For nearly all 30 years of her life, Charmaine Grant Broadnax has never known her biological mother or father.

She was adopted in 1980 at 2 months through a closed-adoption process in which the records of her birth parents were kept sealed. Until recently, she didn't know anything about her biological parents: their names, where they lived, even if they were alive. She didn't know if she had any brothers and sisters.

Last month, after years of searching, Broadnax finally met her birth parents.

An only child

Charles and Marjorie Grant, who couldn't have children, adopted Charmaine on a December day after the couple moved to Fayetteville, N.C.

Since she was about 6, Broadnax, an only child, had known she was adopted, but it wasn't until her preteens that she really understood what that meant.

"We were always open with Charmaine to the fact that she was adopted," said her father Charles. But like any child, he said, she was curious.

"I always wanted to know where I came from, what I looked like, who I favored," Broadnax said. "Did I have my mother's eyes, my father's nose?"

All she knew for sure was that her father was black and her mother was white and that her mom was 17 when she had her.

By about 2000, Broadnax started seriously searching for her biological parents, but it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack, she said.

The search

At one point, Broadnax looked into hiring a personal investigator, but the cost was outrageous, she said, so she gave up looking for a while.

At the beginning of 2002, the Grants moved back to Charleston, where Broadnax's search led to more brick walls. Then in July 2007, tragedy struck the only family she's ever known. Broadnax's mother died.

After her mother's death, Broadnax was led to continue her search. She would turn 30 in a couple of years, already had established her own family, and thought it was as good a time as any to restart her search.

"It was the one thing that I always wanted to get done before I left the Earth as far as feeling like a complete person," Broadnax said. "I wanted that missing piece to my puzzle."

Last year, she applied to a network television show that helped people find lost relatives, and Broadnax was put on a waiting list. The show, however, never called her back and eventually was canceled. But she pressed on and ended up going back to the adoption agency in North Carolina, where her search finally started looking up.

Originally, with her adoption being a closed process, the agency couldn't reveal any identifying information about Broadnax's parents, but she was informed of a new state law that would allow the agency to conduct the search for her to find only one of her parents. Broadnax was put on a waiting list in April and would have to pay $500 and go through interviews with a case worker.

In October, she couldn't believe it. The agency found her mother.

The discovery

Though they were blood-related, Broadnax and her mother still were strangers, and that worried her. Broadnax didn't know if her birth mother had told others about her. She said she possibly could have ruined her biological mother's life.

"I was prepared for the worst," Broadnax said.

The next step was for Broadnax to write a letter to her mother introducing herself. She was told that in some cases, it took several years for people to respond because they needed time to think about the repercussions. So Broadnax was in shock, she said, when she received a reply the same week.

Through a case worker, Broadnax and her mother exchanged letters for two weeks, and they finally learned all about each other.

Her name is Jane Powell, and she lives in Fairmont, N.C., where's she's always lived, Broadnax learned.

Her birth was never kept a secret in her mother's family, she also learned. Powell had three other children, the youngest being Broadnax's 19-year-old full-blooded sister, who looks just like her at that age.

Her birth father, Steve Williams, also lives in Fairmont and stays in touch with her mother, but they never married. Broadnax gained two more half siblings who are his children.

"There was a lot of emotion," Broadnax said about the discovery. "I was overwhelmed. I went from being an only child" to one of six children.

Broadnax and her birth mother quickly built on their communication from exchanging letters to sending pictures and having phone conversations. Finally, they decided to meet.

The reunion

Broadnax's adoptive family and her birth family got together Dec. 5 at Broadnax's father's house in Goose Creek. When Broadnax woke up that morning, it all seemed unreal.

"I couldn't believe it," she said. "What I wanted to do for so long was finally here."

Broadnax went from being calm an hour before the meeting to all nerves minutes before the reunion. Broadnax, with husband Larry Darnell Broadnax Jr.; children Savannah, Ahmad and Landon; and adoptive father, finally met her birth family halfway up the driveway.

"As soon as I turned the corner to see them, like I just started boo-hoo crying," Broadnax said. "I couldn't even catch my breath."

It was the same for everyone involved, like a scene from a movie, her father said.

"It was so emotional," Grant said. "The most emotional thing I've ever been through other than death -- happy emotion."

Broadnax met her birth mother, grandmother and most of her siblings that day, then met again with some of them the weekend of Dec. 17. She plans to meet her birth father and the rest of her biological family in Fairmont later this month.

During the visits, she has spent a few, short days catching up on a lifetime, Broadnax said.

For the past month, she said she communicated daily in some form with her newly gained family and said that she's found more in common with them than being blood related.

With the new year, it's a new beginning for Broadnax and her husband, children and the family she's grown up with her whole life.

"Yes, I was the one who was adopted, but it doesn't just change for me, it changes for all of us," Broadnax said. "It makes us a bigger family."

Reach Almar Flotildes at 937-5719.