A St. Louis Mother Celebrates Adoption Day — But Mourns What Her Child Lost

For Lea Rachel Kosnik, there is no single day to celebrate or to address challenge

click to enlarge Lea-Rachel Kosnik with her son.
COURTESY LEA-RACHE KOSNIK
Lea-Rachel Kosnik with her son.


November is National Adoption Awareness Month, and November 19 — the Saturday before Thanksgiving — is National Adoption Day, meant to bring awareness, in particular, to the many children in the foster system waiting to be adopted.

Like many families who did adopt through the foster system, November 19 is our “Gotcha Day,” the day our child’s adoption was officially formalized in court and the first day we were able to bring him home not as our foster placement but as our fully adopted son. There were balloons; there were cupcakes; there were friends in attendance who hugged us and kissed our child and congratulated everyone as we walked through the front door with our baby, officially now, a permanent part of the family.

Over the years, I’ve seen other adoptive families regularly celebrate their Gotcha Days, often as one would celebrate a birthday: with presents, cakes and even a party. But I’ve struggled with it.

Even the term, Gotcha Day, though in use since the early 1990s to describe a child’s homecoming into a new family, can feel problematic with its saviorism overtones. Like many (though not all) adoptive families, I prefer calling it Adoption Day.

But how does one celebrate an Adoption Day? I go all out for birthdays, Christmas and Hanukkah, too, but Adoption Day? I can’t quite find the right spirit for it, the right way to honor my son’s permanent placement with us, while at the same time acknowledging the very real loss of his first family. What kind of a cake represents both supreme joy and devastating loss? Red velvet?

My son is Black, and my husband and I are white, which adds a layer of complexity to the issue. My son has never been unaware of the fact that he is adopted, in large part, because people bring it to his attention more often than is comfortable. Neighbors have asked, with my son within earshot, if my husband and I had any real children, too. Medical professionals have insisted on adoption papers before treating my son for basic care. And children, ever honest and always curious, have more than once asked my son why he is a different color from his mother.

We don’t need a special day once a year to acknowledge his adoption — his adoption is a presence in our lives every single day.

Which is why we now celebrate and acknowledge Adoption Day organically, multiple times throughout the year, as it comes up. It’s the same approach I take with other important parenting topics, including The Talk about the birds and the bees, The Talk about being Black and how to act around the police, and The Talk about puberty and one’s changing body. In our family, there is never just one “Talk,” never just one “Day” where we acknowledge, according to the calendar, some important issue but then ignore it the other 364 days of the year.

When my son came home from elementary school confused because a classmate had called him an orphan and he didn’t understand the word, I sat my son down and we talked right then and there about his birth parents, the meaning of family, and eventually, his Adoption Day. We discussed when it happened, who was there, and because my son was young and focused on the detail, the type of shoes that everyone wore.

A few years later, we traveled to Michigan for the funeral of an uncle, and during a quiet moment afterward in our hotel room, I asked my son if he wanted to talk about his first family. For a little while we did, ending with a discussion of our two families coming together on Adoption Day.

This time, because my son was a little bit older, he had more questions, and because we were sequestered together for a long weekend, there was the space (after swimming in the hotel pool) to answer them. My son gained a better understanding of his past, his present and his actual Adoption Day. After we were done talking, we ordered chocolate cake and ice cream from room service.

A couple of years ago, I tried celebrating November 19 in a more traditional gotcha manner, with cupcakes and a celebratory dinner, but my son was a preteen by then who rolled his eyes with embarrassment at the excessive attention. In general, he has never liked it when someone squarely points out to him that he hasn’t been a part of our family since birth. That is a truth he is still coming to terms with, on his own timeline, undictated by any particular day. Like any child anywhere, most of the time our son just wants to be treated like everyone else and not have his uniqueness aggressively pointed out.

This November 19, I plan on waking my son with kisses and a couple of warm Starbucks croissants — his current favorite treat. I will then offer to celebrate the day as much, or as little, as he wishes. But it may not be until later in November that my son feels comfortable directly acknowledging his adoption, or not until sometime in December that he asks another question about Adoption Day itself.

Whatever day the topic of my son’s adoption and his miraculous joining with our family comes up, I’ll be ready to talk about it with him, gotcha questions and all.

Read more about Lea Rachel Kosnik and her family’s experiences with adoption in her book, Seeking Forgiveness, a narrative memoir about inter-racial adoption that came out in October.

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About The Author

Lea-Rachel Kosnik

Lea-Rachel Kosnik holds a doctorate in economics from UCLA and since 2004 has been a professor of economics at the University of Missouri St. Louis.
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