Mother Reunites with Adopted Daughter After 48 Years
Brenda Rhensius filled the emptiness in her heart when she reunited with her long lost daughter after 48 years. When Brenda was a teenager, she became pregnant with her daughter, Joanne. Because she was young and without a husband, she felt strongly about giving her baby up for adoption.
Brenda, torn from the experience, went on to live a successful life even with an empty heart. She got married, had a son, and became the first female director of a European merchant bank.
Brenda had assumed that after 48 years her daughter was not interested in finding her. She was astonished to discover her daughter was not only looking for her, but was also living in the same country of South Africa.
“I couldn’t believe she had been found, let alone that we had both ended up living thousands of miles away in the same country,” Brenda says.
Brenda waited for the day her daughter turned 18 so she could start trying to locate her. For 30 long years, she searched endlessly and lost hope at every wrong turn. Her sadness was evident every year on Joanne’s birthday.
“Every year on her birthday my insides felt like they were being ripped out and that never went away, even after 48 years,” Brenda said. “I just stayed in bed that day; I couldn’t do anything. I had a ‘precious’ box, which contained one or two photographs of her and I would sit and gaze at them.
At the end of her rope, Brenda contacted the Long Lost Family TV show for help. Within a few short months, the show told Brenda they had found Joanne.
Joanne was an English teacher living in Durban. She had a husband and was living with him and her adoptive mother. Her adoptive father had passed.
The Early Days
At 19 years old, Brenda felt too guilty to raise Joanne and she did not want to embarrass her parents by raising an illegitimate child.
“My parents felt it was the right thing and actually I thought it would be the best thing for my baby too – there was a huge stigma on illegitimate children and I thought her only chance was to grow up with a mum and a dad,” Brenda recalls.
Brenda visited with a mother and baby unit to birth her baby and set up adoption proceedings. She spent six weeks there caring for Joanne in a limited capacity.
“It was hard. We were only allowed to feed and change our children – not play with them – and I was always getting into trouble for going back into the nursery to cuddle her and tickle her feet… things that mothers would normally do,” Brenda said.
The adoption was traumatic for Brenda. The nurse took Joanne from her arms and walked out of the room as if the baby were an object.
“She took her off me and walked out and that was it – it was horrible and so brutal,” Brenda said. “I could hear her new mother squeal with delight through the walls and I felt so bereft.”
Brenda was so distraught she took to the streets of the suburb to which Joanne was taken to find her. She soon realized she would not be able to live in the same area if she wanted to find closure. Brenda moved to New Jersey, married, had a son, and worked hard to push away the feelings of pain and loss.
“I gave my all to my career to try to forget my pain over Joanne,” she says. “But it didn’t work. After losing her I shut down emotionally and didn’t let people get too close. I stayed that way until I met her again.”
Joanne had a happy childhood with her adoptive parents. At 30 she moved to South Africa and tried locating her mother via the Friends Reunited web page. All she had was her maiden name, “Brenda Parr.”
“I always knew I was adopted but it never worried me because I had really loving adoptive parents,” Joanne said. “Of course I was curious over the years, but I didn’t want to upset my mum and also I assumed that Brenda must be married and have children. I thought if I did track her down her husband might not even know she had an adopted child. I was perfectly happy with my life and so I didn’t see any reason to upset hers.”
Little did Joanne know, Brenda made it her life’s purpose to find her daughter.
The reunion was priceless.
“When we finally met it was so emotional. All I could say was, ‘You’re beautiful, you’re beautiful’, and gave her a great big hug,” Brenda said. “There was no screaming or crying, we just sat down and started talking and instantly it was as if those 48 years apart had just faded away. Until that day I’d always felt a part of me was missing, but meeting her made me feel whole again.”
The two discovered they had a lot in common. They both named their pets “Tripod” and shared a love for animals.
“I like drama and singing and I’m very outgoing but my adoptive parents were very shy, quiet, gentle people – I always felt totally different to them,” Joanne said. “Brenda is much more like me. We actually found ourselves finishing each other’s sentences and we have the same mannerisms – we both talk with our hands and we both waffle!”
They were also astonished that they had both moved to South Africa. Brenda has since moved back to New Jersey, but the mother and daughter spend most of their time chatting via Skype. They plan to visit again in June.
Joanne said she considers Brenda her second mother and didn’t realize she had emptiness in her heart until they reunited.
“Now everything makes sense – I know where I came from and it’s fantastic having this whole new family,” Joanne said.
Brenda is grateful for the reunion. She can finally put the pieces of her life back together.
“I was always prepared for the fact that if I did find Joanne, she might slap my face because she might think I just didn’t want her,” Brenda said. “Now we are great buddies and the sadness at being apart for 48 years has gone. It just shows you should never give up hope. My family is complete.”
Brenda can now release the pain she experiences every year on Joanne’s birthday. This year was much different.
“I woke up in the morning and thought, ‘I can phone Joanne today’. I called her and we laughed and it was like instant healing. All that pain had gone.”