Sethea learns a heartbreaking reality about her mother and her family.


Sethea’s mother, Ethel, passed away on December 11, 1989. Her father, Robert, outlived Ethel by 10 years, though he was 12 years older. During the last year of his life, Robert lived with Sethea and her three girls in a two-bedroom condo. It was a sweet time for them to spend together.

One day, Robert made a passing comment about their family’s “deep dark secret.”

“I’ll probably take it to my grave,” he said.

“Oh, Dad, I know what that is,” Sethea responded.

“You do? You know that your mother was raped and had a child out of wedlock?”

Sethea was stunned. That was not what she was referring to, and, no, she had no idea.

Robert told Sethea that her mother was 17 when it happened. Ethel was working at a restaurant and had to walk through a field to get back to her house in Maywood, Illinois. One night, a police officer attacked and raped her. Ethel found out she was pregnant, but she kept it to herself.

Sethea asked her aunt Genny if she knew about Ethel’s secret. Genny and Ethel shared a room the year that it happened. Genny noticed Ethel put on about five pounds, but it wasn’t very obvious. Ethel was still playing football and softball right up until she gave birth, and, when the contractions came, she thought she was having an appendicitis attack.

Ethel didn’t want to give up the baby—a little girl—but her parents made her, Robert said. It was hard on Ethel to go through life without knowing her firstborn, and she always wanted to find her daughter.

“As parents, you don’t want your kids to be labeled,” Sethea said. “I think her parents didn’t want her to be looked at as a bad girl. They wanted to keep it hush, hush, but they didn’t know the heartache that my mother carried throughout her life.”

When Sethea and her siblings found out about their long-lost sister, it was a tough topic to swallow. Some siblings didn’t want to talk about it, some thought it would be interesting to find their sister, and others remarked that they shouldn’t interrupt her life now, all these years later. 

Sethea longs to know her other sister. She knows her mother loved her first-born, and it breaks her heart to think about her mother—and her sister—living all those years without knowing one another.

This is a story still unresolved. Maybe one day Sethea will be reunited with her sister. She hopes to tell her she is loved by her family and that their mother never wanted to give her up.

Sethea remembers her mother often used to say that she wished she’d had a baker’s dozen children.

“I always feel like the Holy Spirit puts in on my heart to say that my mom had 13 children instead of 12,” Sethea said. “She had her baker’s dozen.”