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The Controversy of ‘Gotcha Day’

Happy Gotcha Day!

How do you feel right now, after reading those words? Reactions vary wildly across the adoption community. For some, the language is highly problematic. For others, the entire concept is an issue. Still others have only good feelings about “gotcha day” and celebrate it annually with their children.

The debate is contentious, and it can get heated. That’s surprising for some to hear. If you are new to adoption, you may be thinking, what’s the big deal?

We’re going to respectfully examine the many positions within the adoption community on gotcha day. The goal here is not to ignite a fiery debate, but rather to better understand the positions others hold and why each stance has valid reasons to support it.

While we will attempt to be entirely inclusive, it’s a sure thing that we will leave out someone’s view of gotcha day. If so, we would love to hear what you think about it in the comments below.

Without putting it off any longer, let’s dive in to this sensitive subject.

What is Gotcha Day?

Let’s quickly define the term for anyone who may be learning about adoption for the first time. Gotcha day is a celebration of the day a family adopted a child. Some families decide to mark this anniversary on the day of placement; others celebrate on the day the adoption was finalized in court.

The name of this day and even the existence of the celebration has become a point of controversy for several different reasons. Let’s look at the most common positions.

Position 1: “Gotcha Day” Needs to be Called Something Else

Many believe that celebrating an adoption day is fine, but calling it “gotcha day” is problematic.

The language we use when we discuss adoption must be sensitive and respectful. We’re talking about a family, birth mother and child. We have to choose our words carefully to ensure we respect the full dignity and autonomy of everyone involved in the process.

Language that commodifies the adoption process is a problem. Adoption is not buying children. Children are not the product. Their inherent worth is much more than that. It is the opinion of many that “gotcha” is commodifying language. It takes personal autonomy away from the child, representing them as a good that was acquired.

People who take this position, generally, have no qualms with celebrating the day of adoption. The problem is with the way that day is represented through our words. Rather than “gotcha day,” it would be better known simply as the “adoption day” or “family day.” These titles, according to those who hold this position, still celebrate the day and do a better job of honoring the child.

Position 2: “Gotcha Day” Shouldn’t Be Celebrated at All

Author Mirah Riben, who has written several books critiquing adoption and is a regular contributor to sites like HuffPost, has this to say about gotcha day:

“The most basic aspect of it — its name — is also the disturbing aspect of it… There is also the fact that G-Day, like re-homing, has its origins in the pet rescue lexicon because it implies caught or trapped. Is this really what we want to model?”

Riben argues that along with the problems with the name, celebrating gotcha day ignores the other side of the story — the side in which a child “lost everything” connected to their family of origin.

Many people hold the view that it’s inappropriate to celebrate adoption day at all. If Riben’s argument feels harsh to you, consider this from Sophie, who was born in China and adopted by an American family when she was 5 years old:

“It’s been said that adoption loss is the only trauma in the world where everyone expects the victims be grateful and appreciative… Gotcha day feels like a day of fake smiles if we don’t acknowledge that it’s also about loss, not just gain.”

Separation from biological family, even when it is because of inclusion in a loving adoptive family, is still a form of loss that should be recognized. The primary argument from those who oppose celebrating adoption days is that the celebration glosses over the loss. Or, even worse, that the celebration intentionally denies that loss.

There are many valid retorts to the idea that an adoption day is a tragedy to child. Adoption can provide a loving, secure home and a lifetime of opportunity. However, to be sure, adoption does involve loss at some level. The felt impact of this is different with each person. This can lead to confusing questions about heritage and identity as a child grows up. It is important to acknowledge this — to allow space for both joy and loss when considering adoption day.

Nevertheless, the feeling that any celebration of adoption day is wrong is a belief held within the wider community of adoptive families and adoptees. The underlying impulse is to protect and respect the unique and sometimes difficult journeys of children who come home through adoption.

Position 3: “Gotcha Day” Is Perfectly Fine

On the far end of the spectrum are those who celebrate gotcha day regularly and see no problem with the event or name. This position isn’t careless, nor does it neglect the concerns represented above. Instead, it finds a respectful way to celebrate the beauty of adoption.

“We use the day to talk about adoption in whatever way our kids want to talk about it, although adoption is a frequent topic of conversation at our house just about any time,” writes one adoptive mother. “Sometimes, we look at pictures of our two trips to China or look at their adoption videos we made. Sometimes, my kids ask questions about their birth parents or their caregivers before us.”

Here we see an example of celebrating adoption day (or gotcha day) that honors what came before that day in a child’s life. There’s clear respect here for both the family of origin and the children’s desire to understand their biological heritage. At the same time, there’s a celebration of adoption and a basic assertion that the day of adoption is a positive day in a child’s life.

Whatever You think About “Gotcha Day,” Here’s What Really Matters

Every person is inherently, and without qualification, deserving of respect. This has a twofold implication for discussing gotcha day.

First, be respectful in the discussion. No matter which position you hold, allow for difference of opinion on this sensitive topic.

Second, make sure that your position creates respect for the adoptive parents, birth parents and child. Adoption is a hard process. Each member of the adoption triad is living a unique story. Each has their own struggles and challenges. Everyone deserves to be respected and have their full human dignity recognized. Consider whether or not this is accomplished by your position on gotcha day.

If you have more thoughts on the topic, we would love to hear in the comments below.