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It broke the young couple’s heart that they had
to give up their infant daughter to save her
life. They never stopped loving her.

By Robert Kiener

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e strong,” Xu Lida whispers to himself as he walks along were both 20. They fell in love and idea of having a second child out of
married, and Qian gave birth to Xiao- their mind. Then, in late 1994, Qian
Sanxiang Road in Suzhou, China, a picturesque city some chen a couple of years later. Although fell pregnant.
60 miles west of Shanghai. It is early morning on August Xu had little education beyond mid- She hid her pregnancy but family
24, 1995, and the slight 23-year-old shopkeeper is fighting dle school, he was a hard worker and planning officials learned of it when
ambitious. she was seven months along and de-
back tears as he dodges pedestrians, bicycles and vehicles on his He soon left his job as a trash picker manded she undergo an abortion. One
way to an outdoor market. and opened a shop in nearby Hang- late spring evening, as Xu held his wife,
In his right arm he is carrying a basket that holds his tiny, three- zhou, where he refurbished and sold he felt their baby moving within her.
refrigerators, washing machines and “It’s like our child is already alive,” he
day-old daughter Jingzhi. After crossing a busy street he peels back other appliances. Despite working told her. “We cannot kill her.”
her blanket and checks that she is still asleep. His heart pounding, seven days a week, they struggled to The couple decided to offer the baby
he reminds himself what he and his wife have decided: We have no make ends meet. for adoption to a couple who could not
One day Xu said to his wife, “Our conceive. Qian tried to reason with the
choice. He blinks back tears and wraps her up again. Perhaps, one daughter is so lonely. She needs a local family planning officials, telling
day, she will understand and forgive us. brother or a sister to keep her com- them, “I want to save a life.” But they
pany.” They often discussed having an- were adamant; she must abort her
He reaches the popular market just knowing he will never forget the sound other child but knew the government child.
before 5 a.m. and is relieved to see of her crying. forbade it. When Qian and Xu refused, village
that it is nearly empty. He can leave Still, the couple couldn’t get the leaders tore down the couple’s house.
his daughter here without being seen. In 1995, China’s strict one-child policy,
He spots a small tent outside a bicycle which sought to control the nation’s
maintenance shop. She will stay warm soaring population growth by com-
there and someone will surely find her. pelling Chinese couples to have only
He hasn’t slept in more than 24 one child, was in full effect. Couples
hours, and as he carries Jingzhi to the who disobeyed were harshly punished
tent he begins crying again. He kisses with government-forced abortion, ster-
her gently and tucks her basket into ilization, steep fines and destruction of
the tent, knowing that this is his final their homes.*
farewell. He walks away but doesn’t Because Xu and his wife Qian Fenx-
get far before he stops, compelled iang already had a daughter, one-year-
to go back. But as he nears the tent, old Xiaochen, they were forbidden to
he notices people gathered around have another child.
it and realizes she has already been Xu and Qian met in 1990 when they
He hears her cry and knows she
* More than 336 million abortions, many of
will be rescued. But he feels horribly them forced, were carried out between 1971
guilty, saddened, devastated. What and 2015, when China’s national birth
have I done? Reluctantly he walks away, planning program ended.

4 reader's digest 03.2021 illustrations by Nicole Xu

Terrified, they escaped 100 miles north penned with brush and ink. It read: Along with Kati’s official papers, the from a lady’s tummy in China.” Hold-
to Suzhou, where they hid on Qian’s “Our daughter, Jingzhi, was born at 10 Suzhou orphanage officials give the ing back her tears, she adds, “But you
sister’s small boat. They planned to a.m. on the 24th day of the seventh Pohlers the letter that Xu had tucked came from my heart.”
deliver the baby on their own because month of the lunar calendar, 1995. We into the baby’s basket. After board- That is enough for Kati. The answer
going to a hospital without a govern- have been forced by poverty and af- ing the bus to their hotel, Ken hands seems to satisfy her. She runs off to
ment-issued birth permit would result fairs of the world to abandon her. Oh, it to his Bethany translator Xian. He play with friends.
in a forced abortion. pity the hearts of fathers and mothers watches her reading it and is amazed Occasionally, Kati wonders about
When Jingzhi was born, Xu cut the far and near! Thank you for saving our when he sees tears rolling down her her mother in China. Ken and Ruth
baby’s umbilical cord with scissors he little daughter and taking her into your cheeks. She comes over to Ken and had placed her passport, orphanage
had sterilized while aboard the small care. If the heavens have feelings, if we Ruth and explains what the note said. records and other files from her past
boat. They had hoped friends would are brought together by fate, then let “What anguish these parents must on a high shelf in her closet. Some-
adopt their newborn daughter, but no us meet again on the Broken Bridge in have been feeling when they were times, thinking about “that woman’s
one could. Hangzhou on the morning of the Qixi forced to abandon their baby daugh- tummy,” Kati stacks two chairs atop
Village leaders were still pursuing Festival in 10 or 20 years from now.” ter,” Ken says to Ruth. one another and clambers up them
Later, they confess to one another
A New Home in America that they are puzzled: How could
The couple agreed It is August 17, 1996, almost a year they ever meet these birth parents, “You came from a
to the day after Jingzhi had been ten years down the road, on some
to leave Jingzhi in abandoned in the market, and she’s bridge on the other side of the world? lady’s tummy
the market, where the center of attention in the Suzhou It seemed impossible. in China,” Ruth tells
she could be found Social Welfare Home, an orphanage Kati. “But you came

that has been her home since she was rowing up in the midwestern
and adopted. discovered. The little girl with the big town of Hudsonville, Michigan from my heart.”
eyes is in the arms of her new adop- (population 7,000), Kati is flour-
tive parents Ruth and Ken Pohler, an ishing. She fits in with the Pohlers and
the couple, threatening to tear down American couple from Michigan who her older brothers Jeff and Steve. She to look at the Chinese-language docu-
Qian’s mother’s house as well as her have flown to China to adopt. has a natural talent for music and ments and pictures. Among them is the
brother’s. She confessed to her sister, “Say ‘Mummy.’ Say ‘Mummy’,’’ says sports and, with her parents' urging, poignant note from Xu.
“We have no hope.” In desperation, the Ruth as she holds Jingzhi, or Kati, as she learns to play the viola, the violin But Kati does not ask again about
couple agreed: They would leave Jing- she has been renamed by the Pohlers, and the piano. her birth parents. From time to time,
zhi in the nearby market, where she and beams into her smiling face. Kati is readily accepted by the close- Ken and Ruth talk about when to tell
could be found and adopted. “She’s so beautiful. So sweet,” says knit community and has lots of friends. Kati about her parents and the letter.
Before Xu set out for the market with Ruth as Ken smiles broadly and looks However, by age 5 she is aware that she Ken proposes, “Let’s wait until she’s
Jingzhi, he placed a small bag of pow- on. The Pohlers, who have two sons is different from them. One day, she older and better able to handle the
dered milk, a bottle of milk and six (a of their own, were anxious to add a asks Ruth, “Whose tummy did I come news or begins asking us more ques-
lucky number) yuan in her basket to girl to their family. They were aided from? Did I come from your tummy?” tions.” Ruth agrees.
wish her good luck on her journey to by Bethany Christian Services, a child Ruth pauses, takes a deep breath
find a good family. and family support group that helps and tells her, “No honey. You didn’t As Kati’s 10th birthday nears, Ken and
He also included a letter he had arrange international adoptions. come from my tummy. You came Ruth begin formulating a plan. They

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well-adjusted American girl. They arrived. “Even if our child doesn’t
do not include their names or other come, surely her new parents will,” Xu
details. told Qian. “Our letter will have touched
A China-based friend of Northouse, them. Have faith.”
Anne Wu, agrees to visit the Broken

Bridge in Hangzhou on August 11, t is just past three o’clock on Au-
the date of the Qixi Festival—often gust 11, 2005, and the Broken Bridge,
described as the Chinese Valentine’s famed in Chinese legend as the
Day—just as Xu had requested ten place where lovers reunite, is packed
years earlier, and deliver the package with visitors. Holidaymakers on the
to Kati’s birth parents. bridge jostle one another as they
If only it could be that simple. search for a better view of the pictur-
esque West Lake for a photo. The sun
“If Is a Very Big Word” is beating down; the lake is still.
Xu and Qian had returned to Hang-
zhou a few days after leaving their
daughter in the market in Suzhou, but
they never stopped thinking about her.
“Even if our child
The questions nagged at them: “Has doesn’t come,
she been adopted? Did we do the right surely her new
They reached out to friends in Su-
parents will,” Xu
put themselves in the shoes of Kati’s hope to meet his daughter or her adop- zhou to ask their help in locating Jing- tells Qian.
birth parents and imagine what they tive parents on the Hangzhou bridge. zhi, but no one could find any trace
would be thinking: “Where does our The couple tell Northouse that they of her. Frustrated, Xu drew up a list
daughter live? Is she being cared for wish there was a way to reassure Kati’s of orphanages in Suzhou. The couple The three members of the Xu family,
well? Is she happy and healthy?” They birth parents that she is happy and considered going back to inquire about including 11-year-old Xiaochen, have
agree that they would be heartbroken healthy without exposing Kati or them- their daughter but knew they would be been on the bridge since 8 a.m. and
if they had been forced to abandon selves. “She’s far too young to handle risking prosecution. are now exhausted. And disappointed.
their child. all this, much less go to China to meet It broke Xu’s heart to watch his wife For eight hours Xu has been holding
They want to reassure Kati’s birth them,” they say. cry whenever they spoke about Jingzhi. a fan with Jingzhi’s name on it and a
parents. But Ruth is concerned about “I have good friends who live near He often reminded her about the let- copy of the letter he’d left in her bas-
somehow losing Kati. “She’s our the Broken Bridge,” Northouse replies. ter he’d written, saying, “Let’s hope we ket ten years ago. But no one among
daughter,” she tells Ken. “I don’t want “They may be able to help.” will meet her and see how she is doing the tens of thousands of people who
to think anyone could take her away.” Over the next few weeks the Pohlers when she is ten … if her new parents walked by them has come forward.
One evening, they explain their feel- put together a package for the birth bring her to the Broken Bridge.” Every The wait today has been espe-
ings to a friend, Kirk Northouse, who parents. They include pictures of time Xu said it, he thought to himself, cially hard on Qian. For the first
does business in China. They tell him Kati growing up and explain that she ‘If’ … ’If’ is a very big word. time in a decade she thinks there is
about the birth father’s letter and his is a healthy, happy, accomplished, Finally, the tenth-year anniversary a good chance her daughter, or her

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Kati’s parents, but they are nowhere When Lao Guo brings them the bat-
to be found. She has missed them by tered newspaper, the couple is speech-
minutes. less. Xu reads the article and begins
Wu is devastated and blames herself. shaking. “They say someone came
She approaches a television crew on to the bridge the day we were there,”
the bridge working a news feature on he tells Qian. “And she was bringing
the Qixi Festival. Did they notice any- us news about Jingzhi!” Qian breaks
one waiting for someone? down crying. The miracle they had
“No,” says one of the crew who is in- hoped for is happening.
trigued by Wu’s story. “But come to our From a newspaper reporter they
studio and we can look over the film learn that Kati has been adopted by
we shot today.” At the nearby television an American couple. Through Anne
studio, Wu and the crew scan the foot-
age of visitors to the bridge that day.
They see no one who might be Kati’s
Qian strokes a
“Wait,” says one of the crew. “Let’s picture of Kati as if
slow down the film and look again.” she were stroking
Sure enough, in a single 1/25th-of-a-
second frame, they spot a slight, tired-
her long-lost
looking man holding a sign and a copy daughter’s hair.
of the letter. The station soon reports
daughter’s adoptive parents, might daughter. the story, asking viewers to help locate
appear. She has long hoped to hold Dejected, depressed and exhausted, the as-yet-unnamed “man on the Bro- Wu they soon receive the pictures and
Jingzhi in her arms, hug and kiss her Xu turns to his wife just before four ken Bridge.” news about Kati that the Pohlers have
and tell her how sorry she is about o’clock and admits, “No one is coming. Other television stations and major supplied anonymously.
having to leave her in the market. Let’s go.” In tears, Qian nods, holds newspapers across the nation pick up As Qian stares lovingly at one recent
Will she, or her adoptive parents, Xiaochen tightly by the hand, and the the powerful human-interest story. picture of Kati, she strokes it as if she
understand that she and Xu had no three of them leave. The Xu family has no idea that their were stroking her long-lost daughter’s
choice? Turning to her husband, who search for their daughter has become hair. She tells Xu, “There’s no doubt

looks so tired under the hot sun, she emarkably, shortly after the national news. that is our Jingzhi. She has my eyes.
asks, “Will they ever forgive us?” family leave the bridge, Anne But she is in America, so far away!”
Each time she sees a family with Wu appears. She missed the The Story Creates a Stir Xu replies, “She is safe. I just pray
a little girl she is overcome with train from her home in Suzhou and “It can’t be!” exclaims Lao Guo, a that she is not bitter toward us.”
emotion; from initial bursts of joy arrived late, carrying pictures of Kati, shopkeeper in Hangzhou. As he opens The couple’s story shows no signs
to searing, painful sadness. She and a long letter from the Pohlers to her his take-out breakfast of sweet cakes, of dying down and is picked up by the
Xu watch anxiously as taxis dispatch birth parents, and a photocopy of Xu’s he notices a grainy photograph in the powerful Chinese Central Television
their passengers at the bridge, hoping 10-year-old letter. newspaper that has been used to wrap Station (CCTV).
one might bring them closer to their She looks all over the bridge for his meal. “It’s my friend Xu Lida!” When the Pohlers hear of the stir this

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story is causing in China, Ken is stunned. Long Wait for Home, about interna- can do another documentary that in- Says Ken, “Honey, we should have
“How did this become such a massive tional adoption. In it, the couple offer cludes Kati and the Pohlers. told you earlier. But there’s no book
story?” Ruth worries that the Chinese a moving confession to the daughter As the years go by, Xu and Qian about handling these things. We weren’t
might try to take her daughter back. they abandoned. Looking straight into cherish the bits of information about trying to hide anything from you.”
Ken tells Ruth, “It’s best we back off. the camera Xu says, “We think of you Kati they glean from Changfu Chang. Ken and Ruth explain how Changfu
Kati is still so young.” every day.” They learn she is doing well in high Chang has acted as an intermediary for
Kati knows nothing of how famous However, as Chang admits after school, playing in the orchestra and, them with Kati’s birth parents. “And he
she has become on the other side of finishing his documentary, “There’s a later, starting college. Occasionally has met your birth parents,” says Ken.
the world. The happy, piano-playing major piece of the puzzle still missing. they receive a new picture of Kati and “He has also done a documentary about
fifth-grader living in a tidy ranch home Who adopted Jingzhi? Will Jingzhi ever add it to the others they have framed adoption that included interviews with
in rural Michigan is safe in the em- meet her birth parents?” and hung on their walls. them.”
brace of her adoptive parents. Back in the U.S., Chang searches for Hoping against hope, Xu returns to A few days later Kati is sitting alone in
clues about the identity of Jingzhi’s the Broken Bridge every year on the her college audio-visual studio watch-
adoptive parents. Drawing on details day of the Qixi Festival, praying that
from Ken’s letter—that Jingzhi had his long-lost daughter or her adoptive
Xu returns to the a knee problem and that the family parents will appear. But they never do. Kati’s heart goes
enjoyed spending time at the beach— As Xu tells a friend, “My hopes have
Broken Bridge he starts combing through message been dashed time and time again. But out to her birth
every year, praying boards and adoption-related sites. I won’t give up.” parents. She wants
that his daughter Eventually he identifies a Michigan to tell them she
family who mention that their adop- Reunion on the
will appear. tive daughter once had knee problems. Broken Bridge understands.
They also live near Lake Michigan, In 2016, Kati, soon to turn 21, is about
which has numerous beaches. to start a college semester in Spain and

ithout any input from Chang finds a picture of Ken Pohler feels her new classmates may have ing Long Wait for Home. In raw, heart-
Ken and Ruth, the story be- online—he looks like the father in the questions about her background. So felt interviews filmed nearly a decade
gins to fade in China. But it photograph given by Anne Wu. He lo- she asks Ken and Ruth if they know earlier, her birth parents spill out their
soon takes a twist when an enterpris- cates the Pohlers and reaches out to anything about her birth parents. She hearts, speaking directly to the precious
ing U.S.-based documentarian and them. is startled when they tell her about daughter they were forced to give up.
academic, Changfu Chang, hears of Neither Ken nor Ruth, remember- the Xu family, give her Xu’s letter, and When Qian speaks to her in the
it from a friend in China. Chang has ing the “media circus” in China, have explain how the birth parents’ story video, Kati cannot stop crying. “I love
produced several stories on adoption any interest in talking with Chang. But spread through China. and miss you every day … I hope you
and is intrigued by the Xu family. “It he convinces them that he can act as Kati is overwhelmed, then angered. live a happy life. I thank your adoptive
has all the elements of a great story,” an intermediary between them and “You knew this all this time and didn’t parents for giving you a new life and
he tells a friend and travels to China the Xu family, passing along news and tell me?” she asks her mother. Ruth taking care of you …”
to research it. pictures of Kati without revealing the and Ken apologize, explaining that The camera turns to Xu. He wipes
He meets Xu and Qian and films Pohlers’ identity. They agree and he they were trying to protect her. tears from his eyes and says, “Every
them, along with several other Chi- does not betray their trust. He hopes “Time,” Ruth tells Kati, “just slipped night your mom and I have been talk-
nese couples, for his documentary, that someday, if everyone agrees, he by. We are sorry.” ing about you, thinking of what you

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look like, where you are wife, Xu asks, “What can I say to her? After years of hoping and years of
living and whether you Would it help to say I am sorry?” He disappointments, Xu and Qian get
are struggling or suffer- pauses, takes a breath and adds, “No. the wish Xu expressed so eloquently
ing. We thought that our Ten thousand sorries wouldn’t be in the letter he wrote more than two
wrong decision might enough.” decades earlier: “If the heavens have
have given you a troubled Hardly able to control her emotions, feelings, if we are brought together
life … Every day we love Qian says, “I will throw myself at her by fate, then let us meet again on the
you dearly.” and beg her for forgiveness.” Broken Bridge.”
Kati’s heart goes out Kati, approaching the Broken
to her birth parents. She Bridge on foot with Chang, keeps Kati, now 25 and teaching English in
wants to tell them she un- wondering what she will say, how she Prague, has returned to China several
derstands. She wants to will feel. It’s time. In minutes her life times, most recently for her sister’s
tell them that she has no will change. wedding. Ruth and Ken Pohler have
bitterness toward them. The late-afternoon sun bathes the also visited the Xu family in China. Xu
They need not feel guilty. stone-arched bridge and West Lake texts Kati frequently, reminding her
After watching the video, in a warm glow. Although the Qixi how much he and Qian love and miss
she now knows what she Festival won’t start until the next day, her.
has to do. scores of holidaymakers already line
Kati and Chang keep in the bridge.
touch as she completes Kati, her heart beating fast, scans
her semester in Spain and ahead for the birth parents she has
returns to the U.S. to finish seen only on film. Suddenly she spots
college. She accepts his a teary-eyed Qian, trailed by Xu and
invitation to fly to China Above: the Pohler family (left to right): Ruth, Jeff, Xiaochen, and a wave of emotion
and help him make a doc- Steve, Kati and Ken. Below: Kati's birth family (left sweeps over her. Finally! Is this really
umentary about her story. to right): Qian, Kati, Xu and Xiaochen. happening?
He suggests Kati meet Xu Xu and Qian spot their daughter.

and Qian on the Broken Bridge during t is the eve of the seventh day of Qian runs free, weeping uncontrolla-
the 2017 Qixi Festival. the seventh month of the Chinese photos: (top) courtesy pohler family; bly as she pulls Kati into her arms. Xu,
Ken and Ruth are apprehensive and lunar calendar. The Qixi Festival his eyes wide, steadies his wife as she
offer to go with her, but Kati, who has starts the next day, August 26. Kati has cries, “My daughter! Mum is so sorry!
forgiven her parents, explains that “I flown to Hangzhou to meet—for the For all these years Mum couldn’t find
(bottom): Changfu Chang

want to go on my own.” Ruth knows it first time—her birth parents, Xu and you. I couldn’t take care of you.” Qian,
is Kati’s decision. Qian, and her older sister, Xiaochen, Xu and Xiaochen all hug Kati tightly.
“I don’t want to lose you,” she tells Kati. on the Broken Bridge. Kati, back in the country where she
Kati holds Ruth’s hand and tells her Xu and Qian have been up all night, was born and reunited with her birth
softly, “You are my family. I love you. unable to sleep because they are so parents, holds Qian tightly. Although
You raised me. Yes, I have another set excited about meeting their daughter she cannot understand what she is
of parents but you’re my family.” after 22 years. As he sits close to his saying, she feels her mother’s love.

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