This is part of a continuing series by FOX News of unique perspectives on what it is to be an American.
In early 1992, 25-year-old Gidgett Lovingood was raising her five sons in California's notoriously tough city of Compton with her husband Lawrence, 28. Raising even more kids was never part of her life's plan.
But when her sister-in-law Evette was killed by a boyfriend, Lovingood faced the daunting task of caring for the four children her sister left behind. Barely an adult herself, Lovingood was suddenly a full-time mother to nine children, all aged 10 and under.
"Initially, we took them on weekends because they came to church with us, so it seemed natural," Lovingood said. "I didn't want them to be separated, so I knew I had to take them in."
Her first priority, aside from ensuring that the children were cared for, was to raise them to think of each other as brothers and sisters.
"There was no such thing as different treatment for the kids," she said. "They may have been my nieces and nephews, but to me, they were raised like my sons and daughters."
Indeed, the children came to think of themselves in the same manner.
"My son Don said to me once, 'I never thought of my cousins as cousins — to me they were my brothers and sisters,'" she said.
• Click here to see photos of Gidgett and her family.
Over the years, Lovingood faced the problems of many other American families — but on a grand scale. Lovingood and her husband worked hard to support their family, she as a psychiatric nurse for a California hospital and he as a delivery driver for Office Max.
Despite the fact that there were two incomes in the household, Lovingood still struggled financially with her family of 11.
"There were times that we really didn't know how we were even going to put food on the table honestly," she said. "Sometimes, when I look back now, I wonder how we even did it."
On top of the financial issues, Lovingood said it was a challenge raising nine different personalities and making sure that all finished their schooling and had a comfortable childhood.
Things got harder still when Lovingood's niece Linsey, at the age of 16, was diagnosed with the potentially fatal disease Lupus and her son Don was nearly left paralyzed from severe rheumatoid arthritis.
"Don couldn't walk for three months," she said. "We didn't know what was wrong and after all these tests they told him it was arthritis, although we still think it is something else."
Those years were the most trying for Lovingood, now 41, as she was in and out of the hospital a few times a week with her kids. Later, when Linsey had children, she required blood platelets before and after she gave birth.
"She almost didn't make it," Lovingood said. "If we had lived in another country, we might not have gotten the right medication or treatment for them. If we didn't live in America, my kids probably wouldn't have survived."
Lovingood has remained strong despite the challenges life has thrown at her, something she attributes to her faith and her country.
"There have been so many times when I have had to pray for strength, but somehow we have always made it," she said. "People — friends, family, even strangers — have been really helpful to me and my family and I appreciate that."
Still, above all else, she says she is proudest of her country when she thinks of what her children can accomplish here.
"I have always encouraged them to follow their dreams and to let them know that they can be whatever they want to be if they put their minds to it."
Claude, the eldest, now 25, works in a restaurant. Larry, 23, is a mechanic and will begin nursing school in January with his brother, Daryl, 19. Linsey, 22, is a mom of two while Don, 20, works in security. Bryan, 21, works for a grocery store and Jonathan, 19, is enrolled in a program to become a sheriff in Compton. LaTosha, 18, is in college and Joshua, 17, is in high school working hard to complete his goal of obtaining a college baseball scholarship.
"He was recently featured in a Compton newspaper and has been named top player in the region," Lovingood said proudly.
"My story as an American has definitely been rough at times," Lovingood said. "But I am a proud mom and grandmom. I love these kids and this country and I wouldn't change that for the world."