They share the same passion — baking Irish sodabread — and have similar physical traits as well, like the same shape of their toes. There is so much Monica Schuss and John Tomanelli are discovering about each other, after the separately adopted brother and sister spent decades apart — each one never knowing the other even existed.
”It’s overwhelming to think how great this is, and I try not to think about the lost time,” said Tomanelli.
”My whole life I wanted to know if I had any brothers or sisters. I grew up as an only child,” Schuss said. “You wonder what’s out there.”
Adopted as a little girl in New York City, Schuss said she decided later in life to start searching for her birth history. She had no idea then that Tomanelli, born to the same mother seven years later and adopted by a different family, would begin his own journey.
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They both signed up in the 1990’s with the state adoption registry.
”You have hope, and then hope kind of just dwindles over the years when nothing happens,” Tomanelli said.
But 27 years after joining the registry, both Schuss (living in Queens) and Tomanelly (living on Long Island) got letters.
“It was like a gift, a letter in the mailbox: You have a biological sibling,” Schuss said.
“I was like, ‘I have a sibling? Oh my God, this is fantastic.’ I did not expect it. It came out of nowhere,” said Tomanelli.
The two connected by phone and then met at a Long Island restaurant. Both said they hugged immediately upon seeing each other. Appropriately enough, Schuss brought Tomanelli a loaf of Irish sodabread to that first meeting.
“It was like we knew each other, it really was unbelievable,” Schuss said. “It’s so hard to explain the emotion of that. It’s just like a connection of having somebody that you know you belong with.”
“Who truly understands what you have experienced in regard to being adopted,” Tomanelli added.
One of their first joint efforts after finding each other was to advocate in Albany for an adoptee bill of rights that became law in 2020. Among other things, it allows access to pre-adoption birth certificates.
“At least you can find out you know your name, what it was before. And you can look up records and find out certain things,” Schuss said.
The long-lost siblings’ biological mother chose not to have contact with them, but her children couldn’t stay apart. With John’s kids grown, he ended up spending every holiday at his new-found sister’s house. And when COVID quarantine hit in March 2020, there was no debate: the two were sticking together, staying at Schuss’ house.
”I’m not leaving,” Tomanelli said, as both laughed.
Just like there are so-called “vaccine angels” to facilitate that process, Schuss and Tomanelli want to do the same for other adoptees — to help make it easier to find that special connection.