December 4, 1976 – Not Gotcha Day

“I feel as though I was stolen, not adopted. I feel like I have more in common [emotionally] with people who were abducted as babies and raised by their abductors than I do with other adoptees” -Michelle Riess

DECEMBER 4, 1976 – Today is the day Michelle was taken from her biological family at four days old and placed with the adoptive parents via an illegal adoption scheme spearheaded by attorney Edward Kent.

This was the first of 14,898 days that Hollie and her family were wrongfully separated from Michelle and after promises were made that she would be told about her adoption and of her biological family.

Michelle’s placement with the adoptive parents happened after Hollie and her family were targeted, repeatedly lied to and misled by the physician and the attorney hired by the adoptive parents; even the adoptive parents lied throughout the process to ensure their desired outcome. Their attorney, Edward Kent, openly encouraged them to lie; this should have been an obvious red flag to the adoptive parents. Kent was later indicted by the State of New Jersey for his actions regarding Michelle’s adoption and a few other adoptions he illegally arranged. He went on to lie under oath about the depth of his involvement with the adoptions during his 1978 testimony. (read more) He was later convicted.

On December 4, 1976, while using fake names, the adoptive parents took immediate possession of Michelle after they had provided purposely misleading information about themselves to Hollie and her family. All of this false information was backed up by Kent and his promises that they had been “thoroughly investigated” and were fully approved to adopt. After extensive research, we have been unable to find any evidence that Edward Kent conducted even the most basic investigation into the adoptive parents or their potential fitness to adopt. It seems clear that his only requirements were the adoptive parents ability to pay his fees.

Now on December 4, 2019, our family has been fully reunited for two years. Still, this is a difficult day because it is a deep wound that not even a happy reunion can properly heal. For Hollie, this day has been a painful reminder of what was taken from her family every year for forty years. That pain does not just go away with reunion nor does the anger.

“HAPPY GOTCHA DAY!”

Some adoptive families refer to the day that the adopted person first comes into their family as “Gotcha Day”. Even before her adoption discovery, Michelle recalls feeling uncomfortable with the “Gotcha Day” terminology as it greatly implies the adoptee is a possession of the adoptive family and leans towards the commodification of human babies. Just look at the definition of “gotcha” for some perspective: (from Oxford)

gotcha

Some adoptive families refer to this as “Family Day” or simply “Adoption Day.” No matter what it is called or how it is celebrated, we need to remember that virtually every newborn adoption–no matter how wonderful–begins with the adoptee’s permanent loss of their biological family and the biological family’s permanent loss of a child. As an adoptive parent, it is important to acknowledge that loss and to be open to meaningful conversations with the adoptee about their origins throughout the course of their lifetime. (read more

Michelle recalls her first “Gotcha Day” in 2017, just two months after making her adoption discovery:

“My adoptive father sent me a message declaring ‘Happy Gotcha Day!’ as though it was something he was relieved we could finally celebrate together. It immediately struck me as insensitive and extremely presumptuous considering the highly questionable circumstances of my adoption and their decades of lies. By that day, I was already reunited with my biological family, heard their side of the events that took place, and I was heavily researching the facts of my adoption. I had already learned my adoption was illegally arranged by the attorney hired by my adoptive parents, and that my biological family was lied to throughout the process. I was harboring feelings of deep betrayal, mistrust and pain towards him and his now-deceased wife (among a host of other long-term issues with them.) His celebratory declaration about something that was obviously so new, so raw and deeply painful to me was one of the first moments I knew he would never be fully accountable for their role in my shady adoption or for withholding the truth from me. Things quickly fell apart after that, and within one month our relationship was essentially over. Our forty year relationship was built upon a massive foundation of lies and fraud–there was nothing that could salvage it at that point, nor did I want to. I feel as though I was stolen, not adopted. I feel like I have more in common [emotionally] with people who were abducted as babies and raised by their abductors than I do with other adoptees who have always known they are adopted. For me and my family, this is not a day of celebration. To me, it represents day one of forty years of wrongful separation. It’s also a day of sadness for what my mom endured over the past forty years while I was living blissfully unaware of the truth.”

Here are some very thoughtful pieces written by adoptees about the deeper implications of “Gotcha Day” terminology. I hope you will read them! | What’s Wrong With Gotcha Day? | ‘Gotcha Day’ Isn’t a Cause for Celebration |

As always, we want to be clear that this is not an attack on adoption, other adoptees with different or more positive experiences, adoptive families or adoption professionals. We speak only about our own experiences with newborn adoption. However, it is so important to recognize that not all adoptions are positive experiences despite how it is represented in media, and to acknowledge that illegal, coerced and unethical adoptions still regularly occur all over the world–even in the United States. It is our hope that by sharing our experiences, any potential adoptive parents, potential birth parents, and anyone involved in the adoption process will be able to recognize and act upon possible red flags for the safety and well-being of everyone involved, but especially for the adoptees.

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