Gotcha Day: Turning the private into the public

gotcha day card

Saturday November 23 is  the official United States GOTCHA DAY , aka National Adoption Awareness DAY. On this day courts across the country turn children into somebody else Their original selves are confiscated and sealed up in vital records vaults around the country, and new shiny selves walk out of the courtroom with new names and parents. Blogger Baby Love Child calls the day “a celebration of sealed records.”

Of course, any day can be Gotcha Day in AdoptionLand.  It’s not limited to the adoption industry-created holiday NAD, the highlight of National Adoption Awareness Month.  The  mass destruction of identity though, always makes for cute local news stories. so a coordinated effort is a good idea. It encourages business.

Wiki says that Gotcha Day comes from animal rescue/ pet adoption (just as “forever family.”)  I don’t know when it began to refer to humans.

I first heard about Gocha around 15 years ago.  I was immediately squicked. Gotcha sounds like trapping a rat under the stove or grabbing up the last flat screen TV on Black Friday at Wal-Mart.  It’s a predatory term. A scary tern. A cheap term.  A violent term. Gotcha relates adoption to aggressive consumerism; and consumerism to a public act of virtue.   Daniel ibn Zayd writes that , Gotcha moves the private into public space:

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?”).

Despite the majority of adopted adults finding  Gotcha  offensive or worse (Nearly the entire Wiki entry  is about why we don’t like it), Gotcha has gone mainstream. Parties are built around it:

gotcha banner

Let’s celebrate sealed records!

Gotcha necklac

A heart for mom!

Gotcha dog tag

Dog tags for Dad!

gotcha party

A party for Baby Bumble!


Love will fix it all!

gotcha day

Boughtcha from Ethiopia Gotcha cake.

My adoptive parents celebrated Betsy Day, always phrased as “the day you came to live with us.”  (Old timers will remember that I used to be Betsy–a fine name, but one that never fit me. Marley is a shortened version of my birth name Marlene Sue–a name I’m not real fond of either.)

Betsy Day was celebrated on December 21, a preview of Christmas to come. There were usually  two gifts waiting for me on the dinng room table when I came down to breakfast..When I was in the third grade I got a pink cashmere sweater.  Cashmere was big that year.

The “celebration” if you could call it that, was was low key and private. No banners, No cake.  No neighbors  It was–and I expect to get some flack for this–Betsy centered. Back then personal business was considered just that:: personal Reticence was the custom.

Betsy 1961

Bastardette the adopted freak. Angsty and 16.

I have mixed feelings about Betsy Day. When I was young adoption made me feel like a freak. I bounced from moderately dreading Betsy Day to liking it and back again. All adoptees are freaks, of course, and I didn’t want to be.  As far as I know I never met another adopted person until I was out of college and working. I was surprised to find him. Now there were two of us in town. Unlike a lot of adoptees I didn’t feel a loss outside of a loss of information I imaged my mother wearing a brown suit and working in an office, a sort of Katherine Hepburn type.  I learned later, she didn’t and wasn’t.

As I got older, Betsy Day mellowed out.  I came to appreciate it as a symbol of what I meant to my parents. I was an adored and much loved child and was rather spoiled. While Betsy Day could  be interpreted as something that was done by my adoptive parents for themselves it was also very much  for and about me.  I doubt that today’s Gotcha Day has anything much to do with the object of the brouhaha.

My mom never forgot Betsy Day and every year I continued to get a present. Usually it was a check, but when I went up to visit at Christmas there would always be a special Betsy Day present waiting for me–a sleeping shirt, some jewelry or a book on local history. I miss that.

With Betsy Day I never saw the avarice, the braggadocio, the narcissism  that I see in Gotcha and the paper pregnant crowd.. My first mother, Dottie, as I would learn years later.  never had any more biological children, but adopted  a boy and a girl  10 and 12 years after I was born.  They were LDAs, not learning they were adopted until they were nearly teenagers. For them there was no Charley or Kathy Day . Even if they had known early on as I did,  I cannot imagine Mama Dot throwing a Gotcha party.  These too ladies would have put their heads in an oven before they made a spectacle  of their children or themselves, much less social status points.

And that’s the difference.  Both mothers understood the personal. Today we live in a confessional culture,  In the attempt to “normalize” adoption and the state-constructed family, adoption is fetishized and romanticized.and adoptees objectified in desire.

Being adopted is not fun, and having your business on Front Street when you are too young and too powerless to stop it is not fun.

I’ve felt for a long time that adoption is too open for discussion. It’s one thing what we do politically to restore our rights. We’re adults and can chose what to do and not do. it’s quite another thing for children to be paraded around propping up egosoro pushing an agenda.

Gotcha Day is an aggressive act of narcissism perpetrated by adoptive parents and the adoption industry.The language alone should tell them it’s wrong.



2 Replies to “Gotcha Day: Turning the private into the public”

  1. Thank you for writing about this from the adoptee perspective!
    My parents never celebrated any form of “Gotcha Day” thank goodness.
    Your memories of receiving presents and how it seemed to be about YOU are heartwarming.
    Every time my adoption was mentioned in my childhood home, it was about “getting you”. It was about them and their needs to “get” someone ~ the old-fashioned “gotcha” speech, I guess. It isn’t until now, as an adult, that I feel valued and loved for who I am as a person, and some days I still wonder…but it has taken a lot of emotional work and boundaries.
    I feel sorry for adoptee’s today who have to endure this “Gotcha” celebration.

  2. We’ve celebrated my son’s arrival in the U.S. each year for 20 years, as Family Day, marking the day he and we became a family. It’s not a day for gifts, though we have invited the extended family to celebrate with us from time to time. It is a way to express our love for one another and our joy as a family. So far as I’m aware, it in no way diminishes his bonds with his family of origin or the family that fostered him for the first 14 months of his life, both of which we’ve encouraged for many years. I expect that many adoptive families are celebrating much the same thing, though I have to confess that the term “Gotcha Day” is gauche at best. Our children are not prizes in boxes of Cracker Jacks.

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