-- Melissa Groves will never forget that over Christmas 2004, her then-6-year-old daughter Autumn asked Santa Claus for a little brother.
Boy, was she in for a surprise. The little brothers kept coming and coming.
Autumn got two adopted brothers the following year, followed by their six siblings over the next 10 years, Groves said. The family officially adopted their youngest, baby Zayn, two days ago.
"I just want them all to stay together," said Groves, of Omaha, Nebraska, adding that she often hears about adopted children who go searching for their lost siblings as adults. "I didn't want that for my boys."
Groves and her husband learned shortly after getting married that conceiving children naturally was "very unlikely" for them, so they decided try foster parenting, Groves wrote in a blog post last week for the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.
Although they were only expecting one child, they were asked to foster two of them: brothers Noah and Chase, who were then 3 and almost 2. The Groves were nervous, at first, to take home two boys, but soon decided to adopt them both.
Once the adoption was finalized, however, they got a surprising phone call: The boys' mother had given birth to another baby boy and he needed a home immediately.
"There was no question," Groves wrote on her blog. "How could I deny my sons and this new child the possibility of being together?"
This happened five more times over the years, sometimes with the boys' birth mother reaching out to Groves over Facebook to say she was pregnant again. Though their birth mother always told Groves she hoped she would be ready to be a mother each time she became pregnant, it never worked out because she had a drug problem, Groves said, becoming emotional.
"She's not a bad person," Groves added, noting that she's in contact with the boys' biological mother every few months. "I can't even imagine the pain that she's gone through."
Though no two stories are exactly the same, Groves said she hoped to shed light on the plights of thousands of children across the country and the need for families like hers to take them in.
According to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, more than 100,000 children are available for adoption in the United States.
The institute's executive director, Becky Weichhand, said the Groves' story is important because it helps the public realize that "everyday people are making an impact in the life of a child, and that they can do it, too." She said it's important to keep siblings together where possible because their bond is a source of emotional strength after the trauma of being separated from their parents.
"These children have been through something at no fault of their own," Weichhand said. "Their parent is not able to parent, for whatever reason."
In Nebraska, there are 322 children available for adoption and 4,122 children who are in state wards, said the state's deputy director of Children and Family Services, Vicki Maca. She said anyone who is curious about fostering children should call their state officials.
"Sometimes, the general public thinks you have to be perfect parents in order to be eligible for foster care," she said. "Our kids aren't expecting or needing perfect parents. They just want consistency. No family is perfect."
Though the Groves' Omaha, Nebraska, home is often hectic with eight boys, Groves said they call it "sweet chaos." And when things calm down, she's reminded exactly why she did adopted them all.
"When the little ones sit on bigger ones' laps to sit down and watch cartoons, it's like that's exactly it," she said. "I'm glad they're all here."