It was an unusually warm January day in 2013. The expectant mother and I had grown quite close in the short time we had known each other. She had a bad case of bronchitis. As a result, she was not getting much sleep and growing dehydrated. Her amniotic fluid was decreasing, so we were going to the hospital every few days for a non-stress test and fluid check. We had our overnight bags packed, anticipating that one of these visits would result in the big day coming a few weeks early. That day was The Day. We called our spouses so they could meet us there. Things were about to get moving. Good thing she and I grabbed lunch on our way!
Gotcha Day seems to elicit an emotional response by adoptive families. Some celebrate the day loud and proud, and others honor the day with a different name or more private celebration. We don’t celebrate the arrival of our son into our family any different than any traditional family does: We celebrate his birthday yearly and his existence daily.
Historically, Gotcha Day seems to have stemmed from international or foster adoptions, where the child came to the family much later than birth. It allows the family to celebrate the day the child joined the family and all their lives were changed. See, we have two sons: One came to us through the biological route and the second through adoption. Out of fairness, one reason we do not celebrate Gotcha Day is simply because our oldest son doesn’t get two days to celebrate. We treat both of our children the same, and while adoption is a part of my younger son’s story, it is not his ONLY story.
I think the day our son came home with us as well as his adoption finalization day are bittersweet days. They are infused with my gain and my son’s (and his birth parent’s) loss. I was present the day he was born. I saw the tears of happiness and heartache in his first parents’ eyes. I saw the choice they were about to make and how much it pained them. I saw the loss they were experiencing. The joy in this little miracle of life was both celebrated and mourned. When we left the hospital with our son, they left empty handed. We hugged out our “see you later,” and my husband and I turned away from them with a tiny infant in tow. We looked at each other with uncertain smiles, held hands, and silently walked to our car. A surreal moment.
Six months later, when our adoption finalization hearing took place, I was excited! What I didn’t expect, though, was that the majority of my day would be spent praying for his birth family. What a tremendous responsibility they entrusted to us. They did not give their child to us; they gave us to their child. They looked at us and thought, “They are capable of raising our son the way we want him to be raised.” For that vote of confidence, I am grateful. For that task, I am humbled. For that devout love, I am empathetic.
We may have gained our son into our forever family, but we also must acknowledge the loss he experienced. No infant asks to be adopted. He may not “know” his pain or be able to put it into words yet. One day, I assume, he will have feelings of loss. No matter how small or large, I don’t want to dismiss those feelings. He may never experience the feelings others who are adopted feel, but what if he does? To celebrate my gain seems inappropriate and insensitive to the others involved.
Don’t get me wrong, I have always been the one that says “My feelings on a subject do not have to devalue the feelings of someone else on the opposite side. They are both valid emotions.” So for this, my husband and I may secretly acknowledge the day as a joyous day for us, but it doesn’t come with a family celebration. We do not celebrate Gotcha Day, by that name or any other.