[What do you think of this] “Gotcha Day” celebration?

This is the eighth question in the series: “Anti-adoption month: 30 answers to 30 questions on adoption” [link].

The following question originally appeared on Yahoo!Answers:

[What do you think of this] “Gotcha Day” celebration? I read with horror on Facebook that one of my high school friends is having a Gotcha Day celebration for her son at his school tomorrow. I haven’t seen this woman in 23 years and we only chat once in a while on FB. She adopted her son in a foreign country while living there four years ago (the child is now six). What horrified me most about the whole “gotcha” thing—and yes, she actually called it thatis that she is ‘celebrating’ it at the child’s school! It’s not his birthday; it’s the day she adopted him. I find this exceedingly creepy. Any thoughts?

Answer: To answer your question, I’d like to take a step back and talk about birthdays for adoptees. For those of us from the orphanage here in Lebanon, most of our birthdays are set to prominent Catholic holidays that we were likely born “on or around”. This slight shift was a huge preoccupation of mine when younger; everyone else was sure of the exact time and date of their birth, and I had an approximation. In and of itself this is not such a big deal.

Later I was astounded to find out that many adoptees shared a hatred for their birthday like me, and only in looking back does this make sense. The birthday is in and of itself a marker that is erased, changed, altered—officially and unofficially—in order to suit bureaucratic needs and not any concept of “arrival”. And so to promote “Adoption Day” or “Gotcha Day”, which is purely bureaucratic in this sense is, to me, adding insult to injury.

Furthermore, when i recreate the timeline from the day I was “begotten” into one family to the day I was “gotten” (ugh) by another, it reveals a devastatingly sad story of likely procurement, not abandonment; I was not “chosen” as much as provided, and thus “gotcha” rings very trite and very hollow. Linguistically speaking, there is no other use of this word in English except in a pejorative way, or else in a way that implies a trick or a sending up of some kind.

And so the whole concept of “Gotcha Day” saddens me infinitely. For again it celebrates not so much the arrival of the child, but the action of the parents. It is an active verb that is done to a passive child, and this reminder is painful. This is very different from saying you were “born”, or “birthed”, which implies an action that the child is fundamentally part of. And thus the loathsome analogies such as “paper pregnancy” and the like.

It fundamentally reduces something very complex and multilayered into a cartoon parody; it forces something private (especially to a young child—I remember not wanting anyone to know about my adoption when I was younger) into a public sphere that is not always welcoming of such a fact (the first question I was asked in school was: “Why are you brown?”).

I’m glad it wasn’t around when I was young; I don’t know that I’d be able to forgive my adoptive parents such a thing.


Talking Power: The Politics of Language, by Robin Tolmach Lakoff.

Debate Tactic: The linguistic aspect here is, to me, rather startling. That I would never say “gotcha!” in any other way except to startle, or else entrap, pin down, or otherwise “grab” someone against their will is phenomenally astounding as far as its use in regards to adoption. In and of itself, this is enough reason to argue against it; everything else is downhill from there.

Addition: To further note is its genesis in animal adoption.


About Daniel Drennan ElAwar

Adoptee, rematriated.
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11 Responses to [What do you think of this] “Gotcha Day” celebration?

  1. 我是收养 says:

    I was talking with Gotcha Day with some other Chinese-American adoptees yesterday, which got me thinking about my own feelings about the concept. My family never celebrated, and I’m glad. 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. Additionally, “Gotcha Day” furthers a rhetoric of child commodification. Children are not something just to simply be gotten.


  2. Pingback: Gotcha Day: Turning the private into the public | The Daily Bastardette

  3. Wow, it seems so beyond inappropriate to use ‘gotcha’ – I have heard of its use only with pet adoptions. I happily celebrate my dog’s Gotcha Day. It is all about the parents, not the child. Again. I am a birthmother, but I had never heard this term used for a child’s adoption date.

  4. pammcrae says:

    This phrase is actually fairly new to me. I don’t like it one bit. I’m both a “birth” mother and an adoptive mother, and the whole notion of “Gotcha” is revolting. That’s what you say when you scare someone by jumping out of a closet when they least expect it. It’s not a kind thing to say to anyone. Where did it come from anyway?

  5. Karen Waggoner says:

    Gotcha Day has been around for a while. Both my daughters are adopted, one out of the family and one into the family. I would never consider celebrating Gotcha Day. There is something so negative about the term; to me, it implies someone hiding around a corner, waiting to jump out at another, yelling “Gotcha!” It’s an abduction.

    At least, so far as I know, Hallmark hasn’t made a card for it, so it’s not that popular!

  6. Fortunately, this phrase was not in use when I was growing up. However, my adoptive parents used a slightly different phrase to designate “before you were adopted” and “after you were adopted.” They said, “before we got you” or “after we got you.” My would-be adoptive parents were married and childless for 18 years, so there was much history between them and their relationships with other relatives. So, to explain personal histories, my adoptive parents would say, “this happened way before we got you.” I felt awkward, but understood that they could not say, “before yo were born.” I think it made them feel awkward, too. IT wasn’t until recent years that I heard of this “Gotcha Day.” It doesn’t make me feel very warm at all.

  7. Karen Moline says:

    I wrote “Get Rid of Gotcha” for Adoptive Families magazine in 2004 and was instantly flamed by incensed APs and PAPs who couldn’t believe someone stepped on their Red Thread/China Doll/Savior of the Poor Orphans/entitlement complex. The word is still in regular use, unfortunately, and you can even find Gotcha jewelry, tee shirts, and other ludicrous merchandise aimed at people who ought to know better.

  8. “Gotcha” better describes the results of the actions of those from my orphanage who saw fit to name a baby born around Christmas “Noel Hafleh”—Christmas Party. File under: adding insult to injury…

  9. Belinda says:

    Never heard of it. Sounds kind of like Gotcha is referencing joke? The term Gotcha? Is a term of trickery. And if ignorant folks would realize natural law just gets in the way of really any celebration of the Gotcha day? It’s would be way more respectful to pay homage to our losses at the expence of our new families perceived gain and maybe grow up a bit. It’s raw. But true. Sad day all around. Folks just need to see what they have done to the adopted child who is still their Mamas child and stop playing cruel ignorant games with our lives. Respect would be so great. Considering how grateful we are.

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