Adoption Day. “Gotcha Day.” i Homecoming. It’s a day that many adoptive parents and their children celebrate the day they became a family. And as one WACAP adoptee shares here, it’s also a day that can bring more to the surface. Shedding light on her feelings of joy and loss, Emily tells an important story about adoption day, and her celebration of family alongside the questions about where she belongs.
The anniversary of my adoption—or as my family called it, my “gotcha day,”—I remember being somewhat like an extra birthday. My parents would have a little present for me and I would have cards from different family members. I would go out to lunch or dinner with my family and celebrate me! I LOVED THIS. If you know me, you know I love being the center of attention. But there were also things about the day that I did not share with my family.
As I got older I was better able to express the way I felt to my parents. But growing up, I never wanted to hurt their feelings or push boundaries with them due to feeling conflicted. I never wanted them to feel like I was ungrateful … because I loved them so much!
As a child I remember the days leading up to my “gotcha day.” I was more aware of my adoption around those days. I started to think about my life more than any other normal time. I started to question things and wonder how I would be different if I never left India. I went through all the difficult questions: Why me? What did I do wrong? Will I ever be good enough? When will I feel like I fit in to this world? What would have happened if I weren’t adopted? Who are my biological parents and do I have any bio-siblings?
These questions radiated through my head.
The emotions I faced, and continue to face as an adult, were very hard to process, which is why it was so hard to express these while growing up. When I was younger I would sit in my room and cry. I had books and an Indian flag in my room. I would read the books, stare at the people and cry. I would hold my Indian flag in one hand and my American flag in another. I wasn’t sure what I identified as. I felt loss like no other. I was taken out of one culture and put into another.
My parents did a wonderful job giving me the option to participate in different cultural activities, and I was able to do traditional Indian dance. That experience was amazing, but as I performed for Diwali, I was also looking at all the Indian families and wondering how my life would be if I were with them. Even with this awareness, I was unable to process that loss: I did not have a birth family. I look like no one in my family. I am out of place, and I will always be out of place.
This was the day that I cried for my birth mother. I wanted answers. I wanted to see her and feel her. The way I dealt with this was by acting out and not explaining what was going on. I wanted my parents to understand how much I loved them, but I wanted them to know that I was missing my birth mother, too. I would go through a wave of emotions. (I hated my birth mother. I loved her. I wanted to see her. I wanted to meet her. I didn’t care if I ever saw her. I wanted an answer. I wanted to know if she missed me or thought of me.) These would run through my head on this day. Feeling so confused and conflicted is hard at any age, but imagine a child trying to process these thoughts? It was tough. And it was also something, I learned, I wasn’t alone in feeling.
I have attended WACAP’s family camp for 20+ years and during that time, I have made lifelong friends and family. I grew up with a group of kids that also attended, and we could talk about our experiences, including the complex feelings that came with adoption day anniversaries and celebrations.
From these conversations with my friends when I was younger, to today—as I’m starting to mentor and talk with different adoptees at WACAP’s family events—I know those feelings can remain.
Some adoptees I’ve spoken with did not like the word “gotcha” and the negative connotation it carries, which is true of many families I’ve talked to as well. Some prefer different terms, like “adoption day” “family day, or have a different approach to celebrating being together.
Some adoptees I’ve asked about “gotcha day”—as they’re open to sharing—say that they too, felt some of the same ways that I did. They would act out and not know what to say to their parents. It was hard to find the right words to explain something so complex.
To this day, it is hard for me to even write about it.
The emotions that I feel continue to overwhelm me. I feel like there is something wrong with my feelings. I should not feel the way I feel because I SHOULD feel happy that I was brought away from a horrible situation. STILL, I cannot help but wonder what my life would be like if I stayed in India.
Passionate about supporting adoptive families, Emily Seaborg, WACAP volunteer and adoptee, is currently pursuing her Master’s in Social Work. A long-time participant of WACAP’s family camp, she returns each year for what she calls the “best” weekend: “This is where I connect. This is where I can explain how I feel with others who know what it is like. These people do not judge, and I can share my experiences with others!” As a mentor for adoptees who need a listening ear, Emily also offers a voice of perspective for their parents, helping to bring families closer through understanding and empathy.
I. “Gotcha Day.” Short for the “the day I got you,” the term “gotcha day” is viewed among many in the adoption community to be offensive, while by some, it still used and incorporated into celebrations. “Gotcha Day” was referenced in the 2001 book “Primary Care Pediatrics,” which talked about the importance of a unique, celebratory day for adoptees. The term became more widespread after an adoptive parent working to increase adoption awareness helped establish September 15, 2005 as an international “Gotcha Day.” With the negative connotations associated with the term “Gotcha Day,” phrases like Adoption Day, Family Day, Homecoming Day, Siblings Day – or celebrations of family that aren’t tied to a child’s adoption – have become more common and preferred.