After 23 years living with the belief that she was an abandoned baby, a young woman’s understanding of her past was completely transformed when she received a letter from her birth father. The letter was an apology, asking for forgiveness and revealing a more complex story behind her abandonment.
Parents may have various reasons for leaving their children, but often it is due to the lack of resources and the hope of providing a better life for their child than they can offer at the time.
Nine days after her birth, a young girl was abandoned at the steps of a department store in Changzhou, China. The incident caused a stir in the city, with many questioning how her parents could leave her so easily just days after her birth.
Zoe Halbeisen was the infant in this story. Store employees found her on their doorstep, wrapped in a blanket, just nine days after she was born. Recognizing that the child needed proper care, they took her to an orphanage, but they still visited her often, as they had grown attached to her.
The news of Zoe’s discovery on the store’s steps quickly spread throughout China, with the narrative that her parents had abandoned her and had no interest in taking care of her. Zoe spent three years in the orphanage before someone showed interest in adopting her.
Valli and Stephen Halbeisen, who are from Charlotte, Michigan, decided to adopt Zoe and traveled to China to bring her to the United States. However, during the adoption process, they were not given any information about Zoe’s birth parents, and were only shown news articles about her being found outside the store.
Born in China, Raised in America
The young girl held onto this story for 23 years, accepting the notion that she had been abandoned. After growing up in Charlotte, Michigan, she relocated to New York where she currently works as a software engineer.
Valli and Stephen, her adoptive parents, provided her with a nurturing upbringing together with her three siblings, who were also adopted from China and Korea.
Although Zoe never inquired about her birth parents, she spent her childhood in a community where she and her sisters were frequently the only Asians present.
Getting In Touch with Her Roots
During her time at the University of Michigan, Zoe encountered numerous Chinese students who frequently traveled back to their hometown. Upon learning this, she organized a trip to connect with her roots, even if it meant revisiting the department store where her birth parents had abandoned her.
Zoe was unaware that her upcoming trip would happen sooner than expected. She was surprised to receive two letters from unfamiliar individuals who would ultimately alter her understanding of her past.
Receiving Unexpected Letters
Chen Xin Zhong and Wang Xu Mei, who identified themselves as Zoe’s biological parents, sent the letters. They asserted that they had been trying to locate Zoe for two decades and had finally found a way to reach out to her.
At first, Zoe was doubtful about the credibility of their story and identity. However, the letters contained information that no one else could have possibly known.
In his letter, Chen Xin Zhong described how he and his wife had secretly observed Zoe for three years while she resided in the orphanage. When he was obliged to relocate from the city, Zoe’s biological mother remained behind to keep an eye on her.
Chen Xin Zhong begged for his daughter’s forgiveness for abandoning her twenty years ago, addressing her by the name they had given her, Long Chen. His letter conveyed the sorrow and regret that he and his wife had endured over the years, with Zoe’s biological father expressing:
“I beg for your forgiveness for the mistake I made because of ignorance, which is the choice I regret most in my entire life. Long Chen, we miss you a lot my daughter. We will always miss you and wait for you.”
In the end, the regretful father pleaded with his daughter not to blame her mother. He also disclosed the motive behind their decision to abandon her at the store.
Her True Birth Story
Upon reading the letters, Zoe discovered an alternative rendition of her origin story—the reality.
The day when Zoe’s parents abandoned her outside the department store coincided with a visit from representatives of the Chinese government to their home. The officials demanded that Zoe, their second child, be surrendered as the result of the country’s one-child policy. The family could have kept her only by paying a substantial penalty, which they could not afford.
Therefore, Chen Xin Zhong abandoned Zoe at the department store, which was close to their residence. Their initial intention was to monitor her closely and take her back one day.
Three years after that incident, they discovered that their daughter had been adopted. Despite their pleas, the orphanage refused to return her.
Consequently, Long Chen departed from China with her adoptive family and resettled in the United States, where she is known as Zoe.
Accepting Her Reality
It took several weeks for Zoe to accept the information disclosed by her biological parents. She acknowledged, “I imagined they had left me there and walked away, but it’s so much more complex than that.”
Zoe sensed the urge to reach out her birth family. For the first time, she connected with her biological parents through an emotional video call on Skype.
Zoe recollects that during the video call, her birth parents looked at each other, smiling through tears streaming down their faces.
“It was very eye opening,” she confessed. It was during that conversation that she comprehended the significant impact she had on her biological family’s lives.
Subsequent to their first encounter, Zoe learned that she had two biological sisters, one of whom was younger than her. Furthermore, she had aunts, uncles, and grandparents who were enthusiastic to meet her.
Meeting Her Birth Family
Zoe, along with her boyfriend and adoptive father Stephen, took a 15-hour flight from the US to Shanghai several months later. From start to finish, the experience felt like a fairytale, culminating in the moment when her birth parents finally embraced her for the first time since leaving her at just nine days old.
Zoe had been communicating with her Chinese relatives via messages and video calls over the internet before embarking on her two-week trip. However, it was the actual visit to China that allowed her to truly get to know her sisters, parents, and other relatives on a deeper level.
Visiting the department store that altered the trajectory of Zoe’s life was an essential part of her trip. While the establishment had since been transformed into a hotel, a few of the original employees who had discovered Zoe years ago remained on staff.
Upon Zoe’s arrival, the hotel staff went out of their way to create a special sign in front of the building that read “Welcome home, Zoe,” and a banner inside the banquet hall also welcomed her and her family.
The hotel management was incredibly kind, providing them with complimentary meals and sharing pictures of Zoe as a baby.
Zoe spoke highly of her experience in China, describing it as “It was just incredible.” She expressed her desire to return to her birth country in the near future, eager to explore the many things she had yet to discover. However, for the time being, her primary focus remained on spending time with her family.