Adoptive Parents Hide Secret Letter From Chinese Daughter’s Birth Family
Kati Pohler had a normal and happy childhood growing up in a close-knit community in the quiet town of Hudsonville, Michigan. She was always aware that she was adopted, but she never asked many questions while growing up. Kati had no idea about her birth parents back in China, and wasn’t aware of how much they had sacrificed to ensure her survival under the strict one-child policy in China. What’s more, she didn’t even know they left a letter with a special request for whomever found her. Her adopted parents kept the letter a secret, until everything flooded out into the open.
1. A Loving Couple
Xu Lida and Qian Fenxiang married in their early 20s after meeting in their home of Baoying County, near Yangzhou in the province of Jiangsu, China. Soon after they tied the knot, the couple moved to the outskirts of Hangzhou.
They were working in the scrap trade in the prosperous city of Hangzhou, which proved to be quite profitable in the early ’90s. The housing facilities where they lived, however, were so remote that when Qian went into labor with their first daughter, Xiaochen, Xu had no other choice but to put his wife at the back of a delivery tricycle and pedal as fast as he could for miles to the hospital.
2. Expanding the Family
Despite all their hardships, Xu and Qian tried to make the best of every situation. They felt optimistic that they could give their daughter a happy and secure life, and therefore they made the decision to give her a sibling.
There was only one problem: China’s one-child policy. Nevertheless, the couple thought they wouldn’t be caught in such a big city. “We thought we could get away with it since we lived so far away from the family planning cadres in our village,” Xu recalled. Unfortunately, they would soon learn just how brutal the regime could be.
3. The Long Arm of the Law
China’s one-child policy came into effect in 1979 as part of the family planning policy to reduce poverty and manage the size of the population. Harsh measures such as sterilization and steep fines were implemented to anyone who exceeded their quota of one child per family, until the policy came to an end in 2015.
In 1995, Qian found out she was pregnant again. “I would have felt so sorry if we had aborted her. I thought that even if we couldn’t afford to raise her, we could give her away,” Xu recalled to the South China Morning Post. Qian and Xu had a plan, though.
4. The Dangerous Birth
Qian was only 24-years-old and terrified of the authorities and any spies, so she decided to hide for the last six weeks of her pregnancy on a secluded houseboat, about 75 miles (120 km) from Hangzhou on the Suzhou canal.
When Qian’s water broke they couldn’t go to the hospital for fear of getting her newborn killed, so Xu sterilized scissors with boiling water and cut the umbilical cord. However, the couple had to seek the help of a physician after some complications with the placenta arose, but he promised not to tell the authorities. This was just the beginning of the end though.
5. A Heartbreaking Farewell
Qian and Xu were well aware that their newborn daughter, whom they named Jingzhi, was in grave danger. They decided that the best thing was to give her away, as heartbreaking as it was. The plan was to take her to the nearby vegetable market and leave her under a covered spot where someone would find her.
“On the morning of the third day she was born, I prepared her milk, I held her and hugged her for a while. Then I walked to the market. She didn’t cry. She was asleep. I kissed her gently. I knew it was the final goodbye,” Xu lamented to the South China Morning Post. Little did they know, this wouldn’t be the final farewell.
6. The Handwritten Letter
Qian and Xu weren’t about to give up Jingzhi without some kind of valid explanation as to why they had to give up their beautiful daughter. So they left a handwritten letter with their little girl, along with a special request.
The letter read: “Our daughter, Jingzhi, was born at 10 a.m. on the 24th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, 1995. We have been forced by poverty and affairs of the world to abandon her. Oh, pity the hearts of fathers and mothers far and near! Thank you for saving our little daughter and taking her into your care. If the heavens have feelings, if we are brought together by fate, then let us meet again on the Broken Bridge in Hangzhou on the morning of the Qixi Festival in 10 or 20 years from now.”
7. The Hand of Fate
Soon after Jingzhi was found abandoned at the vegetable market, an orphanage in Suzhou took her into their care. She started growing up and in 1996, just a year after she was born, something happened that would change the course of her life.
One of the biggest international adoption agencies for Americans called Bethany Christian Services arranged for 10 American couples to come to the orphanage in China to adopt daughters. The orphanage was filled with girls because of one-child policy and the Chinese preference for boys.
8. The Pohlers
Ken and Ruth Pohler from Hudsonville, Michigan were one of the couples who came with the organization to the orphanage. “We didn’t really think it mattered which country we adopted from, but we have a brother-in-law who is Chinese and Ruth’s sister was adopted from China too, which was neat,” Ken told BBC.
The couple were keen to adopt a little Chinese girl and Ruth was beaming with excitement when she laid her eyes on Jingzhi. Once everything was in order, the staff gave the Pohlers the letter from Jingzhi’s birth parents, the letter that would change everything.
9. The Secret Letter
Once the Pohlers boarded the bus, Ken and Ruth turned to their translator to ask what this letter was all about. When the translator read it out to them in English, she burst into tears because of Qian and Xu’s heartfelt message.
The Pohlers were also moved but quite taken aback. After some deliberation, they felt this letter would only complicate their daughter’s life so they agreed to keep the letter a secret until she was at least 18. They believed that by that age she’d be emotionally mature enough to handle such news. What’s more, they decided to show her only if Jingzhi wanted to know about her past.
10. Your All American Girl
When Jingzhi arrived in Hudsonville, Michigan, the Pohlers renamed her Catherine Su and called her Kati for short. Her adopted parents gave her a happy and normal life in small-town America, where Kati enjoyed a typical American lifestyle and childhood.
The Pohlers were also deeply religious, so Kati attended church every week with her close-knit community. Everyone knew Kati was adopted, so know one felt the need to talk about it or bring it up. “My two brothers are quite a bit older. I guess if I felt different, it was because I was the youngest and I was a girl,” Kati told BBC.
11. Beautiful Memories
Kati blossomed into a beautiful girl who excelled at everything she did. The family albums boast lots of photographs of young Kati traveling the country with her parents and on school trips, playing the piano and viola, and winning sports tournaments. She led an active and outdoor kind of life, which kept her healthy and smiling.
There were times Kati was curious about her past, but she didn’t really bring it up. Sometimes she’d ask Ruth: “Did I come from your tummy?” and her mother would respond, “No you didn’t come from my tummy. You came for a lady’s tummy in China, but you came from my heart. You were born of my heart.” Then Kati would run off and get preoccupied with something else, a sign for Ruth that Kati was content with that answer.
12. Meanwhile, Back in China
As time went by, Qian and Xu opened a second-hand electric appliance store. The couple worked seven days a week, to support their eldest daughter and themselves. They also saved up enough money to buy a two bedroom apartment after living in poverty for years.
It might have seemed like they got on with their lives, but they never forgot about their beautiful Jingzhi, nor their promise to come find her when she turned 10 years old. The note specified to meet at the Broken Bridge on the day of the Qixi Festival, which is like the Chinese Valentine’s Day. The problem was, they weren’t sure if their daughter would be there.
13. The 10-Year Mark
Qian and Xu prayed that Jingzhi’s adoptive parents would read their letter, and that they’d fulfill their wish to see her again. The day came and the family went to the bridge, ready to be reunited with their beloved daughter.
“We got there early, and we carried a big sign with our daughter’s name and words similar to those we used in the original note,” Xu told BBC. He recalled how awful they felt by wanting to run over to every single girl they saw on the bridge. All they could do was wait with hope; a hope that lay in the hands of the Pohlers.
14. A Failed Attempt
Qian and Xu waited the whole day, but by the time it was 4 p.m., they had a feeling they weren’t going to see their daughter. Soon after, the couple decided to go home with their heads hanging down in disappointment.
But Kati’s birth parents had no idea that the letter was indeed received and her new parents hadn’t forgotten about their request. In fact, the Pohlers prayed about it and talked with a friend of theirs who often traveled to China for business. The only issue was that the Pohlers’ plan happened just a moment too late.
15. Reaching Out
The Pohler’s friend got in touch with a friend of his called Annie Wu, who went to the bridge to find Qian and Xu. They didn’t want to involve Kati at this point, but they wanted her birth parents to rest assured that she was adopted by a family who adored her very much and had provided her with a good home.
Unfortunately, Qian and Xu left only a few moments before Annie Wu got to the bridge. She double checked the bridge for any distressed-looking parents, but there was nothing. However, just when Wu was about to leave, something caught her attention.
16. Caught on Camera
Wu was about to depart the bridge herself when she spotted a news crew filming on the bridge. She approached them and asked them if she could review their video to see if she could spot any sign of Kati’s birth parents.
That was good thinking, as Wu managed to see Qian and Xu standing on the bridge with Xu holding up a poster with his daughter’s name on it. When the news crew understood what was going on, they wanted to share this tragic yet beautiful story of a young Chinese girl separated from her parents at birth.
17. National Television
The news crew was so taken by Qian and Xu’s story that they decided to share it on national television and newspapers. That’s when a friend of the couple from Hangzhou saw one of the reports and put them in touch with the news station where they would meet Annie Wu.
Qian and Xu frantically went to meet Wu at the station, where she gave them some pictures of their daughter and a letter from the Pohlers, assuring they would be in touch with Qian and Xu again. They were reassured that Jingzhi, now Kati, was fine but that wanted to hear more news about her from the Pohlers.
18. Backing Out
When the Pohlers caught wind of the involvement of the Chinese media, who had broadcast the story across China, they decided to break ties with Annie Wu and Kati’s birth parents. They believed she was still too young for all of this and wanted to protect her. They didn’t want to mix up Kati’s future with her past just yet, and were also satisfied with letting Kati’s birth parents know that she was okay without having to meet.
“We took what we could from Annie, and saw no more need for contact. We thought that we should wait for Kati to grow and see if she wanted more information. She’s our daughter. Yes, she has her birth parents but a deeper relationship with them would really complicate matters,” Ruth told BBC. Wu decided to change her number so that Qian and Xu could no long contact her.
19. The Broken Bridge
Qian and Xu were absolutely devastated when they learned the Pohlers were not interested in meeting at this point, but they continued to visit the Broken Bridge every Qixi Festival for another 10 years. “Since 2004, I have visited the Broken Bridge every year. I knew there wasn’t much hope but I still kept waiting,” Xu told the South China Morning Post.
Kati’s birth parents knew they had also written that they should meet on the bridge when their daughter turned 20-years-old, so not all hope was lost. Besides, they would have continued going to the bridge until the end of their days even if she didn’t show up again. Luckily for them, something miraculous would happen just over a decade later.
20. Another Chance
Ten years passed until another opportunity presented itself for Kati’s birth parents. Chang Changfu, a documentary filmmaker was making a short film on Chinese children adopted abroad when a friend told him about Qian and Xu’s tragic story. He thought the story was very moving and decided to find her adopted parents.
He was also put in touch with Qian and Xu, and seeing their desire to meet their daughter made him all the more determined to track down the Pohlers. He scoured the internet for any mention of a Chinese girl adopted by an American family from Michigan, but without success.
21. Digging for Clues
Luckily Changfu did some more digging and happened upon an online message board for American parents with adopted children from the Suzhou orphanage. That’s where he saw Ken Pohler’s message, which mentioned how his daughter had a knee problem from rheumatoid arthritis.
Changfu then found a photograph of Ken online that matched the man in the photos given to Qian and Xu. Bingo! He managed to track down the Pohlers, but they were reluctant to participate in case of some ulterior motive. Their final decision was not to stir up Kati’s past, and therefore they decided not to meet Kati’s birth parents on the bridge. Soon, however, the decision wouldn’t be up to the Pohlers.
22. College Years
After Kati graduated from high school, she attended Calvin College where she studied public health and music. When she turned 21-years-old, Kati was about to move to Spain as an exchange student for a semester when she decided to ask her parents about her past.
Ken and Ruth Pohler knew that if Kati was interested, they wouldn’t hide the truth from her about her birth parents. She was now old enough to handle the truth as well. Kati decided it was time to ask questions because people in Spain would ask her about being Chinese and American. The question was, how would Kati take the news?
23. A Heart to Heart
While they were in the car one day, Kati asked her mother the million-dollar question, “What do you know about my adoption?” That’s when Ruth said that there was something Kati needed to know; something she should have told her long ago.
“Well, we should tell you that we actually know who your biological parents are,” said Ruth. Kati was obviously shocked to learn she was kept in the dark all those years. She was also terrified of the prospect of her birth parents, and it took her some time to come to terms with the information.
24. Planning To Meet
As soon as Kati learned about her birth parents, she wanted to get in touch with Chang Changfu and agreed to be part of his documentary. Changfu planned for Kati to meet Qian and Xu at the Qixi Festival on August 28, 2017 on the broken bridge, but first Changfu would meet her a few days before and take her to the vegetable market where she was abandoned.
It would be 22 years since Qian and Xu last saw their baby girl, so Changfu knew everything about this reunion was going to be dramatic and heartwarming. While both sides were looking forward to the reunion, it still came with some fears and reservations.
25. Fears and Trepidation
Kati told the BBC how she was feeling before the reunion. “I think my biggest fear in meeting my biological family is that somehow I’ll disappoint them more. In a lot of ways obviously they feel like they’ve let me down. But I also know how much pain they have gone through.”
Qian and Xu were feeling the same and had their own set of fears. “What can I say to her when we meet? Would it help to say sorry? No. Ten thousand sorries wouldn’t be enough,” Xu exclaimed to BBC. Qian, on the other hand, said it would be very emotional for her. “I will absolutely and uncontrollably throw myself at her and beg her for forgiveness.” The truth is, nothing could have prepared both sides for what was about to happen.
26. The Emotional Meeting
Changfu prevented Qian and Xu from seeing Kati before the festival, which would have been okay if they weren’t aware of it. However, Annie Wu was back in the picture and informed them that Kati was already in China. They rushed to Suzhou, only to be turned away because Kati was feeling very overwhelmed. They were hurt, but they knew they would meet her on the broken bridge soon enough.
When Kati finally went to the bridge to meet her birth parents, Qian broke down and sobbed while clinging onto her daughter. “I’ve finally seen you. Mommy is sorry,” Qian cried. She went on to say, “You look so much like your mom, but you don’t know what I’m saying” when she realized Kati couldn’t speak Mandarin.
27. Feeling at Home
After Kati finally met her birth parents after 22 years, she went to stay at their apartment for two days in her sister Xiaochen’s room. It was strange for Kati to comprehend that she had a sister, but they tried to communicate with the little English Xiaochen knew. Qian and Xu also took Kati back to their hometown to see her grandmother who had suffered a severe stroke a few years before. She hadn’t spoke for years, but she held Kati’s hand. After all, her grandmother was there on the houseboat all those years ago where Kati was born.
Kati was quite surprised at how emotional Qian was, but she understood why. She was also amazed by the Chinese culture, as one of the first things her mother said to her was: “You are skinny. You’ve got to eat more.” She told the BBC that if she didn’t feel like eating, her parents would feed her. “They were just super excited and missed looking after me for all these years.” She also understood how guilt they have must felt, but never blamed them. “They were stuck in a system that was so broken. I think there were just a lot of small moments where I saw how much they really cared.”
28. Culture Clashes
At first, Qian and Xu were a little disappointed that Kati didn’t call them mom and dad. When they asked her to, Kati lied and said that that in America, kids call their parents by their first names. She told them that so as not to hurt their feelings.
“We still feel so much guilt. If we hadn’t abandoned her, she wouldn’t have to suffer so,” Qian told Post Magazine. Qian also couldn’t believe that Kati worked to earn some extra money. She told Kati that Xiaochen never worked. “My Xiaochen here has never had to wash a single bowl,” she exclaimed. Eqaully, when Kati heard how much poverty her parents endured as migrant workers, it seemed like a universe away from how she had grown up.
29. Connecting with Her Roots
Before Kati visited China, her Asian identity was purely based on her physical appearance. She felt like an American through and through. “Now, it’s deeper than that. It’s good that I am more in touch with where I came from, but it is also confusing. I am a product of where I grew up and that is not Asian in any sense of the word,” she told the South China Morning Post.
She feels slightly disconnected from her parents because they don’t speak English and she can’t speak a work of Mandarin. Despite the communication difficulties and not knowing what to really call them, Kati does want a relationship with Qian and Xu. Once they got to know what a special lady she grew up to be, they felt proud, but it made it even harder when she had to go back to America. The reunion brought with it a huge relief to know she was okay, but they felt even more desperate to spend time with Kati after so long.
30. Merging Two Worlds
Kati Pohler is still getting used to the idea of having two sets of parents. Qian and Xu have promised to be patient, while Ken and Ruth are happy she found her way back to them. “We love her dearly and she knows that. We haven’t lost anything today,” Ken told the BBC. He added: “We haven’t lost anything at all. We’re just happy for her.” Ruth agreed, emphasizing that she’s just happy Kati reached this point and only wants her to have peace and contentment.
Meanwhile, Qian lamented to BBC that “now that we have met her, we miss her even more than before. I guess we can only tell ourselves she is like a daughter who has been married off.” One thing Kati knows for sure is that she’s surrounded by love. “The love is almost overwhelming. I know my adoptive parents love me, and now I have this whole other love that I never knew existed, but I guess was always there.”
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