'Gotcha Day' Isn't a Cause for Celebration

In honor of National Adoption Month, we're sharing the stories of adopted teens. Do you have a story to tell? Email teen@huffingtonpost.com.

I was five and a half years old when my parents adopted me in China and brought me to my new home to America. As my mom always says, I eagerly ran into her arms and truly have stayed there for the past 12 years. She is my mom, my best friend, the woman I admire most in the world. But for the longest time, my family marked that day we met in China as something known in adoption circles as "Gotcha Day."

Lots of families celebrate the day they met their adopted child and became a family. But while I appreciate the love and everything else my parents give me, Gotcha Day can be a mixed bag -- one that leaves kids like me sad and confused. What's missing from Gotcha Day is this: The acknowledgement that adoption is also about loss.

While adoptive parents may be celebrating a long-awaited child finally entering their lives, that child in their arms has experienced abandonment or has been surrendered for reasons they may never know or understand. It's a lot to process. And sometimes while adopted kids are processing it, their feelings of loss override their feelings of happiness. Gotcha Day is one of those times when we think about our past and how little some of us actually know about it. We think about our biological parents and wish we knew them and could ask them why they didn't keep us. We think about what our lives would be like, where would we be, what our futures would look like, had there been no Gotcha Day.

sophie johnson
The day I got my driver's license.

It's been said that adoption loss is the only trauma in the world where everyone expects the victims to be grateful and appreciative. I am grateful and appreciative, but I also want to remind people that someone's happiness over building their family through adoption may also be someone else's sorrow over losing their child for circumstances they couldn't control. Gotcha Day feels like a day of fake smiles if we don't acknowledge that it's also about loss, not just gain.

In my family, we now celebrate Family Day. My parents show my brother and me the photos of when we first met. We talk about how she fed me a big bag of M&M's (still my favorite candy; how did she know?) that I promptly threw up on her in the cab ride back to the hotel. I tell her every Family Day how she shouldn't have let our guide throw away the yellow sweatsuit that I vomited on. It was the last thing my orphanage caregivers dressed me in and was a tangible part of a past that has many unknowns. (I forgive her; she was jet-lagged and the guide took away the dirty clothes and just put them in the trash knowing my mom had a suitcase full of new things for me to wear from America.)

sophie johnson
With my brother, Simon.

Every Family Day, we laugh about my little brother's Elvis sneer and bewilderment at the events of the day we got him. We laugh about how -- I was 7 at the time and had been living in America for two years -- I took one look at him and began asking my mom if we could get a puppy instead. We remember how while my parents were busy filling out paperwork and he and I sat coloring and my dad threw a ball at his head. My mom screamed and my brother, without even looking up from his coloring, raised his left hand and caught the pitch perfectly. "A leftie! Yes!!" shouted out my dad, a life-long Cubs fan. I'm not sure if the Chinese officials thought it was funny, but we sure laugh about it every Family Day.

sophie johnson
With my mom and brother.

I love our Family Day. It celebrates our love for one another plain and simple. And we always end it by lighting a candle for our first families and going outside to talk to the moon.

Sophie Johnson, 17, is a junior at Malibu High School. She is the founder of Sophie's Project, a nonprofit campaign to raise money for older Chinese orphans.