On a fateful day 22 years ago, 24-year-old Qian Fenziang gave birth to a baby girl.
What should have been a happy day for Qian and her husband, Xu Lida, was instead a disaster for the family. They lived in China, which until 2015 had a one-child policy in place, and the couple already had a three-year-old daughter. In fact, Qian had been forced to give birth in secret on a small houseboat, to avoid revealing her second daughter's existence.
With no way to safely look after their child, the couple left her in a covered vegetable market, in the city of Suzhou. Qian pinned a handwritten note to the baby girl, giving her a name, Jingzhi, and a date of birth.
“We have been forced by poverty and affairs of the world to abandon her," Qian wrote. "Oh, pity the hearts of fathers and mothers far and near! Thank you for saving our little daughter and taking her into your care."
But it also included a special message from the mother, who still held on to hopes of seeing her daughter again:
“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.”
The Qixi festival is China's answer to Valentine's Day, on the seventh day of the seventh month of their lunar calendar. The Broken Bridge is a famous landmark, because it was included in a Chinese romantic poem. It was the perfect time and place to plan for a reunion that must have seemed impossible at the time.
But against all odds, Qian's wish came true, thanks to her note and stroke of good luck.
Jingzhi was taken to a Chinese orphanage, where she was eventually adopted by Ken and Ruth Pohler of Hudsonville, Michigan.
The couple were looking for a girl to bring home to join their two biological sons, and picked Jingzhi, who they renamed Catherine Su Pohler. As they boarded the bus to leave the orphanage, the Pohlers asked their translator to read Qian's note.
The woman burst into tears before she could finish the message, and the Pohler's realized how important it was.
But they decided not to tell Catherine about the note until she turned 18, and even then they would wait until she asked about her birth parents. Meanwhile, Qian and Xu arrived at the bridge looking for their daughter on the 10th anniversary of their separation.
“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. We felt like running up to every girl we saw on the bridge,” Xu told Post Magazine. “It was awful.”
A camera crew spotted the couple, which led a number of news agencies to try and unite Catherine's birth parents and adopted parents, but a combination of missed chances and technical difficulties made them lose contact. Plus, the Pohlers didn't want to force Catherine to confront her past.
Finally, when Catherine was preparing for a semester abroad last year, she asked her parents about her background, and they told her the whole story for the very first time.
Catherine says she was "shocked," but this time she was able to help track down her birth parents. More than 22 years after they said goodbye, Xu and Qian finally met their daughter on the Broken Bridge during the Qixi festival.
“It was really nice to see them. I was surprised by how emotional my Chinese mom was,” Catherine remembers. “The first thing they said was, ‘You are skinny, you’ve got to eat more.’ If I didn’t eat they would feed me. I guess they were just super-excited and missed looking after me for all these years."
Catherine spent two days meeting her parents, sister, and extended family, and learning about her roots, but then it was time to say goodbye. Qian and Xu found it was hard to leave their daughter a second time, but try to think of it like she was "married off" to an American husband.
“It’s good that I am more in touch with where I came from, but it is also confusing," Catherine said about the trip. "I am a product of where I grew up and that is not Asian in any sense of the word.”
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[H/T: Post Magazine]