Why We Don’t Celebrate Gotcha Day

I love December. I have always loved December, but in recent years, I love it even more because two of my biggest blessings, Mr. Bean and Little Bean, came into my life forever in the month of December. In fact, next week will mark the two year anniversary of the day that Little Bean was placed with us. What many would refer to as our “Gotcha Day.”

 

No matter what you call it, it is a life-changing day. One that Mr. Bean and I will talk about, pray over, and be in awe of, because so much has changed for us in two short years. But you won’t see us ordering a cake and filling the house with balloons and presents. Here is why.

 

How We Became a Family

 

It was a dreary, rainy Tuesday-after-Thanksgiving. Just over three months earlier, we had said goodbye to “Mancub.” Following Mancub’s reunification, our foster agency was “slow.” (In business, “slow” is bad, but in foster care, slow is GOOD, because it means that not as many children are being removed from their homes.) We got a couple of placement calls in those three months, … all falling through.

 

There were two sibling sets of older boys. But in both cases, the boys had needs greater than we could realistically meet. (You have to be honest with yourself.) And then, we got “THE” call. This was it! Two girls. Seriously adorable little girls who needed an adoptive home. Straight up, ‘NO RISK’ adoptive placement, and their county worker had chosen our home study! Oh boy, were we ever excited!

 

So I went to town getting rid of all of the boy stuff that we had, because soon, we would be swimming in girls! Or so we thought. But that one fell through, too. I don’t say these things for a pity party. I’m setting the stage because I know that we are not unique as adoptive parents who have walked through heartbreak en route to adoption. This is common, and may help understand why Gotcha Day is such a big thing for many families.

 

So … back to that Tuesday. I went to work like any other Tuesday. When I finished teaching my class, I checked my phone, and was excited to see a voicemail from our social worker! There was a little boy, about one-and-a-half, and he needed a family. Today. How soon could we get there? (BTW, this is honestly how it has always gone for us, and no we didn’t have any more information than that … except for this little boy’s name.) Dear reader, by now you probably know our story, and how it ends. That little boy, who was almost 17 months old at the time, has become our Little Bean

 

Image of pennies, symbolizing the two sides of the coin of the adoptive parent and adoptee perspective on Gotcha Day.

 

The Parent Perspective

 

Today what I want to talk about is that day. That dreary Tuesday. Our “Gotcha Day.” There are two sides to this coin. On one side, we have two loving parents who are literally ready to go pick up someone else’s child on three hours’ notice, to care for him, no matter that two weeks earlier, they’d just gotten rid of all of their “boy stuff.” People who will do silly things like immediately start Christmas shopping for a kid within days of placement, because they are so excited to be able to celebrate Christmas and shower this baby with love and gifts and warmth and safety. Crazy-ass people who are willing to allow their life to be turned upside-down on 3 hours’ notice.

 

If you’re not familiar with the term “Gotcha Day,” in a nutshell, it is the day the adoptive parents receive their placement (i.e. child or children). I believe Gotcha Day comes from a place of love and is well-meaning. It means basically, “I’ve gotcha. You’re safe. We will be your home and family. I will take care of you and meet your needs. You don’t have to worry. I have your back.” Many adoptive parents celebrate this day because it is the day their child “came home” to them forever. Which all sounds positive and worthy of a celebration, right? Of course! Which is why “Gotcha Day” is a thing in the first place. But to have a balanced view of “Gotcha Day,” I’d like to present the other side of this coin.

 

What Does Your Kiddo Think About Gotcha Day?

 

The day we picked up Little Bean, we became his third home in just under 17 months.  He was removed from the parents who birthed him and raised him. While there is no doubt that children are in foster care is because something in their birth home was not safe or functional, it is still the home that they know. And no matter what, kids are hard-wired to love their biological parents. So to be ripped away from the environment that he or she knows, even if the environment is not optimal, or up to your particular family’s standards, is trauma.

 

And now, he lives with strangers.

 

And the strangers seem … excited. But I will always wonder what Little Bean was thinking that day.

 

The first picture that we ever took of him … is heartbreaking. Hard to look at even. Because it does not even capture the essence of him. He has always been such a handsome boy, … but the look in his eyes that day was not one of excitement at all.

 

It was a look of defeat. And fear.

 

When I look back at it, it makes my heart ache to think about what he was feeling that day. Was he wondering who we were? Or why he was getting in the car with us? Did it seem odd to him that we were smiling and so happy to see him, given the ordeal he’d just been through? Was he scared of us? After all, the home that he knew was gone forever, … but he didn’t know that yet (nor did we). 

 

And that first night … our sweet little man just cried and cried. He was up, crying, every hour-and-a-half for the first couple of weeks or so. Sometimes with night terrors. Did our house smell different to him? Would the strangers have the kinds of food that he liked to eat? Did he wonder if we would feed him? Was he wondering if we would be good to him, or if we would hurt him?

 

I have to believe that in his little baby brain, he was wrestling with all of these questions.

 

While grieving the loss of his first home and family.

 

And I won’t encourage him to feel grateful for that by setting up a celebration of his Worst. Day. Ever.

 

This is a real, albeit unpleasant, side of adoption that isn’t easy to talk about. Its uncomfortable. The day our paths crossed is a significant day, for certain. It changed all of our lives forever.

 

But one that came at a cost.

 

And that is why, dear reader, we choose not to make the anniversary of that day a big celebration. Birthdays, yes! Christmas: HECK YEAH. Adoption Day? Wellllll, … we’re not sure yet … we’ve got until February to decide on that. But “Gotcha Day” … not for us. 

 

 

8 Comments

  1. November 22, 2016 / 10:00 AM

    I totally agree! Our family celebrates birthdays and all the other holidays other that adoption related. As our adopted children are all grown up they have voiced their opinions they don’t like to feel different from their peers therefore we chose not to celebrate adoption day or gotcha day.

    • Mrs. Bean
      November 23, 2016 / 7:19 AM

      Hmmm that’s a whole new thread that I hadn’t even thought of (feeling different than their peers), Banetta. Good point. And good to hear that as your kids have grown, they are thankful for the path you guys have taken.

  2. natalietanner
    February 6, 2017 / 6:38 PM

    Bless your hearts = what lovely thoughtful and treasured people you are to look at things from your child’s point of view. I can just imagine the heart ache for him that first night. I will never look at gotcha days the same way. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

    • Mrs. Bean
      February 6, 2017 / 6:39 PM

      Thank you. <3

    • Mrs. Bean
      February 11, 2017 / 3:15 PM

      Thank you, Natalie!

      • D
        November 16, 2017 / 2:17 PM

        So gotcha day is not finalization of adoption day?

        • November 17, 2017 / 9:23 PM

          Typically, the Gotcha Day term is used to describe the day an adoptee first meets his/her adoptive parents. In foster care, the majority of the time, the parents have no idea (upon placement) what the outcome of this child’s stay with them will be. Which is what the situation was with Little Bean.

  3. Pat Flinn
    January 5, 2018 / 6:10 PM

    Wow! An interesting and heartfelt read. You describe both sides of the coin so well and it certainly makes much sense. There is great trauma. And because one is too little to talk, I think, makes it even a greater trauma and fills that little heart and mind with almost more than it can bear. Thank you so much for directing me to this post. I am a grandmother of an infant given up for adoption at birth (handed to the social worker at maybe 2 days) and shared the heartache and feeling of loss from the baby’s mother’s point of view. Enough said.

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