Five years ago today, a beautiful little 18-month-old baby was put into my arms, and nothing about my life has been the same since.
Some people in the adoption community call this “Gotcha Day,” the day when a family can say, “I’ve finally gotcha” to a child they have been waiting for. I realize that some folks in the adoption community have expressed sentiments in recent years about why the term Gotcha Day is problematic—mostly because it feels connected to kidnappings and forced adoptions.
I understand their sentiment, but I haven’t yet found a term that means quite the same thing. Some families say “Adoption Day, ” but in our family, THIS isn’t adoption day. Adoption Day might be the day we took Matthew to the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou and his adoption became official. It might also be the day Matthew first put his feet on American soil and became a citizen, which also clenched his adoption in our family. Or it could be the day, 15 months later, when a judge re-finalized our adoption and gave Matthew a U.S. birth certificate with our names as parents.
Today, though—today is something different, something imbued with meaning and holiness for me. It’s the day the nanny walked through the doors of the Civil Affairs office and put that little baby in my arms. I won’t ever forget that moment—how his long legs and arms clung to me in fear and wonder, how he looked up into my eyes and held my gaze for a very long time, how he felt and smelled strange and familiar all at the same time. I liken it to the moment I birthed each of my first two babies and looked into their faces for the first time—except it’s not exactly the same. You see, both Maya and Sam had become people literally right next to me, inside my body. Even though I couldn’t see their faces, I was with them every moment.
With Matthew, I felt how very far away he was. For six months after we were matched, I prayed for him, thought about him, sang to him, worried about him, and grew to love him. I stared each day at the few pictures we had of him and felt, palpably, his distance. So the moment when they put that sweet baby in my arms and I could finally look at his beautiful face, I felt a kind of profound settling that I still can’t quite put words to. I finally had that kid next to me, and there he would stay.
Five years into that story, we know it’s not been an easy path to walk. With so many challenges and delays, Matthew’s role in our family is different than we expected. But we’ve also had five years to watch him grow and change—to help him along, And he’s come SO far with love and support and care. That is rather profound to me too.
Our souls have grown deeper—literally—through the many challenges, and we are on the path to becoming the best versions of ourselves that we can be. Our big kids, too, are growing into empathetic, patient, kind human beings because of Matthew in our family. They’ve had to give and sacrifice of themselves a little, but they’ve been rewarded a hundredfold because of it. I wouldn’t change our family or these experiences for anything.
I took the early shift this morning with our boy who likes to get up around 5:30 a.m. When I heard him talking in his bed, I climbed under the covers beside him and inhaled his little boy smell. He nestled his head into my arm, stuck his thumb in his mouth, and hummed through his repertoire of favorite kid songs as he lay close beside me.
It was a symbolic way to start this morning—with my boy close by my side. Even though I’m not sure how much he understands of complicated talk, I whispered to him, Today is a special day, Buddy. Today, five years ago, you joined our family. I love you and am so happy to be your mama.
And I am, truly. Sometimes I can hardly believe five years have gone by. Other times it seems this boy has always been part of our lives. Today I give thanks for Matthew Oscar Xu-Bo Russell and remember, with reverence, the moment I first held him in my aching, waiting mama arms and could finally say, I’ve gotcha, kiddo, and I won’t ever let you go.