Childfree Living: On Choosing Different and Grieving the Life We Had Left Behind – Eric and Melissa Jones
What happens when you choose a life that is unconventional, counter-cultural? What if your story becomes increasingly strange to your family and friends? What can you do to hold your head high even when the others don’t get you? How can you get over attacks or condescending comments?
In today’s episode, we are doing something different. Usually, I interview experts in psychology and intensity. Today, the theme is about being different, choosing the alternative life path, and standing up for your authenticity.
We will be talking to Erik and Melissa, a 40-something, interracial, childfree couple who hosts the Childfree Living podcast. After many heart-wrenching years battling infertility, they made the decision to stop pursuing parenthood and instead, re-envision their future.
The reason I have them on is that I want us to think about what it means to be different, or choosing something that is counter-cultural and unconventional. We went pretty deep as we talked about the grief of feeling left behind, the power of identity shifts, and how we can hold our heads high when other people don’t get us.
Whether or not childfree is your life choice, you may find something useful and resonating!
About Erik and Melissa:
Erik and Melissa are a 40-something, interracial, married couple living in Los Angeles, California with their beloved dog, Lincoln. After several traumatic years battling infertility, they made the decision to stop fertility treatments and remain a family of two. Shortly thereafter, they started a podcast from their home to talk through their infertility experience as well as the process of transitioning from living in infertility limbo-land to living permanently childfree.
Imi: Hi, Melissa. Hi, Eric. It’s lovely to have you on the podcast.
Erik: Thank you.
Melissa: Thank you so much for having us. We’re really excited to talk to you.
Imi: Oh, my god. Yes. So I heard your podcast, which I will tell my audience about very soon. And I just find it to be very unusual. And on my platform, as you have seen, I work with people who identify with being intense. But I also work with a lot of people who feel like they are the misfits. Wherever they go, they don’t feel like they fit in. It may be because they are third culture children, or it may be because of all sorts of reasons. Sometimes it’s just because they are wired quite differently. And many of them do choose life paths that are unconventional career paths, life paths in terms of how they choose to have their partnerships and family configurations. So I think this interview is quite unusual because usually, I talk to lots of psychologists and experts in certain fields and you guys are experts by life experience in choosing something that is countercultural, unconventional. And it’s just so unusual and different. Even when I compare you to my other guests, it’s very different. So I’m just so excited.
ERIK AND MELISSA’S STORY
Imi: So our main theme today will be how to be different, how to not play by society’s so-called rules, and how to be misfits in society and keep our heads high. And we will also address things like what’s the definition of authenticity, maybe resilience, and maybe emotional boundaries. So much to talk about. So can you briefly tell our audience who you are, maybe a bit about your background, and what is the life choice or choices that have made you different and outside of the norm?
Melissa: Sure. So I’ll start. We are Erik and Melissa, and we’re a married couple who we’ve been married almost 10 years, together a lot longer. And actually we wanted to have children. We went through a pretty intense, we ended up in at one point, making the decision to actually not only stop infertility treatments, but stop pursuing parenthood altogether, and choose to live child-free. So basically, child-free living being the resolution to our infertility. And that is an unusual choice to make typically in our culture. So in that way, that decision was countercultural. We’re also an interracial couple, which some people might consider that a countercultural decision. So that’s some of our background. Did you want to add anything about your background particularly?
Erik: Yeah, the other thing that is a little different is for me, I was in a relationship before I met Melissa, I had a daughter. And unfortunately, she was born with special needs and passed away.
Imi: Oh, no.
Erik: Yeah, she passed away at the age of three. And so my experience of dealing with that trauma and then the later on … Did you even get into infertility?
Erik: All right. Well, and then trying to have a child with Melissa, that was a secondary dose of infertility. And then there’s another part of me getting sick. When we were trying to conceive we decided to do this procedure. It didn’t go very well. I got sick and I was in the hospital for a while. That’s a story for another time.
Imi: What kind of sickness if you don’t mind me asking?
Erik: Oh, sure. So what happened was when we first were trying to have a child, it wasn’t working, and both of us went to our doctors and different things. Am I telling this story right? Sometimes she’s my second half of my memory. That at some point, we realized that it was probably me, meaning that my sperm was fine, but I just didn’t have a kind of volume. So we went to a urologist. The urologist said, “Oh, I think I can fix this. It looks like your seminal vesicle is blocked.” He did an ultrasound, said it’s blocked. I can fix this. It’ll be a short outpatient surgery. So we did that. It turned out there were complications from the surgery. I ended up in the hospital for 25 days.
Imi: Oh, God, 25 days.
Erik: What I ended up having was, yeah, I ended up with a perforated bowel, which meant that I had to have …
Melissa: He was septic
Erik: I was septic.
Melissa: He was in septic shock when we first went into the hospital.
Erik: Yeah. And so anyway, what ended up happening is I had a perforated bowel, which meant they had to do a surgery which pulled my intestine out. And I had to have a colostomy bag for a year, meaning I couldn’t use the bathroom normally. I had to carry this bag with me. But long story short, after a year, I had what was called a reversal surgery. They put everything back together. Now everything upgrades normally for me.
Imi: But what this says is in order to have a child, you’ve both been through a lot of physical ordeals.
Erik: Oh, a lot.
Melissa: Yes. And that experience was very traumatic. It was basically a trauma on top of infertility, medical trauma because the 12 days that he was in the ICU, the first step part of the hospital stay, at the very beginning he was on a ventilator, he was sedated. I didn’t know if he was going to survive. It was touch and go for the first couple of days. It was extremely intense. It was extremely intense. So we did deal with quite a bit of trauma from that experience. And then again, that was amidst the struggles of infertility, which is traumatic in its own way. So we do have a lot of life experience.
Erik: A lot of trauma.
Melissa: When we made this decision to stop infertility treatments, we started looking for resources. I had read a few blogs and things by women who had been through the experience. But we started looking for other resources to kind of help us because we felt really lost. We didn’t have any role models or people we knew who had been through this.
Melissa: So we felt really just kind of alone and lost. And we didn’t find much out there. And Eric’s really into podcasts, so one of his first places to look was for a podcast, and we couldn’t find anything like that. And most of the resources were also women, nothing for men. So we decided to, we were like, well, maybe we should start a podcast where we talk about our own experience of going through this and transitioning out of infertility and into accepting a life as a family of two. And so we just did it. I mean, we started it when we were about maybe four months into child-free living. So that’s how it came about.
Imi: What I’ve really enjoyed about your podcast is that, and whilst grief is certainly a part of the journey and you do talk about it and we will address it, because when I look at other resources out there about infertility, and single womanhood, or as you said, a lot is geared towards women and their infertility treatments, a lot of that is dealing with the medical side, many of them are still trying. And there’s this whole air of either it’s about grief, or it’s about this constant need to keep trying, keep trying, keep trying for the next thing. And you guys have just come to a place where you’ve decided to not try and that is difficult, and that’s countercultural, and that’s why there’s no other people like you guys in the interweb.
Erik: Yeah, that’s actually what her experience was, the same thing you just said about encouraging people to keep trying things like that. That was a lot of the sources that you found.
Melissa: Yeah, it’s very common in the infertility community and support groups or online groups, it’s very common to only have the narrative of you have to keep going at all costs, and you have to become a mother. No matter what you do, never give up. Never stop hoping. The communication comes across as if it’s the only way that you will be happy and the only way you will be a mature adult or a woman.
Melissa: And so the people that end up not being quote-unquote successful with their infertility and having a child in some way, they often just kind of fade away and don’t really have much support.
Imi: And I will draw the parallel of that whole thing to sometimes people struggle with certain mental health difficulties or certain peculiar things in their life. And the whole narrative in society is fix it, fix it, fix it so you can be better.
Imi: Fix it so other people around you will be happy. And you guys said, “Well, we’re not fixing this. This is what it is. And we this is who we are.” And as Erik said in his podcast in other times, he said, “We are happy.” And it’s almost like the whole project becomes convincing the world that you’re actually happy, and it’s so difficult.
Erik: It is.
Imi: Yeah. But the lovely thing about that is it’s authentic. At least you’re saying, “All right, we’re done trying. This is who we are.” And that’s what attracted me to you guys, and why I think you guys will be good for my audience.
Erik: Thank you.
Melissa: It’s also that a lot of these narratives that we also wanted to … We were on our own journey, but we were also interrupting some of these cultural narratives that people are abiding by that they don’t even realize they’re abiding by it. So below what the response is to stopping is a lot of belief systems that come from being in a very patriarchal and pronatalist society and things like that. So we’re speaking our own truth. But when you talked about convincing people you’re happy, it’s also us kind of pushing against that.
Erik: That narrative. We’re fighting that narrative.
Imi: That’s amazing. Please continue doing it. And that’s I think what people who identify with feeling intense or emotionally intense in particular, can identify with, which is when will the world stop asking us to change and just accept that this is who we are? They may not have chosen to be that way, but that’s who they are.
Imi: So let’s talk about the identity shift that happens when you make a decision to stick to who you are rather than following the herd, what I call. It’s a juncture. Well, it’s a juncture, but it can also be a drawn-out process. So what was it like for you guys when you went from having a normal, quote-unquote normal vision of the future to being not in the norm anymore?
Melissa: Well, I think when we first made the decision to live child-free, there was such a mixture of very strong emotions, so there were some feelings of relief, for me, some feelings of excitement, feeling that, wow, I can think of all these new possibilities for my future. But then also included in that were all these other difficult emotions around grief, and feeling like this whole future roadmap I had planned out for myself was just suddenly gone, and feeling very lost and sometimes so overwhelmed especially the first year. I mean, just, I think there’s something about us, like we want to be able, especially my personality, I really want to be able to plan ahead and feel like you have a certain path and a certain future, and so that was overwhelming. So basically, what I’m saying is I felt at the beginning of that shift, an enormous amount of emotions.
Erik: And for me, it’s interesting because so the decision to come out and finally accept that we’re not going to have kids, it’s interesting because, in small ways, Melissa, and I had already started going down the path of a not really typical life. For example, we’re an interracial couple, so that in and of itself is sort of a nontypical way of living your life. We decided to share our life together. Sorry, were you going to say something?
Imi: What kind of challenges did you face on that front?
Erik: What was that?
AS INTERRACIAL COUPLE
Imi: What kind of challenges do you face as an interracial couple?
Erik: Oh, so where do we begin? So I would just say in a basic sense, and I’ll say this is general for lots of different ethnic groups. But there’s sort of an expectation that, especially if you’re … So I’m a Black person, which is a minority in the United States. And in the minority community, it’s sort of an expectation that you will marry someone within that same minority group. And it’s sort of in the sense of Black people share a certain culture, we share certain life experiences. And so and also, we live in the same community, so you typically, date and marry somebody from your same community. So to step out of that community and marry somebody from a different community is, at least in my culture, it’s not necessarily as frowned upon as it maybe once was, but it’s still, it’s not typical. At least I will say that for certain. It’s not typical.
GRIEF, AND FEELING LEFT BEHIND
Imi: Where we are now. So let’s talk about grief. What most people, or you guys, or we have to grieve in the process of switching from a normal vision of the future to being in the non-normal camp?
Erik: Can I go? Okay. So what happens is when you decide to have a life that’s sort of atypical, I think what you grieve is being a part of the regular group. And with the regular group comes safety, and comes resources.
Erik: And we’re wired to want to be connected to the group. And so when you step out, there is a grief process. It’s a reason why people get so concerned about not being a part. It’s like I feel like we’re hardwired as humans to really be sort of constantly scanning our peer group to make sure we’re fitting in. Am I normal? Am I doing what other people are doing? What kind of clothes are other people wearing? That type of thing.
When you leave your community or when you make a decision to try to live an atypical life, you grieve that comfort that comes from being in the group. And being in the group is essentially important for humans. That’s one thing that I’ve learned a lot from this podcast, is that the main thing most of us are grieving is a sense of this quote-unquote normal life. And so when you make a decision to step out of that, it’s difficult. And that’s where the grief comes in.
Imi: Oh, I really get it. I really get it. I am beginning to question that narrative of how, because there are lots of cultural narratives about how we need people. There are lots of research coming out to say we get depressed if we are not a part of community, we don’t have enough socializing activities. And I think that can sometimes be quite disempowering and skipping out to the nuances because you don’t want to just be in any group, you want to be in a group where you can authentically be yourself.
Melissa: Yeah. That’s true.
Imi: And that group also may not be a physical group, where you see every day, it could be an online group, it can be a virtual community. So what’s your journey in terms of that whole in group, out group thing? Is how small maybe the both of you? What communities are you grieving and what would you want?
Melissa: So I think that along with that was the feeling of for a lot of people feeling left behind when your peers and people seem to be moving forward because they’re doing these things that are viewed as the normal next steps in life, like having children and you’re not doing it.
Imi: Yeah. Or like a corporate job. Maybe you still exploring. In your 30s, maybe you have many entrepreneurial ideas and diverse, and yet people are on the corporate ladder, reaching certain salary points, and that can feel like you’re left behind too.
Melissa: Right. Or maybe you’re single, and all of your friend groups, everybody seems to be married. And when you see people moving along those paths, you can feel very left behind, and that can bring about grief and sadness. And when there’s something permanent that you’re losing like in our case where you’re losing that identity as a future mother of parenthood, you’re grieving all of the losses that come with that. So even though I never had a child but I guess it’s a disenfranchised grief and you’re grieving a child that you never had, that you weren’t able to have, and all of the future that would have come with that.
Melissa: But yeah, the community piece and feeling like you’re being left behind and feeling abnormal is difficult and comes with a lot of feelings. And for me in my journey, I have found that I feel the grief around that less and less as time moves on, but it’s still sometimes it’s triggered in certain situations. And the way that I’ve been I think best able to deal with it has been that I’ve validated my life choice for myself, and I feel very strong in my choice. And I also had times when I was in therapy and had a therapist validate it, that the way you feel is okay. And what you’ve been through really was traumatic, and you have great reasons for why you made decision for yourself. And feeling very strong in my own self-validation allows me I think to deal with those moments of feeling left out or feeling the grief. It helps me to deal with that a lot better.
Imi: Yeah. So it’s about committing to the new path that you’re on and feeling strong in that.
Melissa: I think so.
Erik: I agree.
Melissa: I think when you commit to it and you validate yourself and your feelings, there’s something empowering about that. Where if you don’t do that and you don’t speak up for yourself that this is the life you’re choosing, I don’t know that I would have the empowerment part.
Imi: Yeah, I hear you. And that’s what people are going through midlife across life crisis phase two, where suddenly they hit a point in their life where they realize, all these years, that their definition of themselves no longer work and they need a new definition of who they are. Do you think the majority of people feel very uncomfortable with or even will attack people who do things differently?
Melissa: I think a lot of people immediately feel discomfort when something about you or something you say about your life is countercultural. It’s so often that somebody’s response is met with discomfort. You can tell that their response of whether it’s judgment, pity, whatever it is, you can tell it’s because they’re uncomfortable. There’s something about humans where they’re uncomfortable when people are different. They don’t know what box to put you in. It’s not what they did. And you can definitely sense the discomfort.
Imi: Well, what I get a lot is a lot of unsolicited comforting like, “Oh, no, I’m sure it will be fine.” It applies to your case. “I’m sure the next fertility treatment is going to work. Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” And that can be really painful to hear when you’ve already chosen your path.
Melissa: It is.
Imi: They keep nudging you back.
Melissa: Yeah, I think a lot of people have started using that toxic positivity word for that and when it comes to fertility, but yeah, it is very painful. And people, they have this idea that they need to be encouraging in those situations, when really what they need to be is supportive. No, don’t give me advice and tell me what I should or shouldn’t be doing, or that everything will work out a certain way. Just listen and say that you’re here for me and you support me in whatever I choose.
Erik: But it’s back to what I was saying about the way we’re all sort of wired to be in groups and want to stick with the group. And so like, if there’s someone who cares about you, let’s say it’s your friend, they don’t want you to step outside of the group. So they might not want you to stop doing fertility treatments because they might not be your friend anymore.
Imi: That’s so true.
Erik: Now you’re living this different life and they want you to stick with the group. So we do it to each other.
Melissa: Yeah, we want to bond over the same things.
Imi: Absolutely. Or parents who don’t want you to become too unfamiliar, too strange.
Imi: Someone they no longer recognize and can no longer help.
HOW DO WE DEAL WITH ATTACKS OR PATRONISING COMMENTS?
Imi: So how do we not take things personally when people maybe they attack us, or maybe they subtly put us down, or even they pity us just because they’re uncomfortable with our choices? What do we do to not take things personally?
Eric: I think what I was just talking about where it’s like for me, just being aware how pervasive that thought is about how social we are, and how we really are just constantly trying to maintain these group dynamics. And the thing is, I’m sure I do it in some ways too when I see someone do something that I think is stepping out of line. And so I just try to be aware of it and try to have a little bit of compassion for what’s actually driving the comments or the negativity or the subtle coercion that people try to give you the comeback to what they consider to be normal. That’s all I do. I don’t know. What do you do?
Melissa: I think what I do now is sometimes I almost feel like I’m looking at the situation from an outside perspective. So if I’m talking with one person and they say something about what we’re talking about, something insensitive, or a lot of times I feel like I’m viewing it from an outside perspective now. And so I might have some feelings that come up, but really, in my mind, I’m like, okay, that’s interesting they responded that way. Because there’s just certain ways that people respond that you kind of learn to expect and it’s waiting to see, okay, which one are they going to pull out? And knowing in my mind that it’s like Eric said, knowing where it’s coming from, it’s not usually something that they’re really even conscious of half the time. And sometimes they actually, I know that they probably have good intentions sometimes, and so that helps me to be able to respond and then choose in that moment with that particular person how do I want to respond if at all.
Imi: Does it still sting though? I can’t imagine not stinging.
Melissa: Yeah, sometimes, yeah.
Erik: Well, also, here’s the thing, another thing, we have those same quote-unquote fears. We had them when we first started down this journey. So for example, let’s just pick a parent. You tell your parent, I’ve decided I’m not going to have kids. All of the typical things, but what about this, or who’s going to take care of you when you’re old, whatever. We had those same thoughts. So I do have some compassion for those typical answers because we all have them. And we just worked through the fear a little bit longer than they have. So I’m a little more compassionate in that sense, just because I know what they’re asking because I asked the same questions.
Melissa: And yes, sometimes it does still give me an immediate sting or an immediate emotional reaction that’s very difficult. Absolutely. I mean, I’ve had some things said to me, and half the time that person has no idea how much it stung. And you have to take that breath for yourself and sort of think about, okay, how do I want to respond now?
Imi: Well, and on this topic, Eric mentioned an idea of a shield in the podcast. I don’t know if you still remember. And if you do, I’m interested in hearing more about that. What do you mean by a shield?
Erik: I think what I said was when a person is … Sorry. Melissa is coaching me. When a person is dealing with something like this, self-care is important. And I think I said you use self-care as like a shield because the world is going to come at you with criticism, complaints, unsolicited advice, things like that. And so when you take care of yourself, when you’re comfortable with your decisions, and things like that, that serves as a shield.
Imi: I get it now. What’s your shield? What do you do to shield up?
Melissa: Well, as far as self-care during this whole process, we have both gone to therapy at different times, so that’s been helpful. So I think seeking help when you need it. Also, really taking time for myself, whether it’s just quiet time, going on a solo trip, meditation to really sort of be in touch with what do I want, how am I feeling, what am I thinking. And having fun is self-care. Having fun. And then also connecting with people who have been through the same thing and feeling validated in that way, even if it’s just online, finding online communities of people who have been through something similar. Those things for me have been really a part of boosting up myself and allowing me to feel okay with who I am and my decision. And that, for me, has been that self-care shield. So those are some of the things.
Imi: If you were to quantify it from say zero to 100, how far do you think you guys have come now in feeling fully congruent and believing that no, I am happy this way? Or do you sometimes still doubt it? Oh, no, am I really happy this way?
Melissa: Well, happiness is always a hard thing to define but this is how I would put it. I don’t ever regret the decision, number one, so the regret thing doesn’t exist for me. But as far as happiness, I kind of look at the child-free goal as getting to a place where I wouldn’t even trade my life in if somebody said you can have kids right now, where I really love my life and would never go back.
Imi: That sounds good enough to me.
Melissa: Yeah, and I have come a long way in the past four years where I don’t think about wishing I was going to get pregnant right now. I’m excited about our future and the things that we’re doing. But I still do deal with grief and I would like to get to a point where that maybe comes up less for me. So I don’t know on a scale of one to 100 where I would put myself but I’m definitely a lot further along than I was four years ago.
Erik: My number is at 88.7.
Melissa: There you go.
Erik: That’s my number.
Imi: Thank you. It’s a good number.
Melissa: I’ve also realized that some of the things that I deal with that interfere with my happiness, I’ve realized have nothing to do with infertility, have nothing to do with this decision that I made. Sometimes the feelings all get mixed together and then I realize, no, that is something that I have always struggled with even before all of this.
ENVY, TABOO, SOCIAL MEDIA
Imi: That is very true. Yeah. Yeah. On the flip side of feeling attacked or getting unsolicited things, comments, do you think sometimes people can be envious of your life, of you being able to, well, first of all, there are lots of freedom that comes from being child-free? And at the same time, do you think sometimes people can be envious of how you’ve authentically chosen?
Melissa: I definitely
Melissa: I’m sure that there are some people that react in those ways that do feel some type of envy. Whether it is the freedom aspect that we have that maybe they don’t have, or like you said, maybe the confidence that it takes to make this type of decision, or even someone who may also be in a committed relationship who envies that we were able to come together and make a decision like this together and be okay. I think sometimes those things can come from envy, even though we have our struggles, they have their struggles, I think it is that human thing that sometimes when somebody is able to do something or does something different from you, there definitely can, some of the judgment, I think can come from envy. I don’t know if that’s what it is the majority of the time, but I do think occasionally that’s probably true.
Imi: I guess the challenge is things like envy or regret are tabooed emotions in society. I recently read a book called Regretting Motherhood, which is about actually, you can and you do sometimes regret parenthood and it’s so-
Melissa: That’s very taboo.
Imi: Oh, my God.
Melissa: Yeah, it’s very taboo to talk about people who are child-free by choice, who never wanted kids, that’s considered taboo. What we did is considered taboo. And what you just mentioned, it would be considered probably even more taboo than any of those in our society.
Imi: Yeah. Yeah. And people seem to have a very black and white understanding of things where you can love your kids and regret some parts of your parenthood. They don’t have to be neither/or.
Eric: Well, when you speak of the black and white thing, I think that’s the case for us sometimes is that people think that if we’ve decided to not have kids or live a child-free life that we hate kids. And a lot of that black and white sort of thinking we deal with because everything is sort of nuanced. And we’ve realized that a lot of the criticism is from people who are into that black and white thinking.
Melissa: Yeah, because once they know our story, they realize we don’t even fit into any of those boxes. Eric was a father. We did want kids together. But we choose to use the word child-free. It seems to be the best word available to us, for us. But yeah, you can’t make assumptions about people, but people really want to and they want to fit you in those boxes.
Imi: Indeed. I mean, just even in this whole community there’s a child-free movement of the childless people. I’m not going to get into all of that now. But it’s just to say that, yeah, people seem to have a need to categorize and make things simple.
Imi: That’s including me. That’s how our human brain works. So what do you think is the role of, I think we might have already talked about this, parental and cultural expectations? And maybe we can talk about social media? What’s your personal experience with it? Are you in the generation of being a plague? And do you think it plays a role in this whole matrix of defining what’s normal and what looks good?
Erik: I’ll let you talk about that.
Melissa: I think that social media is one of the, well, there’s a lot of negative things about social media, but I think that it has definitely played a huge part in creating this idea of a ideal norm to aspire to, this aspirational life. And included in that like in our situation would be the glorification of motherhood. You definitely will see that, pregnancy, motherhood very glorified in social media. And not really a balance of the wonderful sides of it, the deeply joyful sides of it, as well as the deeply painful parts of motherhood. You don’t necessarily see that balance. You tend to just see, like the highlight reel and the glorification of it in our culture, which is true in magazines. Paparazzi right now, it’s very glorified.
Melissa: So when those messages become that this is the norm, this is what we should all be aspiring to, just like with beauty standards, and anything else, I think social media has definitely made it harder. On the flip side, it’s helped us to be able to find people like us and connect. So there’s good and bad. But I think as far as creating these ideas of what’s normal, it’s probably been more harmful than good in my opinion.
Imi: For sure.
Erik: For me, that’s where that shield of self-care comes up. Because if you get caught up in the world of what people are doing online, especially for social media, you need something to sort of protect yourself or shield yourself from all that.
Imi: Yeah. Well, you guys seem very sorted. I wonder what kind of emotional triggers do you still have nowadays?
Erik: Oh, you’ve got one.
Melissa: Well, I had … He’s like you’re more emotional. Is that what you’re saying now? So when I talked about grief, I would say that’s the emotion that is triggered the most deeply for me.
Imi: What triggers it?
Melissa: So for example, within this past year, sometimes it surprises me too, because I’ll be doing so well for a while, and then it will just hit me. And one of the triggers is often when someone announces their pregnancy. Now, I’ve had experiences where I get a text message and I’ll feel sad for a moment, a little teary, and then I’ll be able to move on pretty quickly now. But then still sometimes there will be one that will really hit me. And I did have an experience recently with a pregnancy announcement that was in person. And so because the conversation was in person, it continued for a long period of time. And I didn’t have that time to myself to take it in and process it and sit with it before I then saw the person. It was all in person happening at once. And that brought up a lot of grief. But there were other things at play there. But that’s a big one, is pregnancy announcements, sometimes birth announcements.
Melissa: And like I said, sometimes it’s a moment of sadness, and then I move on. But sometimes it’s very difficult. That one, I was very emotional for several days. It was one where I felt very much out of the group. I wanted to participate in this group of women talking about the pregnancy. I wanted to be normal in that situation. I wanted to be able to do all that fun conversation and not be affected, but the truth was that I couldn’t and I had to draw some boundaries for myself around it within the group, which was respected, thankfully. But that’s an example of a trigger for me.
Imi: Well, then it sounds to me you have resources that you can draw upon nowadays to resource yourself to come back.
Melissa: Yeah. I think part of it is just experience of the years of dealing with it. So I kind of know, okay, I need to just let myself feel this even though it’s really painful.
BENEFITS OF BEING DIFFERENT?
Imi: Do you guys think there are any benefits to being different?
Erik: 100%. Yes, there are a lot of benefits. I think that those confinements that are associated with being in the group can be overwhelming sometimes and having the ability to step off. This reminded me of something I read on your website where you mentioned, I don’t want to misquote you, but you said, “Living as a foreigner felt comfortable to you because you felt like a foreigner in the place you grew up.”
Imi: Yeah, exactly. I do.
Erik: Yeah. And so I understand that and relate to that. And so that’s one of the great things about being different is that you can be comfortable in quote-unquote strange places.
Melissa: Also, I think you become a little bit more open-minded, I think, and more empathetic because you are doing something different. You’re getting pushback. Something about that experience makes you learn more about human behavior, become more open-minded, just from being different. And then also more empathetic when you meet people that are different, when the difference makes you a little uncomfortable. But I think it’s enriching. I think the choices we’ve made in our life have, even though some of them have been so difficult, I feel like they’ve also been enriching and also made us much more resilient.
Imi: That was the next question. What’s your definition of resilience?
Melissa: I never thought about the definition. How would I define it? I think for me, it’s almost knowing my own strength in a way that I didn’t know it when I was younger. Knowing that when tough things come and tough feelings come, I don’t have to be afraid of them and I’m not going to fall apart.
Imi: That’s a great definition.
Melissa: This inner strength that’s like, oh, I know I have that now. I did not know that before.
Imi: That’s really, really good. I think a lot of people get stuck in this powerless feeling that they experienced when they were younger and actually helpless, and forgetting that actually they are different now. They have demonstrated it again and again in their lives that they are stronger. So resilience may just be remembering actually, I can. I’m different now. I can go through hard things. Or like Eric said, I can be different and have a rich life.
Imi: So we’re coming towards the end of the conversation. Is there anything you want to throw in or questions I haven’t asked? There are two more questions, but just want to give you an opportunity too.
Melissa: I can’t think right now if I left anything out.
Imi: That’s okay.
Erik: Yeah, I think we’re good so far.
Imi: Can you share, just to sum it all up, can you share maybe three advices for our audience, or one, two, three for our audience who feel they don’t fit in, or they are wanting to make life choices that will mark them outside of the norm? They may be sitting on the fence. They’re maybe not clear. They may not have the courage to take the plunge. What would you say to them or what advice might you give them?
Melissa: I feel like it’s really important to really have a good sense of how you’re feeling. I guess what I’m saying is to not make a decision too fast. If you want to jump into something but you also don’t want to not do it because you’re afraid, so kind of assessing your feelings about something, spending some time really thinking about that, and journaling. And like I said before, for me, having an outside person like a therapist to bounce those things off of really is helpful to me, or a person that you really trust, who cares about you. It’s helpful to assess where you’re at, how you’re feeling, and then get to a place where you can make the decision and feel really confident about it.
Erik: For me, what I would say is, for people who are really struggling with sort of living fully authentically as a different person, I think it’s freeing to be yourself. And if you’ve been struggling with not being authentic, it’s got to be better than where you are right now. And maybe not necessarily it could be worse, but it’s probably going to be better than the life you’re living now where you’re being inauthentic and you’re not having authentic relationships and things like that. So that would be my advice, is it’s probably going to be better for you to live authentically. You’ll have real friends. You’ll have real relationships. You’ll be in places you really want to be, instead of looking around and feeling like you never fit in. I just couldn’t imagine going through any more time in that space than I wanted to. You got to try to take that step.
Imi: That’s beautifully said. Thank you. Final question, can you recommend one or two books for us, maybe a book that has changed your life?
Erik: I didn’t read that question.
Melissa: So specific to what I went through, one of the books that helped me the most, there’s a few, but one of them was actually this book, this small book that was written in the ’80s, called Sweet Grapes. And it’s about choosing the child-free resolution to infertility as a way to move forward and find an exciting new life with new plans. And it was written by a married couple. And even though it was written in the ’80s, where there was a very different infertility frontier, scientifically, everything that they say still holds up. And that helped me to actually even determine to use the language child-free. It helped me to just have a mindset that was a little bit more empowering.
Melissa: And then another one, The Next Happy by Tracey Cleantis was very helpful to me. And it’s about when you had a dream and you’ve been pursuing something, and there comes a point when you realize it’s probably healthier for you to let that dream go.
Imi: What is it called again? It sounds good.
Melissa: The Next Happy.
Imi: The Next Happy. I’ll make a note.
Melissa: Yeah. So sometimes you are pursuing your life dreams so hardcore, and our culture is telling you don’t give up, don’t give up. And I know at least here, that American culture, the messages here are very much, go after your dream at every cost, at any cost. If you work hard enough, it’s going to come true. But sometimes you come to a place where you know that it’s time for that dream to die and that’s actually the best thing for you to move forward and enjoy your life and find a new direction and a new dream. And so that that was very helpful for me.
Imi: Of course, you also picked-
Erik: I’m racking my brain. Sorry. I’m racking my brain trying to think of a book. I read so many books. I really couldn’t think of one particular book. But I will say this, in terms of genre of books, one thing that’s been helpful for me, strangely, is historical biographies. And so I like to read books about people who have done remarkable things or changed the world. And when I read books like that, it helps me to understand sort of going back to what I just said, when you have a dream or something inside of you that you want to do, look to people who have done those kinds of things. And I do that with reading historical biographies.
Imi: Wow. Yeah. Actually, I know a lot of successful people who does that.
Erik: Oh, really?
Imi: So I think you’re on the right track.
Imi: Well, thank you so, so much for your time today. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. It’s a little different to what I usually do and it’s so enjoyable and useful.
Melissa: Well, thank you. And we really appreciate you wanting to talk with us and we knew we’d have an interesting and enjoyable conversation. And what you do, and reading about what you do, and reading your bio, we were like, oh, this is our lane. We will enjoy this.
Erik: Yeah. 100% we loved reading, looking at your videos, and your YouTube channel. We read your bio.
Melissa: It was helpful [inaudible 00:49:02].
Imi: Oh, thank you so much for your lovely words. It means a lot. Okay.