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November 2006
Adoption Celebrations for the
Birth of a Family

by Gina Hagler

My first in-person moments with my younger son, and four years later with my daughter, were spent in the International Arrivals area of Dulles Airport. Not a likely place. Certainly not a private place. But a place that is familiar to many international adoptive families in the Washington metropolitan area. I still get goose bumps when I enter the terminal. Even after all these years, the memories of those first glimpses of my children are vivid in my mind.

The arrival of a child, through adoption or birth, changes that family forever. For nonadoptive families, birthday celebrations roll both parts of that moment into one event. Adoptive families have the birth date, first meeting date or arrival date and actual adoption finalization date to mark the different stages in their family history. Most adoptive families don't celebrate the day the adoption was finalized, viewing it as a legal proceeding that merely formalized something that was already in place. Many choose to focus on the child's birthday, telling the story of arrival day at other times throughout the year. Many more international adoptive families choose to celebrate either the day they first met their new child in his birth country or the day the child arrived in the United States, in addition to the child's birthday. Many of these families view it as an opportunity to celebrate the way their family has been touched by another cultural heritage.

"On our son's Gotcha Day, we celebrate by eating Indian food — usually at home — and invite a few friends who have shared a lot of time with us in the previous year," says Kate Shaughnessy of Chevy Chase. "I give him one of the gifts I brought back from India [when I traveled there to bring him home], and we have cake and sing ‘Happy Gotcha Day.' We celebrate that day because that's the day he left the orphanage and we began our time as a family." Rick Ellsbury agrees, "We make a point of celebrating at a local Korean restaurant. We think it's important to recognize both the day our daughter joined our family and the day of her birth. On her ‘welcome home' day, we feel that it's important to celebrate not only her joining our family, but also her Korean heritage." Most families include looking through photos or videos from that exciting time as part of the evening.

Airport Day

Our family didn't do much for what we call, "Airport Day," until last year. Before then, each time I'd mention something about the anniversary of their arrivals during the week leading up to the days, my kids changed the subject to something having nothing to do with adoption. I'd let it go. Then last year, my 9-year old, Seth, wanted to hear about every moment of his Airport Day. We went through the story, each of us adding a detail we remembered — including his younger sister who was not even born at the time. When we were done, he chose to celebrate with pizza and cake for dinner. (We saved the bulgogi for later in the week.) We ended the evening by reading John McCutcheon's Happy Adoption Day! and singing the song at the end of the book. "I like to celebrate Airport Day," Seth says, "because it's nice to have something all about me for one day each year. I like that it's about remembering the day I came to this family." My daughter is already planning for her day.

Whether or not a family chooses to celebrate arrival day, experts say the telling of the story of that day is a way of "claiming" the child, of saying that this family would not have been the same had it not been for the addition of this child. As a kid grows to appreciate the excitement and emotion of that day, it becomes an important part of the way he views himself and his place in his family.

Next time you're at an international airport, keep your eyes open as you pass by the International Arrivals gate. If you see a group of baby-less people with balloons and baby gear, chances are good that a family is being born.

Gina Hagler is an adoptive mom living in Rockville. You can see more of her work at www.ginahagler.com.
International Adoption Resources:

Some agencies are national agencies with local offices. Some agencies are located only in your state. Since different agencies have "programs" with different countries, check their sites to see if they work with the country you're interested in. If you're set on a particular country, ask the agency how many babies they place each year from that country, how long they've had the program in place and what the average waiting period is at this time.

Information & Agencies:

U.S. Department of State Intercountry Adoption: http://travel.state.gov/family/adoption/country/country_369.html

Cradle of Hope: www.cradlehope.org

Holt International: www.holtintl.org

Adoption Service Information Agency: www.asia-adopt.org

The Barker Foundation: www.barkerfoundation.org/Adopting_A_Child/Adoption_Programs/International/international.htm

Magazines & Sites:

Adoptive Families: www.adoptivefamilies.com

AdoptionTODAY: www.adoptinfo.net

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