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Gotcha Day–Adoption Glossary

by Laura on January 30th, 2013

Readers are super busy these days. Time-strapped, and yes, possibly wondering why the hell I need to keep on posting these damned Adoption Glossary blogs.

For your easy digestion: I hereby provide you with a quick, 5-7-5 haiku summary, entitled:

Why Celebrate Gotcha Day?

Poor taste. Out-of-touch.

What’s wrong with birthday party?

Repeat: Kid focus.

The perils of the term “Gotcha Day” are so painfully obvious to me. Come on, I do not even know why we are talking about this. I would love for it to be an antiquated, anachronistic term that we can all laugh about.

As if.

Dominant Narratives =

Do people still really say, “Gotcha! Day”? People. Really?  Yes. They. Do. Examples:

  • Gotcha Day is a perfectly fine day to celebrate. After all, Adoption is LOVE.
  • My kids are sooo excited to celebrate, especially if there’s cake!
  • We want to point out to everybody at my child’s school that there is nothing wrong with adoption! We want to shout it to the world! Adoption is great!

Ohmigawd. Could you imagine? I would have been horrified, embarrassed, confused! Telling my entire grammar school class that we should celebrate that I’m adopted? Yessss! … That’s exactly what pre-adolescents want; to be shown to be different than their peers. Totally.

If you are the writer of the dominant, preferred narrative, i.e. the paying customer (adoptive parents) … Why choose Gotcha Day? Why try to “re-appropriate it” to mean something “wonderful”? Why not just celebrate Family Day? It’s so much more benign. (I’m not even being sarcastic; Family Day would be an okay alternative.)

I’m not arguing against celebrating a child coming into a new family. I’m really not! I’m taking issue with terminology.

Gotcha Day represents an aggressive stance. No. It’s not “I’ve got you, love you”; that’s not what it means. We gotcha. We took ya from somewhere, from someONE.

Here are a few (anomonzied) responses from those touched by adoption:

  • As a birthmother, the phrase feels like someone was snatching my child, because … that’s the day I lost my baby.
  • It’s demeaning to adoptees.
  • It competes with the birth day, thereby negating it.
  • It’s just wrong on so many levels.

But what about the children?

There’s a new book on Amazon called Gotcha Day, written by–believe-it-or-not–an adoptee who is an adoptive mom. From the description:

And there will be balloons and cake and maybe even presents, but it’s not a birthday. With just a few more clues, Suzie figures it out: it’s her Gotcha Day! That’s the day her family celebrates the date they became a family, the day they recount first holding her and bringing her home and show her all over again how special she is and how much they love her.

Noooo, it’s not a birthday. Yes, it does celebrate a family history, but it celebrates only the family history of the adoptive family. The child (if we were to be child-focused) had a life before the adoptive family who first held little Suzie.

And I get it, I totally get it. When I was five, and we went to “get” my little brother; his life began for me when I got to hold him, right there at the adoption agency. I was so happy. I didn’t realize that my brother had a life before I held him.

I. was. five years old. Seriously. I didn’t know any better.

Words Matter.

Language is important. What we say matters. And: Adopted children grow up and ask questions.

I understand, you still want to celebrate Gotcha Day. If you want to commemorate the day you adopted your child and insist on using the phrase, here are a few gift suggestions:

  • Complimentary counseling sessions for your child’s first mother
  • The original un-amended birth certificate for your child
  • A “Free Pass” for your child, to reunite with his or her first family  … without the requisite guilt trip

Additional resources should one reconsider the “Gotcha Day” nomenclature:

Image from


From → Adoption

  1. Yeah, I don't like Gotcha Day either. I really don't understand why so may people are insistent on perpetuating the phrase as though its completely benign. It's definitely not a phrase I use when talking to my daughter, and not one my parents ever used with me thankfully.

    • Laura permalink

      You are so right! Why perpetuate such a phrase? I just don't see how adoptive parents can't see our point-of-view. It's like, okay, even if you don't get it, please … just take my word for it.
      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Family Day is so much gentler.

    "Gotcha" sounds like something a hunter would say. I know it's not intended that way by people who use it, but I can certainly see why it makes the "gotten" feel like prey.

    Excellent post, Laura, with excellent points. Gonna share.

    • Laura permalink

      Thanks for sharing! Yes, Family Day–okay; Adoption Day–okay. If you really want/need/wish to. But birthdays are enough! It's simply baffling to me. I really hope that this post, even though some sarcasm may have been used, helps others realize just how unnecessary the term is…

  3. I agree that the term "gotcha" sounds like you snatched something up that you weren't allowed to have. Almost like stealing.

    Thank you for sharing this. Great post and it has given me something to think about.

    • Laura permalink

      Yes! I agree! There's something very Dora-the-Explorer Swiper No Swiping about "Gotcha Day." Why? Why do we have to remind adoptees that they were "taken"? The closeness to stealing is so weird, because one would think that adoptive parents would want to distance themselves from any intimation that they are taking/stealing a child.
      Thanks for posting!

  4. I'm so glad my a-parents never did this. It would just be another thing I needed to heal from.

    • Laura permalink

      I know, right? I already had enough on my plate as an adoptee, I think I would have been mortified. Mortified, but of course, completely unable to explain it as a child. Geez …
      Thanks Deanna for commenting!

  5. Sheila permalink

    Wow! The more I open my eyes the more I realize how screwed up the institution of adoption is. I never thought of "Gotcha Day" in those terms. And I can already see adoptive parents who love celebrating this day read this article and sit there and shake their heads. "What do you mean – I don't see a problem with it." Ugh!

    • Laura permalink

      Sheila–you are so right … just shaking their heads. I like the way you say it, "how screwed up the institution of adoption is." I like this because it focuses on the practices and policies, not the individual people. There are some who are truly loving and want the best for their children, but the actual institution needs an overhaul. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  6. Really good post, Laura. I love the thought of giving a child a tangible "free pass" to rebuild relationships "with my support, and with no guilt." That's an awesome idea.

    • Laura permalink

      You are too funny. It would literally be cool, but it was written a little tongue-in-cheek. :) … That would be awesome–a guilt free reunion pass for the adoptee; included in the adoption finalization papers!

  7. Your post got me thinking. I think that we are all adopted. Our mum (birth mum or adoptive mum) chose us. Having a kid and loving a kid are two different things. As for Gotcha day, I suppose that it is the intention that matters. If it is to celebrate the unconditional love that you have for your children, then why not?

    • Laura permalink

      Thanks, Muriel–it's just that when you were actually and legally adopted, there are a bunch of additional issues, such as wondering why you were given up in the first place. And, being taken away from your first family and given to strangers can really create a wound; a sense of loss and grief–not something that happens to non-adoptees. That's why it's so important for adoptive parents to be sensitive to how they "celebrate" their love for their child, when the fact that they are in the adoptive family is only because a loss came first. Does this make sense?

    • Stephanie permalink

      No, we are not all "adopted" and not allowed to know our biological relatives. I wasn't.

  8. I am teary-eyed having just read this post by an adoptive mom who "gets it":

    Jillian writes: "Today we celebrate 'Forever Support You Day' as coined by Vivace [the adoptee]." Wow!

    Her post seems a perfect follow up to yours, Laura!

    • Laura permalink

      Rebecca – thanks for sharing this amazing post. Yes, it's perfect! Laura

  9. This is all very informative for me, Laura. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Danica permalink

    Some adoptees understandably also have negative emotions surrounding their birthdays, as this was the day they were relinquished and separated from the only mother they'd ever known.

    One Serbian adoptive mother I know (and you know how rare adoption is in Serbia) took to celebrating her adopted daughter's baptism anniversary every year with treats and presents. They are a religious family and I'm pretty sure no one else even made the connection that "this is instead of a birthday because she's adopted." I only made this connection much later, when I started following adoptee blogs.

    I'm not sure what the best option is. Whatever you do, you could be forcing a kid to be celebrating a loss of a sort.

    • Laura permalink


      Thanks for commenting. Yes, it is an interesting question. I kind of like celebrating the baptism, especially if the adoptive parents aren't sure of the child's official birthdate (not sure if this is the case). And, like you say, it doesn't immediately draw attention to the child's adoptee status–since, it's so true that adoption is very rare here in Serbia! It just celebrates a cultural tradition, and a belonging of sorts (joining the church, etc.) — without saying "look at her! this child is different!" … which can also be hard socially for a child.

      Thanks for sharing this "alternate" option that doesn't necessarily deny the adoption loss, but creates a new cause for celebration.


  11. Tina Knechtel permalink

    Wow. If my adopted parents had ever entertained an idea such as this (I can't even bring myself to SAY it), I would have run away from home.

    Color me horrified.

    I am an adult adoptee, and I am a 1st mother. The thought of a day that celebrates when a child came into a family isn't a bad idea – the choice of name is what is repulsive. "Gotcha! We wanted a baby so badly we snatched out out of someone else's arms!" Sounds absolutely terrifying – like celebrating Boogeyman Day. What twisted mind invented this? Certainly not someone who put a lot of thought into how other parties might interpret this. Ugh!

    And now, as I go through my own search for my original family, there is yet another meaning (especially after dealing with so much red tape and resistance from agencies of all sorts): "Gotcha! You'll never know who or what you really are!"

    Really – did the people who dreamed this crp up seriously think that "Gotcha!" was the best possible name for this celebration? Really? Really?!

    • Laura permalink

      I know, right? There's this book for kids — Gotcha Day, Carried in My Heart — and the author was all excited about celebrating adoption with adopted kids. And she just couldn't get it, just couldn't understand WHY adoptees might not like this.

      I'm soooo glad this wasn't around when I was growing up. I would have been totally offended (I was a very serious child).

      Keep me updated, please on your search for your original family — are you doing it yourself? Using a search angel? Let me know if you want/need any resources!


  12. zygotepariah permalink

    In my family we called it my "Special Day".

    Anyway, when I first heard the term "Gotcha!", I was horrified. There's just something so . . . savagely proprietary about it. It makes me picture a boogeyman chasing after a terrified child who's trying to scamper away on tiny little legs. As it catches the child it screeches, "Gotcha! Mine. Mine. MINE!"

    I'd genuinely be interested in the etymology of this term and how anyone could have possibly thought this was a good idea.

    • Laura permalink

      I know, right? I agree, there is something "savagely proprietary about it."

      I don't know the actual etymology, perhaps I'll start researching it … I do think it started in the adoptive parent community … hmmmmm

  13. Laura ~~ You know what a naughty old lady I am. I go around Amazon and leave negative reviews for those "Gotcha Day" books. I tell people that as an adoption Search Angel who has reunited close to 500 families separated by adoption in the past five years, I celebrate each one as a "Gotcha Back Day".



    • Pris — That. is. awesome! Love this. Gotcha Back Day — I've got to add this one to the Adoption Glossary!!

      Naughty but in a great, adoptee-right-supporting kind of way.

      Thank you for all that you do!

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