It’s 3:00AM and I’m laying in bed staring up at the ceiling. My mind is reeling and way too excited to sleep. I am mentally checking off my list of every question that I could think of to ask the caregiver and going over each item I have laid out and prepared for this special day. I had her backpack ready with a soft doll, suckers, stickers, bubbles, goldfish and a sippy cup. I had our outfits all laid out and the “adoption notebook” with all the official documents that I had been gathering and waiting on the last 11 months.
If only it wasn’t 3 in the morning, and I was actually sleeping. But sleep doesn’t come when you are hours away from meeting your daughter whom you have loved, prayed for, cried over countless times, and worked endlessly for over the past year. My excited and nervous self could not wait until 3PM.
Today was “Gotcha Day”.
Gotcha Day is the label that many parents give to the day in which they receive their adopted child. Some parents like to call it “Family Day” or “Forever Family Day.” There are so many preparations that go into this day. Even before we stepped foot on a plane to head to China, we had been preparing for the day when we would finally meet our daughter, knowing that she would be ours forever from that day forward.
All the paperwork, emails, phone calls back and forth to our social worker were preparing us for the moment we would get our daughter.
On June 23, 2013 in Nanchang, Jiangxi, our sweet and small Lucy was placed into our arms. Imagine a smoke-filled hotel lobby with lots of people sitting around doing business. Chad and I are anxiously awaiting the moment. We were told it would be 2:00PM. But then our guide told us that the orphanage staff that was bringing Lucy was stuck in traffic. They would call us in our room when she arrived.
A mere 2 hours later, we got the call, and hurried down to the lobby to meet our daughter. It wasn’t ideal, but still it was the most perfect moment. If you have ever birthed a baby and remember the many nurses and doctor and family that surround you during that event…. it was much the same. Just replace the hospital staff with lots of Chinese men and hotel staff.
Amidst the smoky lobby and the loud Chinese men talking around us, sweet little Lucy was placed in my arms. Being super prepared, I pulled out my list of questions and asked away. I did not receive all the answers I wanted, simply because Lucy was brought to us by two men from the orphanage and not her caregivers. We were given about 10 minutes with the staff that brought Lucy, and they asked our guide to make sure we wanted to keep Lucy for the night. That answer was an obvious one. Our guide went back up to our hotel room with us and we finished up our paperwork there.
That was our first “Gotcha Day” experience. We had a totally different one this past May.
On May 24, 2015 in Fuzhou, Fujian, we received our sweet and precious daughter, Charlie Mei. Earlier that day we were told to come to the top floor at 3:00 pm, where the executive lounge was in the hotel. Hearing that we would meet our Charlie Mei there gave me the inclination that this experience would be totally different than our last one. Again, I was anxious, nervous, excited and the day went very slow.
2:55 PM finally hit the clock, and I gathered up the backpack I had prepared for Charlie, camera and our documents, and we jetted out the door to the elevator. We were brought into a room with our guide, and another adoption official, and began to do our paperwork. We were 10 minutes into paperwork when I see a man walk through the door, and then I see our beautiful little girl. She took my breath away and I quickly got up out of my chair and came around the table to meet her.
She took one look at me and started to jet straight out of that room. The man who brought her in pushed her back into the room. I quickly had the thought “sucker” and took one out of her backpack. She noticed what I was doing and came right over to me. Oh, what power a sugary sweet sucker has! She took it, stuck it in her mouth, and gave me a grin and thumbs up. Then she started to walk back out the door, so our guide went over to her trying to tell her I was “Mama.” I was trying to talk to her and show her what we had brought in her backpack when I noticed her rocking back and forth on her feet. In my mind, I’m thinking she looks like she is doing the “pee-pee” dance. Sure enough, she looked and the guide made a “I need to go potty” gesture. I was quick on my feet and took her hand and away we went to find the bathroom.
I would like to say our first moments bonding were hugging or holding her close. But no, they were in the bathroom going pee. Besides it being hilarious that we bonded over a sucker and the potty, I at least was able to see that she was fully potty trained. After bathroom bonding, we headed back into the conference room, finished paperwork and went back to our hotel room for some first bonding time.
I’m pretty sure Charlie ate about 5-6 suckers the first day we met her. It was how I won her over, and allowed me to finish paperwork with her in my lap. She would sit with me as long as I was handing her a sucker. She also loved the snacks we had. We bonded over Chex Mix and juice once we were back in the room. (We were able to meet her nannies when we went to visit the orphanage later that week and that is when I was able to ask my prepared list of questions.
These were my Gotcha Day/Forever Family Day experiences. I know that there are so many different stories of how other families have met their sons or daughters.
Here are some tips on how to make your day you receive your precious gift the best one it can be for you and your child:
1. Prepare a list of questions to ask the child’s caregiver/nanny.
Here are some suggestions of what you could ask.
How did you choose her name?
Does she have a favorite care giver?
How is she put to sleep?
Does she sleep with a comfort item?
Does she sleep alone?
Is the room dark or is there a light?
How can anyone tell when she is tired?
When does she wake up?
Is the room quiet or noisy?
Is she happy when she wakes up?
Does she wake in the night often?
Are there any favorite songs, TV shows, or games that she loves?
How do you comfort her when she is crying?
Does she have any favorite treats, drinks, or snacks? If so, how is it prepared?
What makes her angry?
If she is upset, how do you calm her?
What makes my child scared?
What makes my child happy?
What words is she saying now?
How does she communicate?
What are her unique words or sounds, and what do they mean?
How would you describe her personality?
Does she like some quiet private time (introvert) or does she thrive on lots of people and noise (extrovert)?
Has she been expected to learn any rules? If so, what are they?
How does the orphanage encourage obedience?
If the orphanage disciplines, how do they handle it?
Is she a night person or a morning person?
How does she get along with other children?
Does she have a favorite friend?
What kind of touch does she enjoy? Gentle interaction, boisterous play, or is she touch-resistant?
What does she need to work on developmentally?
What are her favorite comfort items?
Do you know anything about her parents?
Was there a note?
Do you have any details about how and where she was found and by whom?
Did you save her clothing from her finding day, and did she have anything with her?
Do you remember what she was wearing?
What time of day was she found?
Do you have any baby photos of her?
Was she recently moved to a new room after her birthday (or for an older child, how many times has she transitioned to a new room)?
How did she handle that transition? Did she get new nannies at that time?
Practical Questions: (Note: I had more success with this type of question than with the personal questions).
If you are adopting a child still on bottles:
What kind of formula/milk does she drink?
How EXACTLY, step by step, do you make her bottle?
How much water, formula, rice cereal, how hot is the water, how big is the hole in the nipple, what type of bottle does she use, etc.?
How many ounces does she drink? How many times a day? What times during the day?
What temperature does she like her bottle?
Does she get a bottle during the night?
Is there a special way she likes to be held while taking her bottle?
Is she held while taking her bottle or is she fed from a propped bottle?
Does she eat any solid food? If so, what are they and how are they served?
Can she feed herself with a spoon?
If adopting an older child:
What does she eat on a daily basis?
What are her favorite foods?
Does she have any allergies to food or medicine?
Has she been sick with chicken pox, measles, respiratory illness, or any other major childhood illnesses?
Has she needed to be hospitalized for any reason?
Does she get sick often with ear infections, cough, or stomach problems?
Tell me about her urine/poop and whether she goes regularly.
What is her daily schedule?
Do you have her “finding ad” from the newspaper?
What was the last time she ate TODAY?
When is she due to eat again?
What time does she need a nap? W
hat would you like us to tell her about her time here?
Would her nanny or someone like to write a brief note for her? (With Lucy we were not given any kind of memorabilia from her past, but with Charlie we were given a memory book with a sweet note from her nanny.)
2. Bring food and drink.
Most of these kids have traveled a long ways from their orphanage to the hotel and the majority are hungry. Being prepared with a snack and drink will help aid the bonding and attachment. Some people may not be big believers in the power of suckers, but I will say if the child you are adopting is old enough to have them, bring suckers! Our Lucy was a baby and had only ever had bottles and I, of course, did not bring suckers for her. Our Charlie could not get enough suckers and I eventually had to hide them from her.
Suggestions for snacks to bring: Goldfish, Gerber Puffs, Cheerios, yogurt melts, fruit snacks or anything that comes prepackaged in small packs. Drink: sippy cup of water or a juice box
3. Bring a backpack.
I think bringing a backpack or small bag with some items for your new child is a great idea. For Charlie, I brought a small plush doll, a pink bead necklace & bracelet, snacks, sippy cup, suckers, crayons and a coloring book. For some families, Gotcha Days are short and sweet, and they are back to their hotel room within 20-30 minutes. But for others, it could be several hours before you are back in your hotel room. It often depends on how many other families are with you getting their child and how long all the paperwork takes. Bringing a backpack full of “supplies” for your child will help pass the time and with early bonding and attachment.
Other suggestions of what to bring: toy cars, stacking cups, baby toys, small picture books, or stuffed animal. I also love the idea of these items being the child’s first possessions of their very own. To some children, it might be overwhelming, and others might love it. Our Lucy did not know what to do with baby toys and our Charlie loved all her new items. Just be mindful of how your child is acting the day you meet him/her. It just might be the thing that wins him/her over.
4. Have your camera ready.
Probably a given, but just a reminder to make sure all camera and phone batteries are fully charged. You will want to try and capture each moment. It might be a challenge if it is just you and your spouse, but hopefully your guide can help capture those first moments. Some moms and dads choose to capture the whole moment on video, and for some it’s not the ideal moment they had envisioned and good pictures and video come later.
Even if the moment is not pretty and perfect, know that our God takes us in kicking and screaming and loves us unconditionally. Sometimes those beautiful and sweet moments come when we least expect them and grabbing our phone camera to capture them is the next best thing.
5. Manage your attitude and expectations.
It is probably the item that takes the most work. Before our first gotcha day, I had a huge pile of expectations and I knew exactly how I wanted our Gotcha Day to go. I wanted it to be perfect, amazing and beautiful, and then share our amazing, perfect pictures with the whole world as soon as I could. I was quickly let down in that smoke filled lobby when we were handed our very sick baby Lucy. As soon as I had her in my arms, I knew she had a fever and she sounded crazy congested. She also had green junk pouring out of her right ear.
With Charlie, she wanted to bolt from the room and come nowhere near me. Suckers and food won her over for short periods, but her love for us has taken time and we are still in process of earning her trust and love. My advice is to go in with zero expectations from your child. They might love you in an instant, run from you, resist you, love your spouse more than you, scream, cry, kick, hug, give kisses, stop and stare or completely breakdown and/or go into their turtle shell. Go into the day expecting nothing from your child.
Go into the moment with your whole heart, and just give out love in any form you can, or that your child will allow. That might mean sitting beside them and coloring, or him/her sitting in your lap eating suckers or giving hugs and kisses, or holding them when they are kicking, screaming and crying. Just know that these amazing kids come from deep hard places and their world has totally been rocked. Keeping our expectations out of the equation and going in to Gotcha Day knowing that it could be awful or amazing is the best mindset to have amidst all your excited, nervous and anxious emotions. The love and trust will come in time for them. Growing roots takes a lot of time and patience.
It is the MOST important! Ultimately, before going into Gotcha Day, you should cry out to Jesus. Pray for His peace to come over the whole situation. Pray for smooth transitions. Pray for your child’s heart that will break and have to heal again. Pray that you will be just what is needed for him/her in the first moments. Pray that God will go before you and surround you the whole entire day and your whole entire trip! Also, make sure you have a prayer warrior team back home or on a Facebook group. Those prayer warriors carry you through the hard times. And TRUST that God is there in your moments and carrying you all the way through it!
My 20/20 hindsight: We adopted our Lucy 2 years ago and we brought our Charlie home a month ago. When we got home with Charlie, I was able to see with a clear view just how deep my love had grown for Lucy. It was simply amazing to me to be able to see that bond and love that had grown so deep in my heart. This crazy, fierce love that I had for Lucy now was the same love I had for my biological children. I wasn’t able to see it clearly before we brought home another child. I know now that with Charlie the love and bonding will take time and lots of patience, just like it did with Lucy.
Adoption is hard and good and broken and beautiful all at the same time. Your Gotcha/Forever Family Day will be a day you never forget. Just remember that God has planned this day long before you were even born. He knew that you would adopt from China and knew who your son/daughter would be and when they would become yours. Embrace and cherish each moment.
– guest post by Lauren