From the time I was a baby, all I’ve known was my adoptive family. As long as I can remember I knew I was adopted. You can only withhold that truth for so long when you’re black and your parents are white. My whole life I wondered what my biological family would be like. Back in 2005 I reached out to Catholic Charities (the agency that arranged my adoption) to request information or get my original birth certificate. Shortly before reaching out to Catholic Charities I thought I could get my original birth information at the hospital I was born at - Backus Hospital in Norwich CT. They laughed at my request and said come back when you know your name. I said i’m “Larissa Gionfriddo;” well thats why they laughed, apparently this was NOT my birth name.
Catholic Charities back in 2005 attempted to help me. We paid them to do a search, which is one of their services they do. Veterans day 2005 I was bartending in New Haven on a Friday night. The man helping me called to tell me my results. My heart sank to the floor as I said hold on and rushed to the bathroom to avoid the loud music. He was of course in a rush to get home and enjoy his upcoming long weekend.
“I’m sorry to tell you that it wasn’t easy to find your mother. Unfortunately, she passed away. Sorry for your loss.”
I really, really do not know why in my life I hear the worst news by phone by very insensitive people, but it is what it is. I was devastated, young (19) and hormonally unstable. I took the news very hard and decided I needed to focus on school and really didn’t know what else I could do. They told me at the time there wasn’t anything I could do because she was not alive to give permission.
Fast forward 11 years…
…After hearing I had breast cancer from another insensitive man.
At least for me, I needed to be in the driver’s seat and have as much control as possible. When I got off the phone with the radiologist, and had my major end-of-life meltdown, my dad said, ‘what do you need?’ I said ‘I need to find my family’. I didn’t want to keep explaining to doctors who asked what is your family history? And my lifetime answer would be ‘adopted’. And then, ‘well in your adoption records did they report anything’ and I would say ‘well I have a family history of eczema’.
The day I was informed my life would be permanently changed, I knew that same question would be on repeat and honestly I wanted to know! My dad followed up with Catholic Charities immediately and a very nice woman helped.
He informed her what happened to me and what I was battling and asked would she contact me immediately to get me paperwork to make the formal request. She was confident after I supplied the paperwork that she could give me my mother’s name after a few days.
A week later, I got my mother’s name. Jacqueline. My moms name was Jacqueline! I remembered how traumatic the first time I searched for her was, and I wasn’t sure at that moment I could handle doing my own search. My husband Martin took to Google and Facebook for me. By the time I got home he said, ‘Look, I think this might be your Uncle’. We really didn’t know but all we could do was send him a Facebook message.
“Hello Todd. I was curious if you were related to a woman who passed away named Jacqueline?”
“My sister from Connecticut - see my photos’-- Todd
“I do not want to be blunt or too straightforward but I recently discovered I had a health issue and was able to find my birth mother’s name, which was Jacqueline from Norwich CT. I hoped to try to find out more about her or maybe how she died in case it would be of help for what I’m going through. Or maybe a contact of someone who would wish or be able to help me. Sorry if this message comes across awkward. Thank you in advance”. (How helpful is Facebook?!?! It saves everything!)
My Uncle Todd jumped into action and by the end of the night my long lost family called me. I heard my Grandmother’s voice for the first time. My older sisters voice. Eventually my little brothers voice. Little did I know that March 20th would start a new bright chapter of my life during a new dark chapter. Today marks a year but it feels so much longer since my new family has stood strongly by my side ever since!