Gotcha Day

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Tomorrow, October 27, is our Gotcha Day. Cordelia and I were united on this day last year. Gotcha Day sparkles in your mind like a fairy tale during the months or years you wait to bring your baby home. You just know it’ll be this magical moment, similar to–but a thousand times more powerful than–the instant you looked at a referral photo and just knew that this baby was your daughter.  I’ve watched dozens of Gotcha Day videos with their heartrending music and incredible encounters. I even made one myself.

Over and over, I’ve told Cori her story, and I told it again the other night as we snuggled in the rocker after her bath.  It’s this very ritualized, very sanitized tale about how much everyone loved her every step of the way.  It’s even true.  It’s just selectively true.  I was telling her about the amazing moment when she was first placed in my arms, when I suddenly broke character and asked, “Do you want to know the truth–the real secret of how we got through our first month together?”

Cheerios.

No, it’s not that magical, is it?  But after that first incredible moment (which she cried through), there are all the moments to come.  She and I were strangers.  I didn’t know what she liked and didn’t.  She didn’t find me comforting.  The concept of comfort coming from another person seemed to be a bit foreign to her.  So she’d cry–because she was tired, because she was confused, because her stomach hurt or she was jet lagged or something frightened her, but above all because she was grieving.  And when nothing else worked, I’d sit her in my lap and feed her Cheerios, and she’d calm down.

I learned this year that relationships are not magical.  Our bond is not magic.  It’s all those moments.  I read my travel journal from China and was reminded of our first evening together.  We lay on the hotel bed, for hours, while she stared at the ceiling and I stared at her.  We tapped each other’s noses and I was thrilled.  And so we began the slow, hard work of figuring out how to be a family.

And it continued–through late nights and ear infections and the time she got reflux and cried and cried; all I wanted was to hold her until it got better, and all she wanted was to lie on the floor and self-soothe.  It continued through medical appointments (at least 20 this year and maybe more), through painstakingly teaching her not to pinch or bite while equally painstakingly learning why she sometimes needed to, through day after day of tearing myself away at day care and later coming back, through all the times when I was too tired or too frustrated or too stressed and still smiled and played and laughed with her, through poop all over the floor and the bathtub and our clothes.  Cori was home for three weeks before she held out her arms to be picked up, for five months before she let me rock her to sleep, for eight months before she kissed me for the first time.

Yesterday she got up from her nap and we played a game.  She danced around her crib and then jumped into my arms.  I held her tight and kissed her all over her face and neck while she shrieked with laughter.  When I stopped, she signed “more more more.”  Then she reached back toward her crib so we could do it all over again.  A year ago, we had Cheerios.  We’ve traveled a long way to get where we are.

We’ll have a lot of Gotcha Days. And maybe the later ones will take on deeper meaning because she’ll understand them.  But this one feels sacred.  I’m in awe of my daughter, of who she’s become, of who we’ve both become.  Cordelia, baby, happy Gotcha Day.

To submit your story and photos email: kbernstein@whfc.org

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