It all began with a phone call that would forever change the lives of one Nebraska couple – and eight brothers who needed a loving home.
After Scott and Melissa Groves had trouble conceiving, they decided to get away and visit family in Davenport, Iowa, during the summer of 2003. That’s when they learned that Melissa’s aunt had become a foster mom to a baby she would ultimately adopt.
“She inspired me,” Melissa, 35, tells PEOPLE. “I knew fostering existed, I just didn’t think it was going to be part of my life.”
When the couple returned home to Omaha, Nebraska, they started doing research online and signed up for foster parenting classes.
“It was emotional and took a lot out of us,” she says. “You worry if you’ll be able to handle it, but then you get that first call and you’re called to action. You just focus on the little kid and go from there.”
The Groves received their first phone call and welcomed 3-year-old Noah and his brother Chase, 22 months, in April 2004.
“We weren’t quite sure what to expect and they were scared and didn’t know what to expect either,” says Melissa. “It was kind of the perfect fit. We learned together. They captured our hearts. After no more than a week or two, they were part of the family and I couldn’t imagine life without them.”
Suddenly, calls came rolling in. They were from various foster-care agencies asking if the Groves knew the boys had brothers and whether they would like to foster them, too.
First came little Garrett, 8, who just wanted to cuddle. Then Hayden, 7, born with a cleft lip that needed multiple surgeries to repair.
“I questioned if I could do it,” Melissa says. “Like everything else, I prayed about it and just couldn’t say no. When we went to go get [Garrett] in the hospital, they placed him in my arms and all I saw was his big, brown eyes. I knew he was supposed to be with us.”
Garrett was followed by Ashton, 6, Curran, 5, and Bryer, 2.
Every time the Groves learned the birth mother was again pregnant but unable to keep the baby, they asked themselves: How can we make a home for all the brothers but one?
“It was our driving force for just saying yes,” explains Melissa. “We truly believed they needed to be together. Scott and I never had a conversation. We just said yes.”
Then came the newest addition: Zayn, who is just over a year old and was born prematurely, exposed to drugs in utero and diagnosed with Down syndrome.
“Zayn is a complete joy. He’s happy all the time and teaches us patience and unconditional love and has changed our family for the better,” Melissa says.
All the kids were formally adopted as of Saturday, when there was a ceremony at the courthouse in Omaha. It was National Adoption Day, so Zayn was officially adopted along with 52 other children.
The Groves makes sure to update their birth family by reaching out to the birth mom, aunts, uncles and cousins.
There are also three other children – two boys and a girl – who were removed from their original home by social services as well and now live with their father’s family.
Melissa says she never forgets that, with any kind of foster or adoption, something bad happens in one family to give another one their forever home.
“I always have that moment of reflection,” she says. “I couldn’t imagine losing my kids and I know [the birth mother] still loves them. I’m happy because they are now ours, but at the same time, the pain is never lost on me.”
Although the boys don’t keep in touch with their birth mom now, Melissa says if the birth mother makes positive life choices, she will bring it up with the boys as time goes by. While keeping things age-appropriate, she shares their story with them, because, after all, it’s their story.
Noah, 13, was upset at first and would ask her, “Why is Mom doing this?” but Melissa she has spent a lot of time explaining the problems his birth mom has had. She thinks he’s gained a better understanding of people as a result.
Noah sticks up for his brothers in school. He has a special bond with Zayn. Like all brothers, the boys rough house, play, sit on each other’s laps to watch cartoons.
“We are just like any other family,” Melissa adds.
The family dynamics keep changing, but they try to continue their routine. While Scott, 36, goes to work every day as a warehouse manager, his wife stays home with the kids. Between packing lunches and doing endless loads of laundry, date nights are “few and far between,” she says.
Money is tight, but since they adopted through the state and some of their boys have special needs, they do receive some subsidies.
Right before they started their foster parent training, Melissa’s 17-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, Autumn, then 5, wrote Santa a letter asking for a little brother. Talk about a wish come true.
“Sometimes it just seems surreal to think about back then when I struggled emotionally and didn’t understand why it wasn’t happening for us,” Melissa says of her infertility struggles. “There’s all these emotions and not understanding the whys.”
“But now to see that we have these boys and life is going well, it just makes sense. Now I see why.”
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