“Imagine the exhaustion of Christmas, Thanksgiving, a wedding, a funeral, and childbirth in one day, and that would almost be Gotcha Day.”
This is how I recently described Gotcha Day on a friend’s facebook feed, mostly for the benefit of their family and friends to get a perspective beyond the dramatic and romanticized “Gotcha Day” or “Forever Family Day” or whatever we choose to call it. Loved ones at home, are watching and refreshing and waiting for an update. We all long to see the child we’ve heard about and prayed for in the arms of their new parents. It is the goal, and it’s a good goal. We all rejoice when the lost are found, when the orphan is an orphan no longer, and in the blink of an eye – they become a daughter or a son, a grandchild, a niece or a nephew. They become family for the first time in their lives and it is breathtakingly beautiful.
They also lose. You cannot have adoption without loss: profound loss. Chronic loss. Loss of a first family. Loss of caregivers – perhaps many times over. Loss of home, familiarity, comfort zone – even if it is a place where you are deprived of all of the things most children take for granted. Loss of birth country in many cases. Loss of what is familiar to hear, see, taste, smell, and touch. Loss of the beginning of your story because much of it is unknown including the birth family you will likely never meet to fill in the blanks. The many many blanks.
From the perspective of the adoptee – specifically in international adoption – you are removed and replanted far from where your story began. Once a birthfamily is broken, adoption is the goal. It is the preferred path to living institutionalized for the rest of your childhood. The day that adoption happens, as beautiful and precious and romantic and deeply emotional as it really truly is – it is also very much a mess.
On that day, once the meet and greet is over, it’s a flurry of activity: sign here, finger print there, approve this, pay that, pose for a picture, drive here, sign more, drive there etc. The child, for whom all the loved ones on the other side of planet earth are rejoicing and weeping for joy over, has just been traumatized. For real. It is the goal – the papers, the fingerprints, the transformation from orphan to family. It is also trauma and it has very real consequences. Fortunately, many agencies and social workers make it their personal mission to prepare waiting families for the aftermath of “Gotcha Day” both on the day of, and in the weeks and years to come. There is always aftermath. Just as there is after a tornado or hurricane – you can not erase what has occurred but you can and you must begin the work of rebuilding after this beautiful mess.
I don’t know much about construction – home or otherwise, but I do know that there has got to be some kind of foundation before you start raising walls and a nailing roof in place. It would be ridiculous to go out to a field and put up walls and a roof like lincoln logs, move in, and expect that structure to hold under all kinds of weather and daily wear and tear. It is equally ridiculous to think that you can remove an, often times, unknowing child from their only “home” and caregivers and bring said child into a family and not constantly be about the work of building a foundation of trust and love and security – because they. have. never. had. one.
When building a strong foundation, you lay brick after brick. With attachment you lay “brick” after brick. You co-sleep, you bottle feed a toddler, you rock to sleep, you make eye contact, you cocoon, you “first cause no harm”, you discipline outside the norm, you become a first responder, a lifeline, a walking zombie from the afore mentioned things. Brick by brick you lay a foundation. Some days you may lay down eight bricks only to have four knocked off because it is hard sometimes and you mess up. If I’m honest, it’s mostly hard. Other days you only lay just one brick into the foundation of trust and security and love – but that one brick is solid. It’s not going anywhere and you celebrate and rejoice and give thanks for that victory. It is day by day, moment by moment and that’s how you roll because most of us aren’t just working at attachment – we are working on keeping our new child alive because they have very real, pressing, physical needs, too. We are doing the doctor visits, blood tests, international adoption clinic evaluations, the meds, the therapies, the surgeries, the vaccines, and (Lord have mercy) the dental exams.
Another friend of mine returned recently with their new child from China. Already having two biological children under 5 at home, she is a veteran parent to say the least. I was refreshed by her bravery and honesty when she messaged me saying:
“I need some encouragement. This. Is. Hard.”
It is hard. Even for those of us who were well prepared and are pretty good at empathy – it is hard. It is draining. It is a game changer. There are days when you fear this is the best it is ever going to be and you wonder how you will survive another week, but you do. Then another week, and another and pretty soon it’s been a month and you feel like things might just have improved while you were too tired or too distracted to notice. Before you know it you’re celebrating six months since “gotcha day” and you purposely notice and intentionally remember all that has happened and all that has improved since that beautiful mess on day one.
Today marks the day when we have officially been in our daughter’s life longer than we haven’t. She has now been a so loved daughter and sister and niece and granddaughter and cousin longer than she was an orphan – and I have seen signs of the scale tipping in our favor.
She no longer panics every time someone leaves – but she does consistently ask each of us – and sometimes even family and friends: “You come back?” Just to make sure. It’s important for her to know people come back. Of course it is.
She is no longer sleeping in her crib a millimeter away from my side of the bed holding my hand for dear life as she sleeps or when she wakes. She is down the hall in a room all by herself.
She no longer needs me to lay next to her crib on the floor and hold her hand while she falls asleep. We sit in a glider in her room most nights though, because it’s important to her to know we are there.
She is no longer only able to be comforted by me, she is now Daddy’s girl and will happily find restand comfort and laughter with each of us.
She is now welcoming to babysitters (glory hallelujah) and doesn’t full on panic when we leave because she knows we come back, and babysitters always give ice cream and M&M’s. Oh yes they do.
Someone needs to hear that “It won’t always be like this”. Someone needs to believe that one brick secured in the foundation of trust and love and security is worth celebrating even if yesterday a few were lost in the process. Someone needs to hear that “It. is Hard.” – because it is. It is a beautiful mess making an orphan a son or a daughter. It’s a process near and dear to God’s heart because He is our Father and set out to adopt you and me. It cost Him His one and only Son.
In this month of December when we celebrate Christmas and the birth of Jesus may we remember the gift, the sacrifice, the God who became man for us so that each one of us could be adopted sons and daughters of the King of Kings. Chosen, wanted, sought after, loved and redeemed.
It was hard work. It was painful. It was a beautiful mess. It was worth it.