Words matter. I think they matter even more if you have experienced adoption. Phrases like “your real mom” or “your real child” are difficult to hear and yes-adopted families hear these often. For example, the phrase “Gotcha Day” has sparked a huge debate in the adoption community.
What is Gotcha Day?
"Gotcha Day" is a phrase that denotes the anniversary of the day on which a new member joins a family through adoption. It is sometimes also called “ Home Coming Day","Family Day", or "Adoption Day" – For many intercountry adoptive families, this day may differ from the actual adoption day. 'Gotcha Day' is often associated with annual rituals or celebrations.
Over that last few years, there has been a huge debate in the adoption community on whether we, adoptive parents, should celebrate our child’s adoption day. Karen Moline, author and the adoptive mother of a child born in Vietnam wrote “Get Rid of ‘Gotcha’” for Adoptive Families magazine in which she says: “Gotcha is my typical response when I’ve squashed a bug, caught a ball just before it would have rolled under the sofa, or managed to reach a roll of toilet paper on the top shelf at the store. It’s a silly, slangy word...I find the use of ‘gotcha’ to describe the act of adoption both astonishing and offensive.”
I have said it once; I'll say it again. Every adoption journey starts with a story of loss. This loss cannot be ignored or loved away. This loss can be ambiguous for the adoptee especially if they were adopted as an infant. So here is the thing most people may miss about adoption. Adoption is not just a story of loss. It starts there but can grow and evolve into so much more. To our family adoption is both an act of love and loss.
In our home, we use “Adoption Day” as a day to honor our story. Our story is hard, full of loss and surprisingly beautiful. However, many believe that no matter what name you use, Gotcha Day, Adoption Day, or Family Day it is a disingenuous day created by adoptive parents to celebrate their happiness while also possibly recognizing their child’s loss. Some have even said that gotcha day is a narcissistic response to adoption by the adoptive parent.
Last night, in our family, we celebrated the twelth-year anniversary of the day my son’s adoption was finalized. As usual, it was low-key, quiet, and a generally private affair. As he has gotten older, he decides how he wants to spend this day and he always chooses to spend it with his family.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think that the child I prayed for and eventually adopted would think that my honoring his joining of our family, all be it an unnatural process, would be a way for me to boast about his loss. Those who know our story and our love for our son know we would never do anything to hurt him intentionally.
Articles like The Insensitivity of Adoption Day Celebrations by Mirah Riben, by the Huffington Post, challenged me. I began to think are my husband and I getting this all wrong? I decided to really go to the true experts on adoption and all things gotcha day…adopted kids. I took time to interview Jaden (12) and Ella (13) about their adoption journey and how celebrating their adoption has impacted their lives.
Meet the Kids
Ella was adopted from Guatemala as an infant. She calls her adoption day “gotcha day.”One day, when driving through a rainstorm, she asked if it rained in Guatemala and the rest is history! Ella quickly learned that there is a great need for umbrellas in Guatemala, especially during the rainy season. Ella then created her Ella’s Umbrellas initiative. Those who received umbrellas shared that during the rainy season they don't have anything to cover their children with and the umbrellas reduce their children's chances and during the dry season it keeps mom’s to protect their children from the sun. Ella has donated over 750 umbrellas so far and hopes to send over 1,000 by the end of 2018.
Jaden was adopted domestically from NC. Jaden calls his day “Adoption Day.” Many of you have read about our mini superhero on my blog. He has been featured in posts like “Adoption: A glimpse into the day our son was born” and “Where did you get that baby?” which paint a picture of some of the beautifully complex moments adoption has thrown at us. His heart for people is evident in the way he loves his family. His insight on his own adoption experience is what has led me to share our story. Jaden will be the first to tell you that when it comes to his adoption he has double-dipped feelings about it and that is totally ok. I took some time to ask Ella and Jaden the following questions.
Why do you like to celebrate your Gotcha Day / Adoption Day?
E: “ Because we celebrate that me, my mom, and dad all became a family.”
J: “ We celebrate it because it reminds us that our story is special.”
How is this day different from your birthday?
E: “Umm on my birthday we celebrate the day I was born, but on my Gotcha day we celebrate the day we became a family.”
J: “My birthday is cool because it's about celebrating my life. You know, the day I was born. Celebrating my adoption day celebrates my family. Its how we came to be.”
Why is it important that your adoption day is celebrated each year?
E: “It’s very important to me because we get to celebrate as a whole family and every year we make it a special time.“
J: “It reminds me that even though I sometimes get sad about my adoption it can also remind me that it’s a good thing too. I also like that on my adoption day my family takes the time to tell me my story.”
Adoption does start with loss but it doesn’t have to end there. Over time it can become many layers to a complex journey. It's important that we as adoptive parents not only celebrate our child's journey into our family but also that we honor their story. No matter what word you choose to celebrate your child’s day, the important thing is to celebrate your child.