma. That's my favorite part. They are such a joy to me." The kids have become such rays of light for the nurse.
She elaborated, "They make me smile and laugh so much every day. If I am stressed or I'm in a bad mood, or something going on that I don't know how to fix, I just sit with them or one of them will run up to me and say, 'You need a hug?' I mean, it's just the best."
Thriving and Healthy
Now, the triplets have grown into rambunctious and adorable toddlers. They turned three years old in August 2023, and Mullen said they are "all thriving and doing great." They have come such a long way from being hooked up to machines as premature infants.
The two girls, Serenitee and Sarayah, graduated from therapy and can enroll in a regular preschool. While Shariya's son, Samari, still receives occupational and physical therapy, he continues to get stronger. How amazing is that?! Soon enough, they're going to be all grown up.
Learning New Words
The kids are so lucky to grow up in an environment where they can explore the world, learn new things, and be cared for and loved unconditionally. They are growing up so quickly. Already, the triplets have been learning words in English and Spanish. They can also count up to 20!
Every day is a new adventure with toddlers, and this family has three in the family. It is hard to imagine a world where the family wasn't kept together, and thankfully, Katrina Mullen didn't let that happen. She knew how important family was and welcomed Shariya and her kids into her family with open arms.
After 668 days of being a foster mom, Katrina Mullen officially became Shariya's mother and the triplets' grandmother. On February 6, 2023, Mullen legally adopted Shariya Small. While they were acting as a family unit for nearly two years, they finally made things official.
The whole family wore matching shirts and took a photograph with the judge to mark the special event. Shariya held a sign that said, "After 668 days, finally adopted." This is one big happy family. The triplets even call Mullen "LaLa" instead of Grandma. How cute is that?
After the Indianapolis Star wrote about the family, their story went viral. Everybody wanted to hear about this inspiring and heartwarming story. Amid all of the terrible news that is constantly being reported, it was so lovely to listen to a story that had such a wonderful and happy ending.
Media outlets like The Today Show, People Magazine, and CBS Evening News picked up on the family's tale. People all over the country wanted to know more about Katrina Mullen and Shariya Small. Against all odds, these two women found each other and were able to create an everlasting bond.
Total Boss Mom
"I've seen her blossom from a scared teenager who has no idea how to do this to a total boss mom," Katrina Mullen gushed over her adopted daughter, Shariya Small. She couldn't help but compliment her daughter on how much she has grown over the past couple of years.
She continued, "She's such a hands-on parent. She is with the three of them 24/7 right now. I've gone from doing most everything for the babies when they first got to me, to now she runs the show, and I just am there if she needs backup or if she needs a break."
Sharing Their Adventures
Mullen has been sharing the family's adventures on her Instagram page. She updates friends, family, and fans about the daily happenings of their modern family. From teaching Shariya how to make canned pickles and beans to playdates with her grandchildren to her boys' football wins, Katrina is one proud mom and LaLa.
She also spreads the family's story, sharing the various interviews and magazine features they have been in. Mullen uses the platform to spread awareness about the NICU and super relatable quotes that every mom can relate to. It doesn't stop there, either!
Beyond Their Goal
Katrina Mullen organized a GoFundMe fundraiser for her family. She wrote in the description, "This GoFund me will be used to build a financial cushion for my adopted Daughter Shariya Small (now 17) and her now 2 year old triplets Serenitee, Samari and Sarayah…" She wants to set her daughter up for success in any way she can.
She listed college funding, housing costs, and a car as destinations for the donations. Mullen made her goal of $20,000. After the family's story gained national attention, they have so far earned more than six times the desired amount. How awesome is that?
Proud Mom and Grandma
From being the caring nurse looking out for the teenager who was all alone to a doting grandma, Katrina Mullen has had quite a transformation over the past few years. Shariya went from being by herself every day in the hospital to being welcomed into a big, loving family.
Mullen said to Today.com, "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." She continued, "I'm her mom - and I'm never going anywhere."