“Gotcha Day”

In the world of adoption (in the U.S., anyway), there’s what seems to be a growing trend of celebrating “Gotcha” Day – the first day adoptive parents spend with their new child.  According to the Today Show, who has been spending significant time all this week during their broadcast focusing on issues related to adoption, “Gotcha” Day is a super happy anniversary celebration for the adoptive family and the adopted child.

gotcha banner

There’s a great article on the Today Show’s website all about “Gotcha Day.”  I was not terribly surprised to read that as it has grown in popularity, so has the prevalence of the stuff needed to celebrate Gotcha Day.  There are Gotcha Day gifts, like t-shirts, mugs, and even greeting cards. There are whole Pinterest boards for Gotcha Day ideas and sellers on Etsy who make handmade items like this banner here on the right – all to make the day extra special.

This seems like a great way to celebrate a huge moment in a family’s collective life.  It’s a happy occasion – like an anniversary party or a birthday.

But I’m struggling with the idea – for several reasons.

Believe me – *A* and I know about waiting, just like most other pre-adoptive parents and adoptive parents out there.  Our road to parenthood has been a lengthy so far, even though our wait just officially began a month and a half ago (after the official waiting to officially wait period).  So we can sort of chuckle understandingly at the thought of, at that moment when we first hold our child, saying “Gotcha!” But in a comical “Yay! Finally!” sort of way.

gotcha t shirtThat said, I am compelled to think about “Gotcha” day from a different perspective given the kind of adoption we’re hoping for – an open one.  If you plan to or currently celebrate Gotcha Day – please don’t be offended by my thoughts on the subject – I’m not knocking your celebration or your desire to mark such an important moment in your family.  I’m not trying to be a party pooper.  I’m just a nerd thinking something out.  Maintain that sense of humor, now, okay?

With that disclaimer, I’ll continue trying to explain my sort of muddled thoughts…when someone says “gotcha,” I can’t help but think of someone snatching something away from someone else.  Person A walks up to Person B, who has just absconded with Person A’s favorite something-or-other, of whom Person A is fond.  Person A snatches the something-or-other out of Person B’s hand, says to the something-or-other, “Gotcha!” and dashes away.  Now, that’s the scenario the word “gotcha” brings up in my mind.  Obviously somethings-or-other and children (and persons who speak to inanimate objects like somethings-or-other)  cannot be compared – I’m just explaining the meaning (the weight?) that word carries in my mind.

It’s not as simple as just having a problem with the actual word, then.  It’s the meaning behind the word, or what the use of the word seems to imply.

So here’s what bothers me: *A* and I have no intentions of absconding with a child – we want to have a relationship with our child’s birth parents and their families. Why would we celebrate a day that we (remember, I’m using the thought process the word “gotcha” conveys in my mind) snatched a child?  What would that mean for the birth parents and their families?  What would it mean for the child?

gotcha day balloon

Returning to that Today Show article – there is some explanation there that while many folks (especially folks who have or are adopting internationally) celebrate “Gotcha Day” wide open with parties and gifts, and their children look forward to it as their individually special day, there are others who look at it differently.  I guess they’re as hung up on the word “gotcha” as I am.  One such individual, Karen Moline, who is a board member for Parents for Ethical Adoption, says, “the word “Gotcha” is deeply insulting, especially in light of unethical international adoption agencies. No matter how pure your dreams of being a parent are,” Moline reminds people, “a child just isn’t something to be gotten like a car or a computer.”

What Moline is referring to is actually quite alarming.  We’re not pursuing an international adoption, so other than our initial research when we first decided to adopt, we haven’t gone further with looking at international adoption and the various agencies and countries through which many people adopt.  But we do know that all kinds of horrible things have happened in the past – actual snatching of children from their birthparents, who had no plans to place their children for adoption, but were either coerced or the child was actually stolen.  These children were then presented to their new American parents, who had paid a tidy sum to an “agency” that was essentially trafficking children.  The American parents knew nothing about the truth of their child’s background – they might have even been told they were orphans.  I don’t think this was ever a huge percentage in the total number of international adoptions – but really, I think we can all agree, if it happened at all, that was one time too many.  Things are changing now, thanks to the Hague Convention, an international agreement that regulates intercountry adoptions, but you can see how unethical international adoptions give an added charge to the concept of “gotcha” as well.

International adoptions are also less likely to be open adoptions.  Most often, from what I understand, children are living in orphanages and are cared for by staff members.  How they came to be there is varied, but apparently there is usually no opportunity for adoptive parents to meet birthparents, if they are still alive.  I think that is some folks’ defense of their celebration – they are seeing the word “gotcha” as a kind of security for the child who had experienced the loss of family.  It’s hard to argue with that, and really, that scenario is not the one I’m thinking of when I read about “Gotcha Day” celebrations.

Because of that kind of scenario – international adoptions of children in orphanages – I thought initially that maybe those families were the only ones celebrating “Gotcha Day.”  I don’t think so, though – I think it’s fairly prevalent in families that have adopted from the U.S. – though that adoption might not be an open adoption.

In any adoption, for someone to adopt a child, someone else must be unable, for whatever reason, to parent that child.  Adoption is a happy thing, or it can be, but it comes from loss.  And it’s not just the birthmother’s or birthparents’ loss of the parenting relationship with their child.  When we first began thinking about adoption, *A* and I were so consumed by the unexpected changes in our path to parenthood that it took us a little while to recognize that we were experiencing loss, too.  Trying to understand loss from all sides of the adoption triad, because all sides do experience it, helped us embrace open adoption – there is still loss, but there is the possibility of a relationship with our child’s birth parents and their families – that’s not nothing.

Oh, leave it to me to take something lighthearted and celebratory and analyze it to death.  I really didn’t think I had that much to say about “Gotcha Day,” but then, I was an English major…

I will say that *A* and I do intend to mark the anniversary of the first day we meet our child – we won’t call it “Gotcha Day,” but what we hope is that it can give us a reason for a family reunion with our child’s birth family – a hopefully happy opportunity to reflect on and commemorate(?) (celebrate?)the new relationships that began for each of us starting the day we met the child that has made all the difference.

Again, we’re dreaming here, and we have no idea what our reality might look like, but we hope for a way to celebrate that is inclusive rather than exclusive.

No snatching or absconding.

Maybe a big group hug, instead.


13 thoughts on ““Gotcha Day”

  1. I’ve never liked the term “Gotcha Day” for the exact reasons you described.
    We do celebrate our children’s Adoption Days – the days that their adoptions were finalized and they officially became ours; the day we became, in the eyes of the law, a “forever family.” We don’t do a whole lot, and we don’t get any specialized stuff. The child gets to pick a place to eat and one friend’s family with whom to eat, and we give the child 3 presents, one of which is an adoption- or family-themed book.

    • That’s probably along the lines of how we will celebrate – and if openness involves contact every so often with our kids’ birthparents, we want to involve them too. Thanks for sharing how you celebrate – good ideas!

  2. I’m so glad to see someone else feels the same as I do about “Gotcha Day”. I think the sentiment is great and the day an adoption is complete should definitely be celebrated and remembered. There is just something about the name that gets me though. With us adopting through foster care, “gotcha” just sounds wrong to me.

    • I didn’t talk about adoption from foster care in this post – and I can imagine that “gotcha” would feel wrong/weird in that situation. I suspect that there are more of us that feel this way about the term than I previously thought. Thanks for reading – I wish you well on your adoption process!

  3. I’ve never heard of ‘Gotcha Day’ (being from the UK) but yes, I share all your reservations. I’m pretty sure that most UK adoptions are from foster care, and, although we haven’t had our first anniversary yet, I know that some other adoptive families have experienced mixed feelings around this day, with some children finding it hard to celebrate wholeheartedly because of the issues it reminds them of. As you say, adoption is much more complex than just parents getting a child. Also, I am quite shocked at the commercialisation – how quick some companies are to jump on a bandwagon to make a quick profit!

    • It’s been really interesting to me to learn more about adoption in the UK – foster-to-adopt programs do exist in the U.S., but it’s pretty different, from what I have read through the WASO about other people’s experiences.

      I agree, it is kind of weird that you can buy all this adoption-related stuff that is pretty specific – but I guess for some folks, there’s a need for it.

      Thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts!

  4. Couldn’t agree more with your post. As with others we will be celebrating the “day that we welcomed our little one into our family” but the phrase “gotcha” is appalling. We’ve never heard this terminology in the UK. But what a horrible way to refer to a wonderful event. It really does sound like the commoditisation of a life…

    Thanks for sharing on the #WASO

    • I don’t mean to sound terribly derogatory in my description of other people’s “Gotcha Day” celebrations – many people arrive at adoption differently, and what doesn’t make sense for me might make sense for someone else – each circumstance is different. If I was adopting an orphan from another country who had been living for several months or years in an orphanage, “gotcha” sounds more like a reassurance than anything else – that child might have desperately needed to be “gotten.” For foster situations, or for my wife and I, who are hoping for an open adoption, “gotcha” just doesn’t fit, though I do want to commemorate, like you say, the day we welcomed our little one into our family. Thanks for your thoughts – and for reading!

  5. I was at first really concerned with where your post was going with “Gotcha Day”. I was very relieved to hear your reservations and found your view very thought provoking. Our special adoption day is always the day our children came to us but it is our personal celebration. Now my children are older it is something I ask them about celebrating and if they ever didn’t want to, then that would be fine.

    Thank you for linking up with The Weekly Adoption Shout Out

    • It can be sort of a charged topic – and even though I feel one way (pretty strongly), I can’t (and don’t want to) mandate what / or how others commemorate a significant day. I just feel a more mindful approach of the whole situation is a better approach for my family. I think you’re definitely right in asking your kids how they want to celebrate – and who to involve in that celebration. Thanks for reading!


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