"They bring me so much joy, and chaos, but life would be so empty and bland and boring without them," Lacey Dunkin says of her six daughters
Lacey Dunkin opened up her heart and home to six sisters in need of a loving family four years ago – and though her life quickly became “a crazy whirlwind of frilly dresses and Frozen,” the single mother couldn’t feel more at peace.
The 32-year-old Fresno, California, stay-at-home mom says Sophia, 9, twins Natalie and Melanie, 7, Kaylee, 6, Lea, 4, and Cecily, 2, are “the loves” of her life.
“They bring me so much joy, and chaos, but life would be so empty and bland and boring without them,” Lacey tells PEOPLE. “It’s an honor to be their mother, they melt my heart.”
Lacey, who says she felt strongly about keeping the sisters together, adopted five of the six girls in July 2013, after fostering them for almost a year. She also worked to have the girls’ youngest sibling, Cecily, join their family after she was born. The family celebrated Cecily’s official adoption in March 2015.
“We just kind of molded into a family,” says Lacey, who raises the girls with help from her parents, Jeri and Ronnie Dunkin. “It just always felt right, from the first moment I met them, I knew they had a special place in my heart.”
Lacey was 25 when she started researching the California requirements to become an adoptive mother in 2011.
“Marriage wasn’t anywhere on the horizon for me at that point, so I kind of looked at my life and decided that was okay and that I didn’t need marriage,” she says. “But I knew that if I wasn’t a mom, I would regret it my whole life.”
Lacey finished the certification process in June 2011 and three months later received an emergency foster placement call for four sisters – Sophia, Natalie, Melanie and Kaylee. Lea, a newborn at the time, was sent to live with a foster family that was better equipped to take care of babies.
“I interrupted the social worker who called and said ‘Yes!’ I can’t tell you why I felt so compelled to say yes, but I did,” she says. “And I didn’t even consider not keeping them together. It was all or nothing to me.”
The girls arrived at the four-bedroom house Lacey shares with her mother, Jeri, and father, Ronnie, a few hours later.
In a few short days, Sophia, Natalie, Melanie and Kaylee began to feel right at home – and their adoptive family “immediately fell in love” with the girls.
“They attached to Lacey so quickly,” Jeri Dunkin, 62, tells PEOPLE. “They idolize their mother, and Lacey is constantly looking for ways to help shape them into the best humans they can be.
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The grandmother adds, “It was just a natural fit from the start.”
Lacey and her parents cared for the four sisters for nine months, until their birth mother regained custody. Lea was also returned to her birth mother.
“Their birth family allowed us to come for visits and babysit the girls whenever possible. We really missed them,” says Lacey. “It was a little over a month later when she called and asked if I’d be willing to adopt all five girls. I was shocked, because that must have been a hard decision to make. She had been considering it for a few weeks, but was worried that her family might judge her.
“I told her, ‘You’re giving them more than I could. I couldn’t give them up and you’re loving them more than yourself and that’s big and a lot of people wouldn’t do that.”
It took a year for the adoption to finalize, and during that time the girls’ birth mother found out she was pregnant with a sixth baby.
“This was my children’s sibling, so it wasn’t even a question for me to take her in too,” says Lacey. “Cecily officially joined the family in March of 2015.”
The Dunkin family refers to the day that Cecily came home as their “Honeyversary” – a term coined by Lea to mark the “sweet” day their family became complete.
“I have so much love for them. We are so, so proud of them,” says Lacey. “I wouldn’t trade the six of them for anything. I am so honored to be their mother.”