While walking with a friend to dinner, I chatted about my day and important recent events. When I looked over to the spot she had been standing, I saw just some scattered leaves along an empty sidewalk. Suddenly, from behind a tree, she sprang out and ran into me, springing off of my shoulders. “GOTCHA!” she shouted, and we both fell into a simultaneous laughter at my oblivious state and her stealth. This light hearted, prank-pulling manner is exactly the context in which I think of applying the word “gotcha.”
However, in the adoption community, this word is often used in a celebratory way to talk about parents getting children. A common term is “Gotcha Day,” referring to the day that adoptive parents first meet their adopted child. Some families celebrate this day like a second birthday, other’s go out to eat as a family, and others do nothing at all.
It sounds great; what could be wrong with “Gotcha Day?” Isn’t it just another holiday, another occasion for presents? In actuality, a lot is wrong with the entire concept of “Gotcha Day.” The phrase itself sounds very possessive. As shown above, one definition of “gotcha” is “used to express satisfaction at having captured or defeated someone.” This is certainly not the way most families want to view adoption. The second definition listed is “publicly tricking someone . . . especially by means of an elaborate deception.” Again, trickery and deception are not concepts to be celebrated. The reasons families make an effort to celebrate “Gotcha Day” is to stress the love they have for each other and the happiness of being together. If the purpose is to extend love, then the name “Gotcha Day” is completely inapplicable.
Furthermore, many cases of adoption, do unfortunately, involve coercion and kidnapping. The statistic for China specifically is that more than 1 out of every 4 adoptions involves either fraud or trafficking. For children who may have been victims of trafficking, this phrase can be especially difficult to hear and in some cases triggering. Even in the cleanest of adoptions, the words “Gotcha Day” prioritize the feelings of adoptive parents and dismiss the pain associated with adoption. It focuses on the adult’s experiences of events and ignores the fact that adoption cannot occur without loss or abandonment.
While adoptive parents may be ecstatic the day they meet their children and find it something worth celebrating, the truth is that first “Gotcha Day” is not an exciting or thrilling day in the adoptee’s life. It is terrifying being handed off to strangers who don’t resemble you at all. Though the orphanage officials had told me that my parents were my mom and dad, I was three years old and knew that I had already had a 妈妈 and 爸爸. My reaction to the fear I felt was by remaining silent for over a week. Other children reacted to the stress by refusing to eat or poop or by throwing temper tantrums. One adoptive mother remembers her daughter being placed in her arms. “She was shivering and shaking, and my husband and I knew we would never celebrate this moment of visceral pain for our daughter.”
My last criticism of “Gotcha Day” is that it furthers a rhetoric of child commodification. The bottom line is that children are not something to simply be gotten like a computer or kitchen appliance.
What about an alternative to “Gotcha Day?”
Hey, that’s a good question! I’ve heard of some families celebrating “Homecoming Day” instead of “Gotcha Day.” While this does have a slightly nicer connotation than deliberate trickery to get a child, I’m still not a fan of this idea either. It bothers me when I hear prospective adoptive parents say, “we’re waiting to bring her home.” Adoptive parents need to realize that these children already have homes. Adoption is not bringing home a child. It is instead reassigning home to that child in hopes that maybe he/she will identify with that place. So, in my opinion, “Homecoming Day” could also be very damaging.
I think the best solution I have heard of is the concept of holding a “Family Day” in which both biological and adoptive family is celebrated. Because the day an adoptee met their adoptive parents is in many cases a more concrete date than their birthday, it is an important known date and time marker in their life, so I understand why people have the urge to celebrate it. I think that a portion of the day should be devoted to remembrance, though. Remembrance for the child’s first family who brought them into the world and loved them for however long they could, remembrance for the orphanage staff who also cared for the child, and remembrance for the devastating situation that made that adoption possible: these are all very important in acknowledging a wholesome image of the adoptive family. Of course not everything has to be serious. The telling of funny childhood stories and exchanging gifts and eating out can still happen, but I think it is absolutely imperative to acknowledge not only the adoptive parents’ feelings on that day. The adoptee, adoptive parents, and birthparents are all are integral to the adoption triad, but too often one or more of the components are forgotten.