There are some families in the adoption community who celebrate the day their child arrived into their family by calling it “Gotcha Day.” This day is similar to a birthday celebration with family and friends. It’s presumed to be a joyous occasion. It sounds incredibly happy and loving, but in some ways the term feels a bit perverse. As an adoptee and now an adoptive parent, the word “gotcha” implies that my son is a commodity. What’s missing from this narrative is that “Gotcha Day” doesn’t acknowledge my son’s feelings of grief and loss over the abandonment of his birth family. Should he be expected to feel happy or grateful that he’s adopted when he’s experienced a deep and sudden loss?
As my son’s one year anniversary date approached, I started to experience mixed emotions of happiness and sadness. Wasn’t I supposed to be excited that he made it to this significant milestone? I have vivid memories of the first day of custody where on the van drive to the hotel my son reached down to grab the door handle struggling to get free. Or during that first evening when he cried out for his Omma (foster mother) while he ran to the hotel room door. How would his body respond to such a visceral traumatic experience one year later? And then it happened. The grief came in the middle of the night. My son woke up sobbing and calling out for his Omma and Bo (foster brother). I didn’t know how to comfort him. I held him tightly in my arms and whispered, “Omma loves you. You love Omma” as we both cried and let the year of loss wash over us.
I understand that throughout my son’s life, and even possibly every year during this time, his body will remind him of the day he left his birth family, his foster family, and his culture in order to join my family. Because my son is adopted, the gains and losses are a very real part of his life that needs no cause for celebration.