Growing up as an only child, Amy Eker always wanted a big family. But she never imagined her blended family of nine would come together the way it did.
“It’s definitely crazy in our house right now and it’s loud,” the 36-year-old nurse tells PEOPLE. “We take it hour by hour. It’s hard to plan too much into the future. But we love every second of it!”
After years of struggling to have another baby, Amy, and her husband, Damian, a 42-year-old doctor, decided to become foster parents with the hopes of adopting. Already parents to 12-year-old fraternal twins — Samantha and Alexander — and Gabriel, Damien’s 20-year-old son from his first marriage, the couple agreed to add one more child to their family.
In 2016, the Ekers went through the process to become licensed foster parents and worked with the National Youth Advocate Program to bring a child in need into their home Coral Springs, Florida, home.
“We finished the program and we had a crib and a car seat and just a week later we got the call,” Amy recalls. On Christmas Day 2016, the Ekers learned they’d be taking in a baby girl and little Julianna arrived at the family’s home on New Year’s Eve.
“It was an awesome feeling,” Amy says. “It was like us bringing our own baby and bringing her home. It was the best feeling. So much joy. It was like we were starting a new life.”
How It All Began
Amy and Damian met while working at the same south Florida hospital. Amy was in nursing school and worked in the hospital’s transportation department while Damian was a nurse.
“I would bring the patients from their rooms to any tests they needed to have and I would always try to get assigned to his patients,” Amy recalls.
They wed 13 years ago and quickly welcomed the twins. But trying to have more children was difficult for the couple.
“I got pregnant so quickly the first time and five years later we said lets start trying again and I figured it would be so easy and we never got pregnant,” Amy tells PEOPLE. She and Damian began considering international adoption — then the couple had a light bulb moment.
“Working in the hospital you see all these foster kids, all these kids who need families,” Amy says of working with infants in the intensive care unit. (Damian is now a doctor who works with older patients.)
So the couple embarked on a journey that would lead to a full house!
They were thrilled to bring Julianna home and knew immediately that they wanted to adopt the baby.
“Things went back and forth for a while,” Amy tells PEOPLE of the adoption process. “The idea of foster care is to reunite families whenever possible and we know that. We didn’t know what the final outcome would be, but she’s officially part of our family now.”
They formally adopted Julianna in April 2017. That same month, a baby boy was born. He was malnourished and sleeping on a mattress in a house filled with cockroaches when the Ekers got a call in July 2017 about caring for the infant.
Although they initially planned to take in only one child, the Ekers didn’t hesitate.
“We took him right away,” Amy says.
Then, in May 2018, they got another call. The baby boy they had taken in would soon have a little brother, Amy tells PEOPLE. In an effort to keep the siblings together, officials asked if Amy and Damian would take in the unborn baby.
“We took a day to figure out how we were going to make room in the house and we said ‘yes,’ ” Amy says. And while they awaited the baby boy’s birth, their phone rang again.
The More the Merrier
While they were waiting for the baby boy to be born, the phone rang again. This time, a baby girl needed a home. She arrived in late October and the boy they’d been expecting arrived just 10 days later.
“They were thinking it would be temporary, but we’re now hoping it will be permanent,” Amy says.
Now, along with 23-month-old Julianna, the Ekers have a 19-month-old boy, a 6-week-old baby girl and another baby boy, 4 weeks. Julianna’s adoption is final, but the Ekers are in the process of finalizing the adoption of the other three.
Amy says their family is complete, but jokes that she’s out of room for car seats.
“The love we have for them is the same love we have for our biological children,” the devoted mom says. “There’s no difference.”
She knows her blended family can be hard for some to understand. The group gets a lot of stares when they’re out in public and Amy has been asked if she’s the nanny.
“My husband is Indian Jamaican and people think he’s Hispanic. My twins, my son looks like me and my daughter is dark like my husband,” Amy explains. “The babies — one is very light-skinned black, one is half-black and half-Puerto Rican and two are half-white, half-black.”
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She adds: “It’s definitely scary to think of when they start going to school, what kids can say to them and the stuff they’ll have to go through. I don’t want them to feel like people didn’t accept them in the beginning. We just want to protect them and have them live a happy normal life.”
Right now “normal” means relying on the older kids to help with the little ones. Amy is still working part time as a nurse while caring for the children.
“Thank goodness I have the 12-year-old twins — they help out a ton — I get all the kids dressed and they put them in the car. They help with bath time, they help entertain them.”
The only thing she’s hoping to change is where they live. The family is currently on the hunt for a bigger house.
“I knew I wanted to have a big family, I didn’t expect it to be this big but I love it,” she says. We love it.”