Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What Does "Gotcha" Mean to a Birth Mother?

A must-read from Jane Jeong Trenka (of Jane's Blog) at Conducive Magazine, where she imagines what her Korean birth mother (who died nine years ago) would say about adoption "if she could read other people’s blogs in English, and if she could blog back:"

I did not give birth to my child “with my heart.” I gave birth to my child with my body – painful, and tearing.

I did not “give” my child to another mother as a “gift.”

I was desperate and without the means to earn enough money myself. I and my children were victims of domestic violence. There was nowhere for us to go. No one would help us. We were so alone. I had no other choice but to relinquish my children.

But my children did not feel relinquished. They felt abandoned. I am so, so sorry.

* * *

I was so desperate that I signed away my baby for international adoption the day I brought her to the orphanage. I signed her away with my red-inked thumbprint because I had no stamp. I didn’t know what international adoption meant. I thought my daughters would just live well in another country and be raised in privilege, send pictures and letters, and then come back to me, their mother.

The noise of the airplane taking off tore my heart.

* * *

What does “Gotcha” mean?

What have I gotten from this?

I am not a whore, not a saint, not a storybook character.

I am a real person.

I am a real mother.

My name is Lee Pil-rye.

My children were never orphans.

This is what adoption means to me.

Prose with the power of poetry. Please use the link above to go to Conducive Magazine to read the whole thing.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. I've always found this term nightmare-ish, sounding more like a snatching than anything else. That is such a tearing piece.

Mei-Ling said...



"I prepared her favorite food and she did not remember it.

I took her to the old places where she used to play, and she did not remember them.

I spoke to her in the language she spoke as a child, and she could not understand me."

This just brings tears to my eyes....

Cassi said...

***I am not a whore, not a saint, not a storybook character.

I am a real person.

I am a real mother.***

I just wanted to add what else I found powerful about that.


As a first mom, I really do understand that for some adoptive parents it is important to them, for their own personal reasons, to celebrate such a day. But coming from the other side, the side of loss, it's hard to wrap your mind around any kind of such celebration.

I do hate the term "gotcha," though. To me a "Gotcha Day" is like dancing over someone's grave. Just the term of it alone feels like, on my end, a "look what I have now and you don't anymore" kind of sentiment.

I know that it isn't how it is meant but that is how it feels for me whenever I hear, "Gotcha" in relation to adoption.

The Gang's Momma said...

I'm learning so much. It's why I keep coming back to this site and others like it. For example, we've been part of this IA community for quite a while now and we're just nowlearning that "Gotcha" is offensive and distasteful to some. I'm thinking about it and processing it. I've been really quite busy learning other things, wondering if the learning curve will slow down at all.

Until learning about this particular issue, we just used it as a cute way to describe the day we were longing for. And when they handed my precious child to me, I have to tell you, all the "Gotcha" was on her side. She GOT my heart. She stole it and wrapped it up in those chubby little fingers of hers while she gulped big huge tears of pain and fear and goodbye. And grabbed onto my finger and my heart while she cried. She GOT all of me that day, in a far more real and tangible way than when she "got" me head over heels on Referral Day.

She planted a kiss on her Daddy after about 6 hours together and she GOT his heart, all wrapped up in her beguiling eyes and rosebud lips. Took it clean away from him. Still has it, toddling around the house, teasing and taunting him with it - knowing the power she's "got" over her Daddy.

To equate this term with a nightmare, or worse with dancing on a grave, does a serious dis-service to those of us who adopt. While we may not have (or know to even use?) a better term for the day we met the little being who has taken our hearts captive, we are not worthy of such vilification. I dare say most of us are still learning, still trying to learn, and trying to navigate this minefield of terminology and emotion and thoughts that all of it evokes.

The Gang's Momma said...

This is in no way directed at the writing of the Birth Mom - it's aimed more at the comments that followed the piece. . .

Mei-Ling said...

"To equate this term with a nightmare, or worse with dancing on a grave, does a serious dis-service to those of us who adopt."

Because you adopted. You found it offensive because it "vilifies" the sentiment behind adopting and "targets" the central part of how you became a family.

But on the other hand...

When is the adoption-land - at large, meaning agencies, forums, red thread blogs, social workers, outsiders in society - NOT a dis-service to those who have relinquished or to the adoptees who wish to speak out about the other side?

You ask: is it a dis-service to those who adopt?

Well, is it a service to those who found themselves with no choice who are being represented as people who "made" choices?

Is it a service to call someone's child a gift when the mother involuntarily went to an orphanage WITHOUT assistance?

Perhaps you are right - that it sounds as though saying "gotcha sounds like someone is dancing on a mother's grave" could be offensive towards the way someone else views adoption.

But the dominant viewpoint in adoption-world is still the adoptive parent, and therefore by default their perspective is high in the MOST regard on any forums, blogs, message boards, or chats.

To an adoptive parent "dancing on someone's grave" may be a "far-fetched" metaphor and ridiculously over-exaggerated given the true intent of adoptive families and their happiness in celebrating a family.

You say it's offensive. I agree that it could sound exaggerated depending on the biological parent/adoptee case.

What about the biological parent who relinquished?

김상실 said...

@Cassi: Thank you for sharing your feelings about the term "gotcha". I'd read similar explanations from first parents, but none as clear and respectful as yours.

"Gotcha" is what I proclaimed triumphantly as a five-year-old after wresting a toy away from my younger brother. As an adult, I still say "gotcha" whenever I kill a fly or a mosquito -- and with that same air of smug satisfaction.

If anything, I want people to "get" the fact that we adult adoptees are not possessions to be traded or "gotten" (or squished!). Why can't people just use "Family Day" or one of the many other non-offensive alternatives?

@The Gang's Momma: You wrote "all the 'Gotcha' was on her side" ...

... but you gained also, no?

Mei-Ling said...

Er, let me correct something:

"I agree that it could sound exaggerated depending on the biological parent/adoptee case."

That should say: "depending on the ADOPTIVE parent/adoptee case."

Cassi said...

The Gang's Momma - I'm not quite sure how I did a diservice to those who have adopted by what I said, nor was that my intention, especially not on this blog that I carry such a high respect for.

I did try to very specifically state that was how I felt when the term "gotcha" is mentioned in adoption. That, though I knew it wasn't what it meant, that it was my personal reaction and opinion.

I completely support traveling the different blogs and learning all we can from all different sides. And one of the things I have learned in my own journey of doing just that is there is vast difference, at times, in the emotions that one feels with their adoption experience.

To me, reading how your daughter stole your heart and the special things she shares with her father can still cause that first reaction of grief in my heart because I live the other side. I read stories such a yours and am reminded that I, and my son's first father did not get those experiences with our oldest son. They are moments forever lost to us that we can never go backwards and get.

Does that mean you intentionally set out to upset me in any way with your comment - of course not! But our experiences and our emotions come from two different sides and as much as I have to learn and accept the stories of adoptive parents who will share such memories with their child I will never have, I also believe I have a right to give insight to my own feelings and reactions from my side of this journey. Not to disrespect or give a diservice to anyone. But to be as honest in my experience as others are in theirs.

maryanne said...

What a beautiful piece!

I hate the term "Gotcha Day". It is a cheap and nasty-sounding term. Like another poster, I can see adoptive parents wanting to celebrate, but why not just call it "Adoption Day" and still keep the main celebration the adoptee's birthday. Adoptees are born like all the rest of us, why should they have to downplay that? There is nothing wrong with adoptive parents celebrating their happiness on adopting a child, but please keep in mind the rest of the picture as well, which is not so cheery.

"Gotcha Day" is not cute. It trivializes the experience of the birth parents, and of the adult adoptee, who is not an object someone "got".

The Gang's Momma said...

I greatly appreciate the (mostly) respectful tones of the answers following my own comment.

I am eager to learn, eager to understand. I am also eager to find a balance in these conversations that settles well for me and my daughter as we navigate these waters now and for her future.

I in no way intended to imply that one cannot or should not express their experience or opinion. That is how we learn from each other. I'm grateful that I have that opportunity.

I want to be taught. I want to enrich my thought process by being able to learn from all sides of this community. I don't have experience from any other angle but that of adoptive mother. So I come here to learn. I guess I'd just like to continue to learn without feeling as if my experience counts for so much less than the adoptee or the parent who had to/chose to relinquish. I totally agree that most of the blogs and experiences out there are from a perspective like mine. Again, it's why I come here and other blogs like this. There's more balance.

Thank you for being honest and open and for the most part respectful. My story may fall into the "dominant viewpoint" category but I know my daughter's does not. And I will keep plugging away to understand and honor her side of the story by honoring your thoughts and feelings on the subjects tackled here. . . It's the only right thing I can do for her. And in doing it for her, I am blessed, too.

And yes, I gained on that day. Tremendously. More than I can ever fully express. Our whole family gained. For that, we are more grateful & humbled than any words here can say.

Molly said...

This is such a wrenching and beautiful piece.

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