DNA Surprises

Robin Schepper's DNA Surprise

February 06, 2024 Alexis Hourselt Season 7
DNA Surprises
Robin Schepper's DNA Surprise
Show Notes Transcript

The thing about DNA Surprises is that they can happen to anyone. It doesn’t matter your race, socioeconomic status, politics, or background. In this week’s episode, my guest, author Robin Schepper, shares her DNA surprise story.

For more than thirty years, Robin served at the highest levels of American politics and government. including on four presidential campaigns, in the Clinton White House, and as the first Executive Director of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative.  

She also grew up not knowing who her father was and spent decades trying to find him. In this episode, Robin discusses how she felt different growing up without a father and how she was finally unable to uncover his true identity. She also shares why she decided to write a memoir about her experiences. She also shares a beautiful poem that speaks to the “what ifs” that so many of us contemplate. 

Robin’s memoir, titled Finding My Way: A Memoir of Family, Identity, and Political Ambition, and website are linked in the show notes, so be sure to check them out. 

Buy her book: https://www.amazon.com/Finding-My-Way-Identity-Political/dp/195485496X

Visit her website: https://robinfschepperauthor.com/

Thank you for sharing your story, Robin.

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[00:00:00] Robin Schepper: I think it's very hard for people that, that don't have the experience to understand how just kind of part of our humanity that we want to know where we come from. And you can create family and create relationships in different ways that are not biological, but I just think it's a human drive to know where we come from. 

[00:00:25] Robin Schepper: My name is Robin Schepper and I currently live in Colorado and I just turned

[00:00:36] Robin Schepper: 60.

[00:00:37] Robin Schepper: Thank you for letting me be on your show. My DNA surprise story took many, many years, decades to come out, but I'll, I'll start from the beginning if that's okay. So I grew up in New York City. My mom had been a Pan Am stewardess in the fifties and sixties based in San Francisco.

[00:00:57] Robin Schepper: And suddenly she was pregnant. She was unmarried and that was not really done back in the sixties. That was a very kind of shameful thing. something that you didn't talk about. So she left California and went back to New York where she grew up to get help from my grandmother. So we never talked about my dad.

[00:01:15] Robin Schepper: I kind of knew obviously that other kids had dads and I didn't have one. One day I asked, I wasn't really allowed to talk about it. And she said she said, well, his name was Robert and he worked for the airlines and he was married. And I thought, you know, after I was pregnant, he would get divorced and marry me, but that didn't happen.

[00:01:37] Robin Schepper: So there we are. And I was never allowed to ask a question again. So that was a little challenging. So fast forward. Many years later, I was in college in California, and I was preparing to do a junior year abroad and in France, and I needed my birth certificate, and I was born in San Francisco, so this is back before Google and so you had to make phone calls, so I called San Francisco County, got my birth certificate, and my grandmother was visiting same grandmother that helped raise me, and she said, what is Robert's And name doing on your birth certificate?

[00:02:13] Robin Schepper: And I said cause he's my biological father. And she said, no, he isn't. Ray's your biological father. And I said, who the hell is Ray? And so she told me the story of Ray was this Bavarian that my mother had been with. And that was My biological father. So my mom and my stepdad at the time. So I was, I think I just turned 20 or 19.

[00:02:37] Robin Schepper: They were living in Moscow. My stepdad worked for the U. S. government and there was a number I could call collect. And so I talked to my mom and I said, grandma's making up stories and you know, she just told me the story that Robert's not my dad and raised my dad and I just don't know what to believe.

[00:02:53] Robin Schepper: And she said, well, actually grandma's Right. And then I got so upset and I cried and I was just like, why are you putting somebody else's name on my birth certificate? And later I got a letter from my stepdad who he had researched Ray's address that was in Southern California. And so I ended up writing a letter and I got a letter back from his wife at the time.

[00:03:18] Robin Schepper: Her name was Beate. And she said I'm sure you're a very nice young lady, but he's not your

[00:03:23] Robin Schepper: dad. Don't ever talk to us again. 

[00:03:26] Alexis: What are you thinking at

[00:03:27] Alexis: this point? Now you've gone through two possibilities. Did you think that Ray was your father and his wife was just denying it? 

[00:03:35] Robin Schepper: Well, that was the only thing I could think, but in my twenties, you know, I really wanted to believe my mom, but at the same time I was thinking, maybe my mom just doesn't know. 

[00:03:47] Alexis: Mm hmm. 

[00:03:49] Robin Schepper: And she's just too embarrassed to tell me. And she had just really changed her life, marrying my stepdad who was a diplomat. So there's this whole kind of aura.

[00:04:00] Robin Schepper: So part of me also thought she didn't want to acknowledge it because she didn't want her new husband to think that she was a floozy. 

[00:04:07] Alexis: Yeah, the shame. 

[00:04:09] Robin Schepper: Yeah, exactly. So years go by and still I, I start on my career. I, I do a lot of things and I have you know, I was lucky to get really fantastic jobs. I worked in the media and I worked on political campaigns. I worked in the Clinton administration, the Obama administration. 

[00:04:27] Robin Schepper: I had worked on the Clinton administration and I had married my first husband and I started getting seizures. And my first husband was like, we have to find your father because nobody on my mother's side had any epilepsy. And we wanted kids and wanted to find out. And so, he had a friend from high school that was a private detective.

[00:04:51] Robin Schepper: He said, you know, why don't we use her so we know that it gets to him and not to the wife. And I said, okay. So we did. And I wrote a letter and this time I said, I don't want anything from you. All I want to know is your medical history. And years go by. I hear nothing. Zero. And I'm struggling with epilepsy.

[00:05:11] Robin Schepper: I get seizures like grand mal seizures once a month. I end up in the hospital a couple times and just nobody knows why I have seizures. So it's just really, really frustrating. Thinking that potentially there's an answer on my biological father's side, but I didn't know. And so, my marriage by taking Dilantin and my seizures actually started falling apart.

[00:05:32] Robin Schepper: So six years later. I took some projects in different places around the, around the world and come back to, I was living in Seattle and come back to the house I had with my first husband and there's a pile of mail and there's an airmail letter that has a black stripe on it and I remember from being a kid when my Beate, who told me Don't ever contact me it's a letter from her, and she said I want to let you know that Ray died, I know that you thought he was always your dad I don't know if he's your dad, but if you want to talk to him, come visit me, so I'm thinking, okay, what the hell, so I fly down to Southern California, and I knock on the door, And she opens the door and she says, Oh my God, you're all grown up. 

[00:06:28] Alexis: Wow. 

[00:06:28] Robin Schepper: Yeah, that's what I thought. 

[00:06:31] Alexis: What are you thinking? 

[00:06:34] Robin Schepper: I was thinking, You've met me before? And she says, yeah, didn't your grandmother and your mother tell you that there was a hearing for child support and I met you when you're two or three years old. And I said, no, they never told me. And I don't remember.

[00:06:53] Robin Schepper: So, I, noticed her accent, and she's German speaking, and German's my first language. I didn't learn English till kindergarten and so I just talked to her, and she says that Ray was a traveling salesman, that towards the end of his life, he left her and ran off with her neighbor.

[00:07:12] Robin Schepper: So it's very potential that he's my dad, and she shows me a picture, and she has two kids. But I look at these pictures, and yeah, he's got blonde and blue eyes, but you know, there's nothing that really speaks to me. We have a lovely conversation, and and then I leave, and then I, I think, you know what?

[00:07:30] Robin Schepper: I'm never really going to know because back then this was in, the nineties. We didn't have consumer DNA in the nineties. So I was thinking about like

[00:07:39] Robin Schepper: CSI, could I like get his old hairbrush and 

[00:07:41] Alexis: Mm hmm. 

[00:07:42] Robin Schepper: a DNA sample? But that didn't work. So I didn't think more of it.

[00:07:47] Robin Schepper: I was thinking, you know, maybe he's my dad, maybe he's not, but I'm just not. I'm not convinced. I mean, there was no emotional connection and she couldn't confirm it. So, years go by. I get married the second time. My husband and I adopt two kids because with my epilepsy it was just dangerous for me to have biological children.

[00:08:06] Robin Schepper: And plus the drugs that I was on caused birth defects, so I just didn't want to take that risk. It was more important for me to be a mom than to have a biological pregnancy. So We decided as a family because my husband was having some health issues and we have adopted kids and I don't know, my dad, he said, well, let's all do DNA testing.

[00:08:24] Robin Schepper: So right when it was coming out, 23andme and Ancestry. com, we did both of them and you know, we found some stuff out like both my kids are from Kazakhstan which is in Central Asia, but oddly enough, my, like, older son has this huge percent of of Italian, and then my, my younger son is, is related to the Sami tribe, which is what used to be called the Laplanders in northern Scandinavia and I find some stuff out But it's the things that I expect.

[00:08:54] Robin Schepper: So Ray, the person that my grandmother had said, he was from Bavaria. He had been a naturalized American. So I see the German, and there's Austrian, and some Croatian, and Hungarian. Everything that my grandmother And my mother had told me but this is like in the beginning of DNA when it wasn't really as precise.

[00:09:14] Robin Schepper: You know, you got like Northern, and I think I got another one that said like Northern European. So nothing that I was surprised. And then the, it got more sophisticated. So I think it was like 2017. I asked my mom and my stepdad as a Christmas present if they would do 23andMe. And they were like, Oh, well, why do you want to do that?

[00:09:33] Robin Schepper: And I was like, well. For my stepdad, I said, you've got grandkids and they may want to know in the future. So why don't you do it for them? And I said, mom, just, you know, curious. There may be other relatives that we don't know about. And she's like, Oh, you and your research.

[00:09:47] Robin Schepper: So, so, we did it, and it came back, and in 23andMe, which I'm sure you know very well, is that they show you, what DNA you got from each parent, 

[00:09:58] Robin Schepper: because you don't get, obviously, all 23 strands from your mother and father. So, I got from my mom, and from my grandparents, I got some Austrians, some Germans, some Croatians, and Hungarians, kind of what I expected.

[00:10:10] Robin Schepper: On the other side, It wasn't 100 percent German. So I was a little shocked. And so it had Irish, English, Norwegian, had like this small, like 0. 05 Congolese, 0. 02 Ashkenazi Jew. It just had a kind of a mix. And so when I saw that, I realized Ray cannot be my father. And I showed the DNA to my mom and my stepdad.

[00:10:40] Robin Schepper: And my stepdad, who is very precise, said to my mom, like, Hey I thought Ray was totally German. And my mom, this is, I mean, decades later, she says, Oh, he was adopted. And I try so hard not to laugh. Because I think about, oh yeah, a guy with this mix is in Bavaria in 1933 getting adopted? I don't think so.

[00:11:04] Robin Schepper: Uh, So, so, I don't say anything because my mother's just lived with this shame for so long. So, I just let it go, and in 2019 my family and we hiked to Everest Base Camp in Nepal. And so I wasn't checking email, and I came home, and there were all these messages both on my Ancestry and my 23andMe profile from this woman named Susan who said, Hey, we have 16 percent shared DNA and that means we're probably first cousins.

[00:11:33] Robin Schepper: I can't figure out how to, how we're related. And so I sent a message back on the platform and I say, Well, my mom was a stewardess in the 1960s. I was born in 63. She was based in San Francisco. Maybe one of your male relatives is my dad. And then, less than 24 hours later, she emails me again on the platform and says, Oh my God, you're Uncle Jack's daughter. 

[00:12:02] Alexis: And how are you feeling like leading up to this? You mentioned that you didn't have a connection to Ray, like when you saw pictures of him and things like that. So once you realized Ray is probably not my biological father, did you feel validated? 

[00:12:18] Alexis: How are you feeling?

[00:12:20] Robin Schepper: Well, it's so weird. So I really tried to shut it out of my emotion for so long because I said, Hey, let me just go forward and focus on my immediate family and my kids and stop thinking backwards. So when I got that note on the platform, all of a sudden this hope came up that I had suppressed for decades.

[00:12:41] Robin Schepper: So I got really hopeful and the moment she said I was Uncle Jack's daughter, I was like, Oh my God, maybe I finally found my biological father, which would have never happened without consumer DNA. So I was feeling, I guess, hopeful is the word, but I wasn't. 100 percent sure because I'm thinking, okay, maybe this is a hoax or there's some other thing.

[00:13:09] Robin Schepper: And so, we arranged a phone call and she told me the story of, her dashing Uncle Jack her mom's brother who grew up in Illinois, had been in the army after he came back from the army, went to law school. He was really successful businessman in California, started a successful business and been married three times and handsome and When we started talking, like, she was asking, like, when I was born, and when my mom lived in California, she figured out it was when he was living on a sailboat, when he and his first wife had separated, he was living on his boat, and that's when I was conceived. And I've always liked sailing, so I always think that there's some connection. So, but the most powerful was, is that she sent me pictures of him. And his obituary. And that's when I knew, like, this is my dad. I mean, she sent me pictures of him in high school and in the early 20s, and if you put pictures of him and me at the same age, we look like we're brother and sister.

[00:14:22] Robin Schepper: We have the same kind of jawline, the same eyes. It is uncanny. And then there's pictures of both of us in our forties, and we look the same. And then when I read his obituary, cause I, the way I've lived my life is not like my mother at all. And when I read his obituary and how much he's done for, he was a businessman, but he was very involved in the community, and volunteering and giving back to the community, and then all of a sudden I said, oh my god.

[00:14:53] Robin Schepper: You know, is it nature or nurture? He sounds way more like me than my mother. And so I just felt validated and so happy. But it was bittersweet because he had died one year before my

[00:15:09] Robin Schepper: first cousin found me. So I never got to meet

[00:15:11] Robin Schepper: him, 

[00:15:12] Alexis: Wow. I'm sorry. 

[00:15:14] Robin Schepper: find out who he was. 

[00:15:15] Alexis: Yeah. I'm sorry that you missed the opportunity to connect with him, but glad that you got that validation.

[00:15:23] Robin Schepper: Yeah, it was pretty, it was pretty incredible. My, my cousin Susan is amazing, and she has a daughter, and her daughter is into genealogy, Susan's daughter Joy was just really interested, because I think she's the one who encouraged her mother to do the Ancestry and 23andMe, so my biological father, Jack, he grew up in Illinois, but he lived in San Diego for a long time after he left San Francisco, and so we decided to meet in San Diego, and to meet some of his friends, to see his house just like all this stuff, so I was really so pleased to meet them, and they brought all these pictures, it was great To know who my dad was, but then I never considered that all of a sudden I had grandparents.

[00:16:07] Robin Schepper: So to hear my cousin start talking about our grandparents just, you know, started to make me cry that, oh my god. I have a person that we have grandparents together. It was just

[00:16:18] Robin Schepper: really impactful. 

[00:16:21] Alexis: Yeah. You know, I, I know a large piece of this for you was your medical. 

[00:16:26] Alexis: Yeah, 

[00:16:34] Robin Schepper: Um, well, when I first looked at his, Obituary, he had given money on a regular basis to the epilepsy foundation in the United States and I was like, Oh my God, this is an amazing connection. But what I found out it wasn't biological is that um, I can't remember if it was his first or second wife had a daughter. Who ended up dying actually of a seizure and so he just always gave money to the Epilepsy Foundation. So there was no answers on seizures, but I got other medical information that's

[00:17:06] Robin Schepper: been very helpful for me 

[00:17:07] Robin Schepper: moving forward. 

[00:17:08] Alexis: I think that that's something a lot of people who haven't experienced a DNA surprise do not consider is how important that medical component is for so many of 

[00:17:18] Alexis: us. 

[00:17:19] Alexis: Were you able to talk to your mother once you got confirmation?

[00:17:28] Robin Schepper: yes um, We were on vacation um, and I'm not very close to my mother. We have a, it's fine, but it's, it's um, very deep just kind of never knowing my dad, my mother not talking about it. And so, she's so wrapped up in shame that if I would go visit her , where she and my stepdad live, she wouldn't always want me to meet her friends because she'd be afraid I would spill the beans.

[00:17:55] Robin Schepper: So my, my stepdad um, was getting, I don't want to say sick, but not as mobile. And he'd always promised my mother to take her to the fjords. My stepdad is Swedish. And so we took a trip on the fjords. And I had this information and I wanted to tell her, but I didn't want to ruin the trip. I didn't know how she was going to react because she never really Um, I'm going to talk a little bit about how met my dad and how he reacted well, you know, every time I would talk about wanting to know my dad, she's like, you have a dad.

[00:18:19] Robin Schepper: He loves you. Why are you keep asking all these questions? You know, it's not necessary. Why don't you just. And so I tried to explain to her, I was like, you do not understand what it feels like not to know half of who you are. And maybe if I had been raised with my stepdad and lived with him, but I never lived with him, so I didn't have a father figure growing up.

[00:18:42] Robin Schepper: So we were on this boat, and I was trying to figure out, trying to strategize, like, how do I tell my mother? And she's not really into science and really didn't understand the DNA connection. So oddly enough, We had a DNA surprise on the other side of the family, which was not as meaningful to me, but meaningful to my mother is that my grandfather, whom I never met either, emigrated from Austria.

[00:19:06] Robin Schepper: And so I was always told that he was the second youngest kid and he came to the United States because he wasn't going to inherit the farm in Austria. And there were four or five brothers, I can't remember. And so, lo and behold, 23andMe, before I find out about Jack, I have all these cousins that are related to my grandfather because he had a sister that actually sponsored my, my grandfather and my mother never knew 

[00:19:32] Robin Schepper: that he had a sister. Which is just so weird. I 

[00:19:36] Robin Schepper: mean, just. 

[00:19:38] Alexis: And she sponsored him, but she 

[00:19:40] Robin Schepper: Yeah, she sponsored him to come to the United States. And I was thinking, so. My strategy was like, Oh, I'm going to start this conversation about her side of the family. So I had my laptop and I showed the first cousin she had. And Maria was her name.

[00:19:58] Robin Schepper: Um, the, the older sister and then my mother's like, Oh, I remember going to this Austrian club in New Jersey. And I was like, yeah, probably with your cousins. 

[00:20:09] Robin Schepper: It was just strange. And so it gave me the opportunity to show her on the platform, the percentages to show first cousins and second cousins.

[00:20:21] Robin Schepper: I was trying to prep her, so on the very last day we were in Oslo and ironically enough my mother's favorite movie is Mamma Mia if you, if your listeners haven't watched it, it's about a girl. Trying to invite her father to her wedding and there's three options so I said to my mom, I said, Mom, you know, remember the scene in Mamma Mia where the daughter says to Meryl Streep, the mother, Like, I don't care who my dad is, I love you anyway?

[00:20:49] Robin Schepper: And she said, yeah. And I said, so mom, I don't care who the dad is. I love you anyway. And she said, what, what are you talking about? I said, well, I found out who my dad is. And she said, yeah, of course, raise your dad. And I said, no, Ray's not my dad. Jack's my dad. She's like, Jack, who's Jack? I don't know a Jack.

[00:21:08] Robin Schepper: And so I said, I found my first cousin and my biological father is Jack . And so I have to explain the DNA thing, and she's like, I don't, I don't remember, I don't know what Jack , I don't know what you're talking about. So, luckily she's not hostile, because I was, I was worried she was going to be hostile towards me.

[00:21:29] Robin Schepper: She just started laughing, and she just said, You and your research, there's always something Robin. So, we go to sleep, and I had gotten out his obituary, and I had left it out for her, I didn't want to force her to read it, I just thought. Just take her time and we're at breakfast and she said, I read his obituary and he seems very, like a very nice man.

[00:21:52] Robin Schepper: And I said, yeah, that's, that's what I've heard. And she said, did he have a boat? And I said, yeah, actually he was the Commodore at the San Diego Yacht Club. He, he was a big sailor. And she said, well, I do remember this guy when I was home, he would call me up and I was living in Sausalito and he'd say, meet me at the dock at Sausalito and he would pick me up on the sailboat and then he would teach me how to sail.

[00:22:17] Robin Schepper: But, you know, that's it. You know, I would just, he was just teaching me how to sail and I said, mom, I'm here. I think 

[00:22:24] Robin Schepper: there was more than sailing, just like, oh, robin. So we, we kind of mixed German and English when we talk. And so she said, well, can't I just be like the Virgin Mary? And it was the Holy Spirit and that got me pregnant.

[00:22:37] Robin Schepper: And I was 

[00:22:37] Alexis: Oh my gosh. 

[00:22:39] Robin Schepper: it was Jack. So, uh, she accepted it and we were getting on the airplane and I could tell that she was thinking about it. And my mom just struggled after she left the airlines because at that time you weren't allowed to have kids or be married. You know, that doesn't change, that didn't change until a lawsuit.

[00:22:58] Robin Schepper: Uh, there was a a class action lawsuit in the early 70s you know, now we call them flight attendants and all those laws, but back then you

[00:23:05] Robin Schepper: weren't allowed to, you had to get 

[00:23:06] Robin Schepper: weighed in and, you know, had to be this glamour 

[00:23:09] Robin Schepper: stewardess. My mom, after she left the airlines uh, ended up being a receptionist and didn't have much money, we lived in a rent controlled apartment, sometimes we had food stamps, it was a struggle for her in, in New York City of a single mom, so, we were on the airplane, and she took my hand, and she said Jack sounds like a wonderful man.

[00:23:29] Robin Schepper: I wish we had known him. Because he definitely could have helped us. 

[00:23:35] Robin Schepper: And that just made me so sad for my mom. Because she struggled so much um, just to make ends meet. And to make sure there was food on the table and a roof over our heads. So, was kind of bittersweet too. But it definitely lifted a between us.

[00:23:51] Robin Schepper: It's not something we talk about all the time, but sometimes I refer to him as Jack because I wrote a book and released a book about this journey. And my cousin and her daughter came to uh, the bookstore, um, when it was released in Denver and we met there.

[00:24:06] Robin Schepper: I've told her that I've met my cousins, and I continue to meet my cousins. My older son goes to school in the northeast, and my cousin lives in Nebraska, so we've stopped by her house a number of times. So it's not something we bring up all the time.

[00:24:21] Robin Schepper: My mom, I don't think, likes to talk about it, but I'm glad that she accepted that Jack was, My dad and I think for her it actually answers some questions.

[00:24:31] Robin Schepper: So maybe she's relieved as 

[00:24:33] Robin Schepper: well. 

[00:24:34] Alexis: Yeah, that's, that's amazing that she did open up a little bit and, and have that discussion with you. How would you say not knowing for sure who your father was for most of your life affected you? And then how did it change you once you had your question answered?

[00:24:52] Robin Schepper: Well, I think there's a double whammy for me. It's not just not knowing your father. A lot of people that have non expected parents. They may have had a parent that was their father figure or they thought there was their father. But I grew up with no father figure in my house. So it was my mom and I and then spent a lot of time with my grandmother who was a, who was a widow.

[00:25:13] Robin Schepper: Not having any father figures. In my life, no uncles. I'm an only child. No, no brother. I gained a stepbrother later. Really made for challenging relationships with men. I didn't have any role models. It was often hard for me to have relationships um, so anytime there was a fight or some challenge, I thought, Oh, okay, that, that relationship is over.

[00:25:42] Robin Schepper: I, I didn't really know how you work through a relationship I struggled and I've been married twice, had some other long term relationships and I just kind of feel like if I had had a dad in the house, I would have maybe had some guidance, maybe not, and not all dads are great, but if I had had him in my life uh, he sounded like a great guy, so I think it potentially could have protected me from some bad situations that happened in my life.

[00:26:13] Robin Schepper: And then once knowing who he is, it just made me feel like I was whole that there was a reason that the way I am, because again, I'm so different from my mother and my grandmother that sometimes I would think like, how did I end up the way I am? Like why, what is my drive to do public service and all these other things that I want to do and my ambition and.

[00:26:36] Robin Schepper: Things that they didn't have, and I'm thinking, where

[00:26:40] Robin Schepper: does this come from? I don't understand. So, um, it just, it just then, all of a sudden, it made more sense to me. But it's a big hole, and, you know, if you're going to indulge me um, did write a poem that's in 

[00:26:57] Robin Schepper: my book. It's not that long, but, um, is it okay that I read it to you?

[00:27:02] Robin Schepper: Because I have imagined what it would have been like if I had um, if he had been in my life. 

[00:27:11] Robin Schepper: Your confidence makes my fear fall away. I place my feet on top of yours, yearning to be taller. You laugh. You place my small hands on the steering wheel.

[00:27:23] Robin Schepper: I look up at you and you tell me to look straight ahead. You show me how I can tell the direction of the wind from the little flag on the mast. You explain how the steering wheel is attached to the rudder. I soak it all in, eager to have you as my teacher. You place your hands on top of mine. We feel the vibration of the hull and the water together.

[00:27:45] Robin Schepper: I giggle. Salt sprays on our faces and I dart my tongue to taste it. You guide my steering while you switch the directions of the sails and we tack. You place a my head and tell me how proud you are that I am your daughter. We stay frozen in place, two beings melded as one, our hearts

[00:28:04] Robin Schepper: touching.

[00:28:06] Alexis: that's beautiful. Thank you for 

[00:28:09] Alexis: sharing. thank you. 

[00:28:10] Alexis: And

[00:28:11] Alexis: as a fellow NPE, and I'm sure many people listening to this right now can relate to those what ifs and trying to imagine what it had been like if we'd known our biological fathers. So you wrote a memoir called Finding My Way, a memoir of family, identity, and political ambition.

[00:28:31] Alexis: And you cover this story in more detail in the book. What led you to want to write about your life and specifically your DNA surprise story?

[00:28:44] Robin Schepper: Well, as I mentioned before, we adopted two children. And I actually hired detectives when we adopted because they were called blind adoptions, and that you don't know anything about the biological parents. And I knew what it felt like to not know who your biological parents are, so I wanted to see if I could find out anything for my kids.

[00:29:08] Robin Schepper: We found out a fair amount for my my older son, and for my younger son we did not. So I dedicated the book to them, really, because I wanted them to now they're 17 and 21, and so sometimes when you talk to a 17 and 21 year old, it's like, Mom, too much information. Mom, I kind of want to talk about that.

[00:29:30] Robin Schepper: So, I decided that I wanted to write something that was really for them about my journey and the struggles that I face, because life is not a straight line, and you just have to keep moving forward despite the challenges. And I thought perhaps that if I wrote it down for them, that when I'm gone that they would have, Not necessarily a roadmap, but an example and a model of how do you persevere even when you don't know parts of your family or don't know who you are or you question your existence because you don't know where you came from.

[00:30:08] Robin Schepper: So I wrote it for them my older son listened to it. It's on audio as well. And so, uh, he listened to it when he drove back from college this summer. And um, I was referring to something and, I said, well, you remember that part in the book? And he said, well, mom, I have to be honest. And I said, what?

[00:30:25] Robin Schepper: And he goes, well, I listened to the beginning part of you as a little kid. And it was really interesting about you growing up in New York City. But then I kind of fast forwarded to the part that you and dad adopted me. And then I listened to that about six times because that's my favorite chapter. So, so, you know, to me, I feel like I've accomplished, you know, at least one thing so that he knows just how much we love him and how, what we went through to adopt him.

[00:30:54] Robin Schepper: And then my younger son he's just has such a wit about him. And he said, well, why should I read your book? I already know you. I said, well, maybe there's some stories that would be helpful for you. So I hope at some point they'll read it, but I wrote it mainly for them. But what has happened, the book came out in April and I've been touring around the country.

[00:31:17] Robin Schepper: I was really blessed. I worked in political campaigns and, I've worked on four presidential campaigns and I know lots of people that have put events together. I put all call out to my friends and I said, I don't have a publicist, I don't have an agent. Um, but if you want to put an event together for me, I'll come.

[00:31:35] Robin Schepper: And so I had friends in San Diego and Seattle, Bainbridge uh, Green Bay, Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin Steamboat, New York, DC, that put events together for me. And so I've gone around the country and what's, It's been the most interesting is the react. So I wrote it for my kids, but I've been just astounded at the reactions that I've gotten about the book.

[00:32:01] Robin Schepper: Some of the challenges I talk about, about not having a father figure is not knowing relationships. I have been sexually assaulted more than once, sexually harassed way more than once. There's a lot of women that have come up to me at these events. Um, or people, have just called me that I kind of know peripherally and um, have thanked me. And like I had one woman. That I know pretty well, and, and she said thank you for writing about your abortion. I'm, I'm really Catholic. I can't talk to my, and my husband's really Catholic. I can't talk, you know, I was raped in uh, in high school and I had an abortion and reading your book I don't feel so alone.

[00:32:44] Robin Schepper: And other women who have come up to me, so it's been really gratifying to feel that perhaps sharing some of the shame and the pain that I went through, but also the resilience of going through these struggles, but the still moving forward and creating a family and creating a career.

[00:33:03] Robin Schepper: So that's also uplifting that it's impacted people.

[00:33:07] Alexis: The thing that I really appreciate about your book and your openness is I think, you know, a lot of people would look at your career and all of the things that you've accomplished in your life, you know, from being a White House staffer, working on campaigns, you're well traveled, you were the first executive director of Michelle Obama's Let's Move Foundation, you've done all of these things, and yet.

[00:33:31] Alexis: Still, you have had these very relatable things happen to you. And it really just goes to show that these things happen to everyone and anyone. It's fascinating to see and read about, and it's just awesome to see that vulnerability. So thank 

[00:33:49] Alexis: you.

[00:33:50] Robin Schepper: Oh, well, thank you for those words. I tried to be as honest, as authentic as I could when my When my husband was reading he was one of my early readers and he's like, you sure you want to write this? Are you sure you want to share this? And I just said, I just, I think this happens to a lot of writers.

[00:34:07] Robin Schepper: I was like, I have to, I have to be authentic. I have to tell the truth. I can't, I can't sugarcoat it because if I sugarcoat it, then people don't really realize that the, the struggle , if you just kind of gloss it over. So I wanted to share the struggle because I know others have struggles.

[00:34:25] Robin Schepper: And if my struggles can help people feel like they can get rid of their secrets and not be embroiled in shame, then I feel like I've made a contribution

[00:34:37] Robin Schepper: to the world.

[00:34:38] Alexis: Absolutely. Where can people find you online? Where can they find your book if they're interested in purchasing it? 

[00:34:45] Robin Schepper: Well I have a website. It's robinfschepperauthor.com. You can find it on Amazon. Um, there's an audio book that's on all the audio platforms, audible , apple, Spotify. Um, So it's just Robin Schepper and, finding my way so you can find it.

[00:35:04] Robin Schepper: And the other option, there's another platform if you haven't heard of it, it's called bookshop. org and it's kind of a nonprofit answer to amazon. com. So it's on there as well. And then on my, on my website, robinfSchepperauthor. com, I also have a. Contact page. So I have told others that I will zoom into book clubs and if people want to ask me questions or, or have me for an event, I'm, I'm open to doing that because I just, I love sharing my stories and also talking about my mom and my grandmother because they were revolutionaries in their own way.

[00:35:41] Alexis: I will be sure to link all of this in the show notes for anyone who is listening. What advice do you have for a parent who is keeping a DNA surprise from their child? 

[00:35:52] Robin Schepper: I think at some point you have to tell them. I don't think it's fair to the child. I, I'll just share this story is that when I was uh, getting divorced, my mother asked me to help with the paperwork so my stepdad could adopt me. And what I found out from the lawyer was that my original birth certificate That didn't have the right name, but still I would never be able to see it and my adopted father would be now forever on my birth certificate and I realized that a lot of the laws were to protect the parents not the Child and so I just don't think it's fair as a kid who didn't know My dad for so many years has just answered so many questions, and, maybe you're not doing it when they're five years old um, but, you know, don't wait till they're 50 it just, it matters, and it, uh, I think can bring you closer together with your

[00:36:50] Robin Schepper: child. 

[00:36:51] Alexis: Yeah, thank you. And what advice do you have for someone who has just identified who their biological father is?

[00:37:00] Robin Schepper: Well, the first thing I would say is breathe. Take it in, and sit with it for a little bit because um, it is an enormous revelation. It's kind of the advice that I give to people that are getting married, is that the wedding becomes so much about all the people that you meet, and all the events, and walking down the aisle, so that sometimes you don't have the opportunity just to have it for yourself.

[00:37:30] Robin Schepper: So, just make sure you have some time to let it soak in for yourself. If you write, write in your journal. If you don't write, maybe take a voice memo on your phone of how you feel about it, because you're never going to get that moment back uh, once everybody starts reacting to your news.

[00:37:50] Robin Schepper: So just take the time for yourself to really absorb it before you share it with everybody

[00:37:56] Robin Schepper: else and get their reactions.

[00:37:58] Alexis: Robin, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today and sharing your story. And again, thank you for sharing your story with the entire world through your book.

[00:38:09] Alexis: Be sure to link it in the show notes. And I wish you the best as you continue your book tour and continue finding 

[00:38:17] Alexis: yourself. 

[00:38:19] Robin Schepper: Thank you so much and thank you for having this podcast. I think what you're doing is a great service for those of us that are, have non expectant parents. It's very, very helpful. So thank you.