“Gotcha Day” has been a day that has been met with warmth and love from my parents. It’s a day that is celebrated when adopted parents finally get their adopted child. I was six months old when I was got from Thai Binh, Vietnam. My name before then was Nguyễn Đại Dương. I was got on Feb. 9 and not too long after, my name would be Adam Yeager Brodnax.
Why is “gotcha” so cringeworthy?
Articulating the word gotcha feels like I’m on my iPhone with “Pokemon Go” opened as I frantically flick my finger across the screen trying to catch a Snorlax. My typical uses of the word “gotcha” are when I’m on my tippy toes reaching for a glass on the top shelf, or when I catch a firefly flickering in my aunt’s backyard.
The nomenclature of this day is problematic in itself. Margaret Schwartz suggested the day, “International Gotcha Day,” in 2005 in her book “The Pumpkin Patch: A Single Woman’s International Adoption Journey.” Though with good sentiment, the name “Gotcha Day” celebrates the beginnings of a family that is ultimately insensitive toward the circumstances of many children who are involuntarily taken from their ancestral threads as a door closes behind them.
The word, “gotcha,” has multiple definitions, synonyms and connotations that don’t encompass what being adopted means to me. The online Oxford Dictionary defines “gotcha” as “a sudden unforeseen problem.” Merriam-Webster defines “gotcha” as “an unexpected usually disconcerting challenge, revelation, or catch.” So using the term “gotcha” to celebrate the adoption of a child seems a bit off, right? It is not so simple to reduce the trying process of adoption to the word “gotcha.” It requires extensive paperwork for the adopting family that can take a while to get through all while another family is going through the process of giving up one of their own. When can you last remember celebrating a loved one or being at a wedding where a spouse celebrated their significant other with “I gotcha?”
With adoption, there are two distinct worlds that only ever collide in one singular body. My birth family never met my adopted family. This makes me the physical and emotional embodiment that bridges these two worlds together. To one world, the joy that accompanies the addition of a child should be celebrated. It’s a beginning — that part is unequivocally true. The struggles and tribulations of legally adopting are a burden. The relief of that burden comes in the form of the child finally arriving. The joy and happiness that was brought to my parents is something that should be acknowledged, because they put their hearts into ensuring I grew up happy and healthy.
Yet, what is so often forgotten is that what’s left behind is a mother wondering where in the hell her kid landed. The joy of the legal addition to a new family comes at the expense of plucking a child away from a pair of arms — the emotional abandonment of one of her own. While there are many reasons a family may give up their child, I cannot move myself to imagine that my birth family’s decision to give me away came without pain.
So let’s abandon the word “gotcha”
The process of deciding that you can’t afford another life cannot be trivial. People are so easily reduced to dollar signs. For my American parents, they had to pay fees and services to legally adopt me. My birth family had to decide financially that they couldn’t afford me. This cold, inhumane concept of commodification envelopes me with willowing pain and unsettling frustration. Child adoption is not PetSmart — you do not walk in, pick me off the shelf, slap a barcode on my body and check-out. You do not got me.
In a process filled with so many conflicting emotions, we should not reduce the summation of the adoption process to a word as predatory and as acquisitional as “gotcha.” This is a day filled with gratitude, regret, love, longing, heartache and dissonance. “Gotcha Day” is a day where I am filled with so many questions for my birth family surrounding my adoption. Why was I given up? Do I look like any of my siblings? Are they healthy? Are my parents still alive? I have no photos of my birth family, so for me, I struggle to imagine what my life could have been. I don’t know if I look more like my dad or my mom, and that’s something that hollows my heart. But, adoption should be a time of elation for these new moms and new fathers. It’s the beginnings of a family that couldn’t have existed without tribulation. We rightfully should celebrate it, but we should be conscious of the pain. We must be mindful that the feeling of abandonment, at whatever age, is breaking. Whatever bond that child had developed with their birth parents is ripped away slowly and at the price of their shaky readiness to let go.
This day, which is filled with polarizing emotions, must acknowledge just that. It must encompass the weight of the birth family’s loss while relishing in the elation of the family who just welcomed their new child. To the critics who will not validate my pain for this day without a solution, I will give you a solution. Of the many proposals out there, the one that resonates most is “Family Day” because it considers both families. This name includes both the Brodnax family and it includes the Nguyễn family and recognizes my belonging to both. It is inclusive to the two strings of yarn that have been woven through generation after generation into the infused thread I am today.