Alexis Jones, JOY HUNTER: Messy Faceplants, Radical Love, and the Journey That Changed Everything

Alexis Jones, JOY HUNTER: Messy Faceplants, Radical Love, and the Journey That Changed Everything

Zibby speaks to internationally recognized speaker, activist, and author Alexis Jones about Joy Hunter, a captivating and cinematic memoir about her journey to rediscover her own power and happiness. She discusses the themes of vulnerability, enduring hardships like infertility, unearthing family secrets, and navigating the complexities of identity and self-worth. Alexis also touches on the transformative power of sharing stories. She and @zibbyowens traverse the book’s heartfelt depiction of finding joy in small moments and the cathartic journey of airing one’s internal battles.


Zibby Owens: Hi, Alexis. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Alexis Jones: Of course. Are you kidding? Best title of any podcast I’ve ever heard in my life. It was a no-brainer. It’s so true.

Zibby: Speaking of good titles, Joy Hunter: Messy Faceplants, Radical Love, and the Journey That Changed Everything. Pretty amazing.

Alexis: Thank you. Thank you.

Zibby: I’m sure people say this all the time. I feel like I know you now that I’ve read your book. I feel so close to you and all the things you’ve gone through. I’m just so rooting for you. I couldn’t put your book down. I was just like, what’s going to happen next? I feel so bad for this going on and that going — it was a very emotional ride. The whole thing was an emotional ride.

Alexis: Thank you. It is funny because I have really dear friends who are like, I didn’t know that happened. It is funny with people who don’t know you and people who you know really well who then read your book. They’re like, I didn’t know X, Y, and Z. It is kind of the definition of vulnerability, of putting all your guts out into the world for people to hopefully feel something.

Zibby: Tell everybody, why did you decide to write this book?

Alexis: Oh, gosh. That’s the first time I’ve been asked that question. That’s a really good question. I think it was because fundamentally, the backbone and the through line of everything I’ve ever done professionally and the things that really make me tick are connection. I think we’ve never lived in a world in which we, ironically, feel so connected through technology and through social media, but we’re actually living in a pandemic of loneliness. For me, it was like, yes, I’d gone through, as you know, this crazy journey. There are aspects of it that are relatable and aspects that are utterly unrelatable about it. Mainly, it was just, if I can offer parts of myself out into the world, the hope was that people wouldn’t feel so alone on their own journeys. Life is crazy and messy and wonderful and complicated and confusing. I think sometimes when we’re brave enough to share stories with people, that hopefully it inspires them to be brave enough to follow suit.

Zibby: I love that. Yes, opening up is the quickest way to get other people to open up. There are so many different things to address. One is when you were full steam ahead doing so, so much, which I obviously relate to. I shouldn’t say obviously. You don’t know me, but I relate to a lot. Like many women and perhaps men, whatever, we get into those traps where we have to do this. We say yes to that. You ignore your health or your body or whatever because you’re so focused. Tell me about that and when you, and I know you write about this, shift gears and realize and hit bottom, if you will.

Alexis: For me, exactly to your point, we see so many women who, not only are they leaning in, they’re planking in their lives. Witnessing my mom’s work ethic growing up — she was a single mom. She got pregnant really young at sixteen. She was working two jobs, going to night school, raising five kids. The insanity of her work ethic, it was just by osmosis. I just thought that was normal. Starting in fourth grade, we would go back to the bar that she would bartend at night to help clean seven days a week to make extra money for the family. Before rolling up to fourth-grade elementary school, I would’ve already been up two hours and already cleaned an entire bar and cleaned urinals and stocked beer. I think part of the work ethic was I just didn’t know any other way. I was like, grit, resilience, grind, repeat. There’s two sides of every coin. There were aspects of that that were really helpful as far as getting a scholarship and going to undergrad and master’s and starting companies and all these things. The reality was, unchecked, it became my identity. I am someone who gets shit done.

I always use that analogy that they talk about with the frog. They keep increasing the water one degree, one degree, one degree. Then before you know it, the frog is boiling. I think that’s what ended up happening. It was very unintentional. I was just like, one more event, two more days on the road, three more days on the road, four, five. Then before I know it, I’m traveling 250 days a year and woke up and was like, how did I get here? To answer the second part of that question, how did I have the epiphany to slow down? I think if left to my own devices, I would’ve never slowed down. I think it was a divine intervention of multiple things, what I refer to as everything going wrong all at the same time. That was the only way my bullet train was going to get shut down. For me, it was COVID happening. It immediately shut my entire career down. I had 150 events on the calendar already for 2020. Every single event was canceled. My income went to zero.

Growing up a kid without any money and having created a huge ego around, I’m a badass boss lady, all of a sudden, it was like my identity of ascribing a sense of self directly commensurate to how much money I was making — I immediately go on unemployment. My worst nightmare paradigm of scarcity is massively triggered. We had been trying to get pregnant for years. We did IVF. We finally got pregnant. We lost the baby. I found out my dad wasn’t my biological father on, which is revealing this huge family secret. I think there’s a reason it’s cliché. For any of your listeners, you start nodding when you’re like, it’s cliché for a reason that when it rains, it pours. It’s not if, but when. It was my moment of, there is not one more thing in my life that can possibly go wrong. They would be like, oh, but there is. It was a very, very humbling moment of just an atomic blast in my life. I think it was the first time ever that I hit pause on everything. I was like, nothing is working. Hopped in an RV and went to go chase an adventure with no intention of healing the parts inside of me that I’d really been running away from my whole life.

Zibby: Isn’t it crazy that that was only a couple years ago? This is not something that happened to you twenty years ago and it took you a while, but you got back on your feet. That just happened. Already, you’ve regrouped. By the end of the book even, you’re in a new state. You have a whole new frame of mind. Now you have a baby and a book and all this stuff. 2020 and hitting bottom, that was a pretty quick reversal, all things considered. Not that it makes it any better.

Alexis: I’m so glad you’re saying that because it’s easy to glaze over the faceplants. It’s easy to be like, that was so hard. 2020, everything went wrong, but look at my life now. You’re just like, oh, god. When you’re in that really dark place in your life where you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, and whether that is someone that you love who is sick, and especially that intersection of the unknowable and the uncontrollable circumstances — for us, we had five years of our infertility journey of just roadblock after roadblock after roadblock. I think it’s easy to look back and say, oh, that was only three years ago. Look at how different my life looks. There were days were felt like infinity. There were months that felt like infinity times infinity where I was just like, do I have a career anymore? How do I make money moving forward? Will we ever get pregnant? There were so many unanswered questions. Probably like any parent who’s like, the years are short, but the days are long, I think that when you’re really in your own unique life storm, that those days can feel like forever. Yes, looking back, I’m like, that is kind of crazy. It’s only been three years. My goodness, there were endless moments throughout that time where the darkness felt like it was never going to lift.

Zibby: You really wrote about that really well, the section when you would see the slippers and all of that. How you felt in the aftermath of your miscarriage was one of the most raw depictions of that feeling and of loss in general, frankly. You had some line like, you just didn’t even really feel like a soul anymore or something. You were barely living. To be the reader, we felt it. I felt it. I’m so sorry you went through that.

Alexis: Thank you. It’s interesting how our hurt and our pain is quite literally the glue that holds our humanity together. As polarized as it feels like the country is and people focusing on all the things that make us different, the one unique thing that no matter what, where you are, the metrics of diversity is that you and I can come together over the pieces of our lives that are our greatest heartbreaks. No matter what, we hurt, maybe differently. Maybe there’s a different label to it. That was something that I was trying to capture in sharing. Even at the time, my editor was like, “Wow, you’re really going there,” when it came to certain parts of the book. I said, “Listen, I don’t want to put out another fluff.” I think that’s harmful, actually. With the highlight reels on social media, people’s lives, I think it’s actually harmful if we aren’t being really authentic and honest because it’s human nature to compare ourselves. I’m really happy, I don’t want to say that that resonated, but I’m really happy that you felt that because that was my intention. My intention was, no bars hold. We’re going to go there. I think that no matter what, we all have that in common. Whether it’s a miscarriage or a loss of a dream or a loss of a person or a loss of a job, there’s so many ways that humans experience loss. No matter what, it’s painful.

Zibby: With loss, even in the best-case scenario in COVID, the days were a hundred years long. To pile on especially the lack of support, you talk about how you went to that — oh, my god, and the scene with your friend driving up.

Alexis: I have to text you the video. I posted it on social media when it happened. It was one of the most profound displays of radical love that I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. Every time I watch the video, I cry. Every single time. I didn’t even know that my husband was filming it. He came out behind me and was filming us dancing because she had driven four hours roundtrip just to dance with me for one song. It was such a beautiful moment.

Zibby: It gives me goosebumps, oh, my gosh. Meanwhile, in the depths of your coping with that loss and that journey and all of that — journey is such a cliché word, but that experience, essentially, you’re also — you take us into this from the beginning, this search for who you are, really. Who is your dad? What is your mom hiding? Trying to peel the information from her. I hate to give anything away. The way it finally comes out and what you learn and even your dad — I don’t know what I can say. Your dad’s response, oh, my gosh.

Alexis: It is appropriate to say it is a journey. We’re all on these wild journeys. I think that for me, through that experience of finding out my dad was not my biological father — like you, it’s not giving too much away. I think that it was very apropos that I would end up eventually having a conversation with my dad who raised me, who is my real-life Superman, as I mentioned, who coached everything I ever played, who is just bigger than life. The conversation about the fact that what parenthood really is, is a relentless love and a relentless choice and a relentless commitment, that would be a year or two — I’m lost in all the timelines of everything, but before I would find out that we’d have to bring in an egg donor for me to eventually get pregnant. It was this beautiful planting of seeds that would eventually allow me to accept, with far less resistance and less grieving, that I wouldn’t be able to participate in my child’s life biologically because I had been the recipient of such a radical love. I had complete confidence that even if I am not my son’s biological mother, that is like, are you kidding me? That is not the thing. That is not what makes me a mother. What makes me a mother is the fact that yet again, he woke me up at two o’clock in the morning screaming, and there’s nothing I would rather do in that moment. Well, let’s be honest, I would rather sleep. I would much rather sleep. However, the compulsion to love him is actually bigger than any desire that I have for myself. It was a big lesson.

Zibby: First of all, that’s amazing and such a full-circle thing, a lesson you learned just at the right time. It’s one of those universe things. Can you tell me what happened after the book? Now I want the PS of everything.

Alexis: Of course. Absolutely, which is really interesting because in writing books, usually, the editing process is about a year and can be longer than that but on average is about a year. I spent about a year writing the book and then a whole nother year editing it. Then you pick out the cover. There’s all these steps that have to happen until the book actually hits the shelves. Two weeks after I submitted my final manuscript, as you read, we still didn’t know how we were going to get pregnant. We kind of were back to square one two weeks after submitting it. Because a whole nother year happens, there was a lot more heartbreak. That’s part of it too. I’m really cautious that when people read the book and then they go to my social media and they’re like, wait, but now she has a kid — okay, her rainbow happened. It all worked out. I’m like, oh, girl, not only did it not all work out, but we would still yet find out that we would have to get an egg donor. That was a whole nother journey that took almost nine months, to court an egg donor.

I always joke that — it was still on the tail ends of COVID. I have a wicked, inappropriate, dark sense of humor. That’s just how I cope with hard things in life. My girlfriends would talk about how hard it was having to online date during COVID. I would be like, you know what’s harder? Having to online date for a baby mama for your husband to reproduce with. We ended up hiring an egg donor. Then we would hit another huge roadblock where I was having a lot of complications with the hormones. Then we had a doctor say that we were going to have to hire a surrogate. Then I was heartbroken again at the thought of not being able to carry. We would eventually get a second opinion. We only had two embryos. Anyone in the fertility/infertility space knows how sacred and precious these little embryos are. We only had two. We ended up doing the transfer two weeks after I submitted my final manuscript. I told my husband, I was like, “Don’t even make eye contact with me for ten days. I don’t want that face of, babe, what if it works out?” We’d been trying this for five years. I was like, there’s no way.

Zibby: The transfer was to a surrogate or to you?

Alexis: To me. We got a second opinion. Our second-opinion doctor said, “I actually think that you can carry.” I remember telling him, the next phrase out of my mouth was, “You need to be very careful with the words coming out of your mouth because we’ve been doing this for five years.” I wrote about it in the book. For people who are on that kind of journey, and not just infertility journey, but as we talked about, any dream you’ve been fighting for for years, to have someone give you a glimmer of hope, you’re like, you got to be real cautious with your words because hope can feel so dangerous. You’re like, I’m just so afraid to hold onto hope because what if I’m disappointed again? What if my heart is physically ripped out of my chest again? When we did the embryo transfer, we didn’t tell anyone. We flew from Montana to Houston. Didn’t tell our parents. Didn’t tell any friends. Like I said, I told my husband, “Don’t even make eye contact with me because I don’t even want to see your little hopeful eyes being like, what if this works? What if this time?” Then sure enough, ten days later, they call me and say, “Congratulations. You’re pregnant.” My husband, anyone who knows him, he’s a 6’9″ poster boy of feminism. He just starts weeping. I’m like a stone-cold killer. I was like, it’s probably not going to work. We didn’t tell anyone for months because I didn’t want to jinx it. I didn’t want to hold the weight of other people’s expectations. By the eighth month, I was like, okay, now we can tell people, that and it was kind of obvious. Bro, you’re pregnant.

Zibby: By the eighth month?

Alexis: Yeah, by the eighth month. We had told our closest friends and family three, four months in. Then by the eighth month, we were more open about it. At that point, I think I felt like I deserved an easy pregnancy and I deserved an easy labor because things had been so hard. Then my husband hops on a plane to Cabo for his last hurrah. He’s going on a golf trip. My water breaks seven weeks early, which was the worst, most terrifying nightmare, being in a hospital by myself thinking I was going to go into labor at any moment. My husband, once again, is bawling trying to get the first flight back. I end up living in the hospital for two and a half weeks as we keep him baking in his little oven. He ended up coming five weeks early. His lungs were really compromised, so he was whisked off to the NICU. Ended up having an emergency C-section. The interesting thing, the reason I share all that — then he ended up coming home on oxygen for two and a half weeks. That was almost five weeks between the NICU and him being home on oxygen. I’ll be honest. I’d just written this book, this book about when things get really hard, this is how you hunt for joy. This is how you find joy regardless of your circumstances. I’d certainly communicated my thoughts about, there’s always purpose to our pain and that time is the only revealer. That was a huge lesson for me. The interesting thing was it’s one thing to write about this stuff. It’s one thing to talk the talk. Then his entire, what I refer to as his grand entrance into the world, I always say that that was my invitation to walk it. Again, it’s one thing to talk about finding the perfect, tiny moments that exist every single day in the midst of challenging, terrifying circumstances.

There were real moments where my life was in question, where my son’s life was in question when he was born. I remember lying on the OR table being like, I don’t actually think I’d survive losing him at that point. Then that proceeded for the next several weeks where every day, I was like, is he going to be okay? Are his lungs going to develop? The reason that I share how hard that is is that life is relentless. It’s not like, oh, thank god, 2020, that was hard. Moving on. Life has been rainbows and ponies and sunshine ever since. It actually got a lot harder. I think the difference is I had had all this practice, this spiritual practice, this emotional, this mental practice of hunting for — that is literally why I use that word. Growing up, I was super competitive with my four older brothers hunting for easter eggs. It was the idea that there are these brightly colored little eggs of joy that had chocolate all around, but you had to train yourself to find them in the backyard and stuff. That is what it felt like for me. I went into training so that every single day — I’m saying sometimes it was thirty seconds in a day. I’d be like, that was it. Okay, there it was, one perfect moment of joy. Maybe it was walking outside to get the mail and the sunshine hitting me in the face and feeling the warmth of that sunshine and being like, okay, there it was. I got it. I got it today. I think when we train ourselves, where are those perfect, tiny moments that we often miss? if we can start collecting those — then what I found is that, as any new mom knows, it’s brutal, those first couple months. I think that while it’s wonderful to see photos of me holding my son — he is perfect and huge and chubby and healthy now.

Motherhood, parenthood is really hard. I don’t think we have enough conversations about how really hard it is. That practice continues in my life. Again, it wasn’t like life stopped being hard. It just continues to be hard in different ways. I remember telling Brad even with our infertility stuff, I said, “You know, this is our thing right now. This is the thing that hurts for us. If it’s not this, it’s going to be something else, so let’s choose the suffering. Let’s choose the pain that we have in our life. We’re choosing the pain of really, really wanting to become parents.” A couple weeks after Bridger was born, we ended up finding — I was like, oh, my god, our journey. Now we have a kid. Now our pain point isn’t infertility. Weeks later, we found out Brad’s dad has cancer. I was like, it’s just something else. That’s real talk. That’s life. There’s nothing perfect about it. It’s not when. It’s if. It’s if over and over and over again that we have heartbreak and disappointment. That’s why I felt like this message was timely, not just for my own life that continues to be awesome and really hard, but hopefully, that maybe through this story, that other people could extrapolate their own easter eggs in their own lives not only when things are hard, but even just in everyday life.

Zibby: First of all, you are so amazing. You are so inspiring. It’s true. Everything, of course, that you’re saying is true. Life doesn’t necessarily line up the timelines of the pain. It doesn’t always work that we got through infertility, and now here comes the cancer. Often, they’re all bundled up together. You’re like, seriously? All these people at the same time are dying, or whatever it is in your life. I feel like personally, any day where something is not really — I don’t even want to say it out loud.

Alexis: I know. I’m like, knock on wood. Knock on wood.

Zibby: I don’t even want to say it out loud. I know what that terrible pain is like. I know it will come back. I’m not a moron, or either or it’ll happen to me. How do you live tentatively enjoying the joy of the present always knowing what’s hovering?

Alexis: I think what’s uniquely human is so many people think that we shouldn’t have problems. If there’s problems or if there’s pain or if there’s suffering, then something is wrong, as opposed to being like, no, there are entire — Buddhism is all about, suffering is the point. That is where we learn things. That is where we grow. There’s entire religions that are talking about pain and suffering not as something to be avoided or sidestepped or when it happens, immediately solved. It is just something to experience. To bring the conversation full circle, when I was on my bullet train checking off boxes and hiking the world’s biggest mountains and running for the biggest offices and standing on the biggest stages, I always had this very external display of bravery. I’m going to jump out of planes. I’m going to swim with sharks. I’m going to do all these things that I think we perceive as brave. Now what I found is the bravest thing that I do every day is I sit silently with myself. That was something I’d been running away from my whole life, was sitting with myself and really listening to that internal voice. I think when we’re young, we do it so effortlessly. We know exactly who we are when we’re young before the world gets its hand on us. Then we get tied up in knots. I just saw that Barbie movie. There’s this monologue in there that I was bawling.

Zibby: Me too.

Alexis: It was like, it’s so hard to be a woman. It is so hard to be a woman. It’s so hard to be a mom. It’s such confusing messaging. The bravest, most beautiful, most loving thing that we can do — I’m saying five minutes. If you don’t have five minutes for yourself, you don’t have a life. Sitting down for five minutes saying, I love you and I accept you exactly as you are today, those tiny, little intentions, that is so much more brave than anything I used to do. Although, I still do all those things. I still hike big mountains and swim with sharks and jump out of planes, but it’s a different part of me that’s being exercised. Now there’s the stillness within that I didn’t have access to before when I was on a bullet train going two thousand miles an hour.

Zibby: Wow, oh, my gosh. There must be another book about this part two, right? Are we writing it now?

Alexis: It’s funny you say that. When my water broke, which is a total phenomenon — very rarely happens. Less than three percent of pregnancies in the hospital here in Bozeman, Montana, where I live. They say it happens maybe once every two years. It happened to three of us, three different women within a week of each other. Our water broke, and we all came in early. We lived in the hospital together. I just wrote an op-ed about it saying that basically, it’s the start of an inappropriate joke. These three women walk into a hospital, and we ended up living together. Then all of our babies were in the NICU together. Now we hike these big, beautiful Montana mountains together. Of course, my book agents and everyone was like, oh, my god, this is going to be an amazing next book. I was like, yo, we got to give me a second. I need a deep breath. That’s the beautiful thing. My story is no more unique than anyone else’s. That’s what I love the most, is that every single human being has a story to tell and a story to share. As honored as I am to share my own, I think the thing that makes me tick the most is when people reach out to me and they’re like, this happened to me. I’m like, tell me your story. We have so much to learn from each other. I don’t think anyone’s story is more important or more profound than anyone else’s. I’m sure that I will continue to tell stories, hopefully, for the rest of my life.

Zibby: Alexis, you’re sensational. I feel like I just got a private session with some sort of guru. You have something really special about you. I hope I get to meet you in person. I want to go see . Now I understand why you had — not that I didn’t understand, but even speaking to you, yes, of course, everybody wants you to get up and speak in front of their audiences. You’re amazing.

Alexis: Come to Montana. Come visit me. Come meet Bridger.

Zibby: I might. I was there in 2020, actually, was my last time.

Alexis: You’re due for another visit. Anytime. I’m telling you, I’m the beacon of — all the locals despise me because I’m like, come to Montana. A collection of incredible people. I would love to hug you in person. I have to warn you, I am a really intense hugger. I love to hug. Consider yourself warned.

Zibby: I hug everybody. I’m so glad we connected. Thank you so much for your time. Congrats on your book.

Alexis: Thank you. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. I hope to hang out at some point.

Zibby: Me too, for sure. Buh-bye.

Alexis: Bye.

JOY HUNTER: Messy Faceplants, Radical Love, and the Journey That Changed Everything by Alexis Jones

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