Adoption anniversaries are widely known as “Gotcha Day”. My husband and I made a decision very early on in our foster care and adoption journey that we would not celebrate adoption anniversaries as “Gotcha Day”.
Before I go any further, I do want to say that I don’t judge others who use the term “Gotcha Day”. Not at all. Every adoptive family is unique and chooses to celebrate or not celebrate their adoption days in their own way. For our children’s life experiences and the reasons they came into our lives, the notion of “gotcha” never settled right in our hearts.
According to the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, the word gotcha means an unexpected usually disconcerting challenge, revelation, or catch; also: an attempt to embarrass, expose or disgrace someone (such as a politician) with a gotcha. Think about the times we have played a joke on people and then said, “Gotcha!” While this word is often used with fun, the actual meaning is more serious.
“Gotcha Day” is very popular and commonly used by a lot of adoptive families. It has also sparked debates both within and outside of the adoption community regarding the insensitivity of it and the overall meaning. I don’t want to get into the societal views of this but I would like to explain why we have chosen not to use this phrase.
From the very start of our children’s lives (after birth), there was heartbreak and loss. Our children were not able to live with their biological parents and it was not by choice. Our children’s biological parents did not make a plan for adoption. They did not set out to find a family for their babies, nor did they expect to lose them. It is true that two of our birth mothers made the decision to voluntarily terminate their rights but we know that this decision was desperately saddening and very difficult. To be completely correct, while they voluntarily signed, there really was not a lot of choice in the matter.
Circumstances of life led them down the path that they were forced to walk on and that path included a life without their children. This is not a cause for celebration nor is it something to take lightly or in fun. This is why we don’t say “Gotcha!” when referring to our children’s adoptions, nor do we say, “Happy Gotcha Day!” to others who are celebrating.
We acknowledge the anniversaries of our adoptions with a cake, a balloon and by calling it “First Name, Last Name Day”. For example, mine would be called “Caroline Bailey Day”. We want our children to know that the day we adopted them is so very meaningful and that they are a gift in our lives. Honestly, each of our adoption days has been the most joyful ones in our lives. Yet, my husband and I also recognize that as the years pass and we witness the unfolding of these little human’s lives, their biological parents do not get to experience this.
It’s in this recognition that joy and sadness sit side-by-side.
Having been a part of the adoption community both professionally and personally, I have witnessed so many precious moments of families whose lives have been touched by adoption. It has been an incredible privilege to play just a small part in this. I have also sat with biological mothers who were deeply troubled and trying to navigate life within the decision to make a plan for adoption or trying to mend the reasons their children entered into foster care. Folks, there is nothing more humbling than this.
To listen to a grieving mother who is acknowledging that she wants to do what is best for her soon-to-be-born baby or choosing to let her child stay with his or her foster parents or be placed in an adoptive home is by far one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. While the children may be able to grow up in a safer home or with parents who can provide more opportunities in life, these biological mothers will live with this loss for the rest of their lives. Their children will as well.
Our own children’s biological mothers live with loss. Even though we’ve tried to soften the blow a little bit and answer as many questions as we can with our children, my husband and I know that we will never replace who their biological parents are or what life would have been like for them to grow up in within their immediate family of origin.
Recognizing all of this and saying “gotcha” when it comes to adoption just doesn’t sit well in my soul.
It never has.
I suspect it never will.