AVON PARK —After placing her son for adoption 52 years ago, Carol Mae Derrick was finally reunited with her son after he received his results from AncestryDNA.
When Carol Mae Derrick discovered she was pregnant 52 years ago, she was in the midst of a separation from her husband. With three small children and one on the way, she faced the grim reality that her marriage was over and headed for her parents’ home.
How would she be able to support this precious child? How would she cope?
“I am opposed to abortion, but I couldn’t see having another child while I was single,” Derrick said. “I wanted my child to live and have a better life.”
Derrick believed the only option was adoption. Although she knew what she planned to do, she couldn’t help but become attached to the new life growing inside of her. The moment she delivered, the doctor and nurse wanted to whisk the baby away so that she wouldn’t bond, but it was too late.
As they tried to remove him from the room, she said, “No, I want to see him just a moment.”
The heartbreak of placing her child for adoption weighed heavily on Derrick’s heart. “In my mind, I told myself he had died. It was hard to cope, especially on his birthday. I wondered what kind of life he was living. I wasn’t real religious at the time, not like now.”
Derrick had to cope with a closed adoption, the norm for that time period. However, she believes that open adoptions are a good thing. The child is able to have some contact with the biological mom.
“The child should know their biological mom for their mindset and for health reasons,” she said. “There are lots of things people need to know, especially if they have health problems.”
Her son, Bill Phillips, was raised by a couple who were not able to have children of their own. His adopted mom was in her 30’s when she adopted him, and his adopted dad was slightly older. They were thrilled to have a child, and they were very protective of him.
Although Bill was in a good home, he began to question whether he was adopted. “I didn’t find out until I was 16 years old, but I had clues along the way,” Phillips said. “When I was in science class, we did a blood typing experiment, and there was no way that my dad could be my dad by [the results of] the blood typing.”
Phillips asked his mom about the discrepancies in the blood typing, but she said, “Of course, he’s your dad. What are they teaching you anyway?”
One of the biggest clues came when he found a release of care document. “It was for a boy with the biological mom’s last name on it,” Phillips said. His mom told him that the paper was from her friend, who had adopted children. Phillips always remembered the last name on the release of care papers. That name, Grode, would be forever imprinted in his memory even though he had only held the paper a few moments.
Philips encountered numerous obstacles as he attempted to locate his birth mom. The records were sealed. The hospital where he had been born had burned. The records he found in Sacramento listed his adopted parents as his parents.
“This year when AncestryDNA went on sale, my wife and I did it,” Phillips said. He took the test in May 2018. “I saw my older sister and brother and niece, but they came up as a close match to a first cousin.” The name he had seen on the release of care document was also there, but he was nervous about making contact.
Two days later, his older sister, Cheryl Sisk, sent him a message. “Are you adopted?” she asked.
“Yes,” Phillips answered. He also gave her his date of birth.
Sisk asked her mother for her son’s birthday and compared the dates.
“You are my brother,” Sisk messaged him.
Phillips turned to his wife and told her the good news — that he had a sister.
“I woke up that morning as an adopted child, and by 11:30 a.m., I had three sisters, two brothers and my birth mother was still alive,” Phillips said.
Sisk contacted the family members for Phillips and helped him to connect with each one.
Sisk called her mom and said, “Mom, are you sitting down? I found our brother, the child you adopted. I found him. His name is Bill.”
Derrick turned to her husband and said, “They found my boy!”
Sisk’s brother, Kevin Bell, received a text to contact his sister while he was at a gong meditation bath, a meditation method where people are bathed in relaxation by the sound of gongs. When Bell finished his meditation, he attempted to call his sister, but the two just kept calling and leaving messages for each other.
Two days later, Bell and Sisk were finally able to talk. Bell heard the good news that his brother had been found. Bell began to instantly connect with Phillips; the brothers talked for hours on the phone and began playing chess online daily.
Phillips met his his three sisters face to face the following weekend. The siblings soon realized that they shared the same sense of humor.
On Oct. 31, Phillips traveled to Rhode Island to visit with his brother, Kevin Bell. “Kevin and Bill came [to Florida] together and met at my home in Avon Park,” their mother said.
“When he walked through the door, he hugged me and said, ‘Hi, Mom,’” Derrick said.
Those were the words Derrick had been waiting to hear. “God is giving me a second chance after 52 years to be the mom I wanted to be,” she said. “I think it’s amazing!
“I’m involved in Choices Family Resource Center, and I tell young pregnant women that they have options other than abortion. I tell them, ‘You must think of the child inside of you.’”
Phillips said, “My first reaction to my adoption has always been gratitude, because she gave me life.”
The mother and son are relishing each moment together, grateful that the decision she made to place him for adoption 52 years ago gave them an opportunity for a reunion.