The Art of Finding Hope
An Interview with Michelle Torres
Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Laredo, a border town in Texas that is known for being the gateway to Mexico. A place where we would spend weekends and summers at my grandma's house in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. It was such a normal routine for my brothers and I to get home from school on a Friday afternoon and pack for the weekend in Mexico. Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas are sister cities who share similar cultures. Everything from food, language, music, playing the Mexican lottery in the front porch, and so forth are all so similar, yet still not quite the same cultural traditions from my Mexican family. Laredo, Texas is known for embracing the Hispanic culture. With a 95 percent Hispanic and Latino population, it is the least diverse city where English seems to be a secondary language. There is a considerable difference between the "Mexican" and the "Latino" community in Laredo: the language. People from Nuevo Laredo who reside in Laredo, Texas speak a more formal Spanish, whereas, in Laredo Texas, Spanglish is more popular.
Being Mexican-American myself, it did not take long before I realized the residents of Laredo, Texas were more "TEX-MEX," than "MEX-MEX" like my family and I. That was the challenging part growing up; unlike my friend's parents, mine didn't speak English. Our native language is Spanish, and that was all that was spoken at home. As a child, I had a considerable disadvantage in the education system.
So much so that in my early childhood education, my professors would only speak to me in Spanish which didn't help me at all. I also attended a Spanish Catholic school to receive my first communion in Laredo, Texas. I didn't even get the opportunity to learn my prayers in English. Looking back, I only wish I had some vote or opinion on this matter. As I got a little older, I remember feeling so embarrassed at times because of my strong accent or not knowing how to pronounce certain words. Living within a low-income household also made things a little more complicated.
Watching Nickelodeon was beyond exciting for me. I learned so much just by watching shows like "Clarissa Explains It All," "Are You Afraid of The Dark," and "All That."But it was not until I was in the fourth grade that I was assigned to a devoted, patient, and dedicated professor who also spoke both languages. He focused on teaching me how to speak proper English. My professor and coach, Jesus Reynaga, played an essential role in my childhood. Thanks to his guidance, I became a more confident student and athlete.
Being part of a Mexican family and growing up in a border town was not easy — especially with deep-rooted "machismo" and mixture of Texas and Mexican cultures. Overall, I was grateful for living in Texas which allowed my mother to become a legal resident.
Do you have any siblings?
Yes, we are a total of 4. I have two brothers and one sister.
Do you prefer the country or the city?
Even though I grew up in a small border town, I already consider myself a Dallas girl! I'm way too energetic to be a country girl. I might leave that for retirement. For now, I'm a city girl, always on the go; running errands, grabbing tacos and drive-thru coffee.
Name one quality your parents/families instilled in you at a young age?
I grew up with a strict single mother that always managed to face life’s challenges with bravery. Her demeanor was tough and courageous; but without her knowing it she became my role model. She inspired me to be brave, to stand up for myself, and fight against the impossible. For if I failed, I knew I had given it my all.
She just did. I grew up watching her acts of kindness; she would always give and never asked for anything in return. Our little home was visited continuously by our neighborhood friends, who played soccer with us, and would later stay for supper. I remember (on occasion) not having enough food but somehow she would still managed to feed everyone. My mother is well-known for being a strong woman with a good heart who fights like a warrior. As my role model, she had an astounding effect on my life and a significant impact on my childhood. Not only did she help me determine the type of adult I wanted to be, she also helped me discover how she and I differed. While I admired her, after I grew up, I realized I was NOT like my mother. As a matter of fact, I was very different. I was a unique young lady with bigger aspirations; less harsh and more optimistic. I had a softer heart with dreams and hopes of becoming something bigger. Looking back, I realize I didn't want to become a conformist. I have so much respect for my mother and all I’ve ever wanted to do was make her proud. And looking at it now, I think the desire to please her was precisely what shaped me into the woman I am today.
When you were a little girl, what did you want to be when you 'grew up'? And why?
Well, as children, we change our minds a lot as to what we want to be when we grow up. I remember daydreaming of being a United States Marine. [laughs] As a child, my family named me the “Gatekeeper” of our home and I guess I took that job very seriously. When I was about ten years old, I would walk towards our gate at night to make sure the lock was on right before bedtime. I made sure all the windows were locked and secured. I remember feeling important and responsible. Even though I was not the oldest, this role made me feel like I was protecting my family. It was such an amazing feeling, which I think just got stuck within my persona. Later, as time went on, I was given another nickname: “The Attorney" (because of all the debates and arguments I had with my mother.) Like an Attorney, I was always building a case to defend my innocence and avoid punishment.
One day in my 20’s, when I was working as a criminal paralegal, I had an epiphany. There I was wearing a business suit, working shoes, carrying a suitcase with a coffee in one hand and walking towards the Criminal Dallas County Court. Just like Ally McBeal! Though I was not an attorney, I had a career at a law firm which was a huge triumph for me as a woman.
As young women, we are often molded by strong female figures. Would you say that is true?
Absolutely. I remember admiring my aunt Adriana so much; she was a fitness instructor and gym owner. She was my idol. I watched her be a busy mother and business owner while pursuing her passion for fitness. I remember I wanted to be like her. The saying of “children are great imitators” is actually very accurate. I would observe her habits of not drinking sodas at our family social events, so I started doing the same. With all honesty, I can say I have not consumed a single soda for over 20 years! I admired her dedication to fitness and living a healthy lifestyle with moderation. The fact that she was doing it all: raising children, running a business, and taking care of her health. What woman doesn’t want to be able to do all that?!
Tell us about your passion! What do you do?
I have a passion for fashion, creativity, embracing natural beauty, and making new business relationships. I wanted to make sure my network strategies for my incoming new business were heading in the right direction. As the business owner of VIVIFY BOUTIQUE, I will be opening doors in Spring of 2020, and everything I am doing now is for networking purposes.
What are some things that make your brand unique?
VIVIFY BOUTIQUE represents a fashionable platform that offers trending and elegant wardrobe targeting all types of women. The purpose of my brand is to boost women's confidence by not only rocking a Vivify Boutique outfit but also embracing BEAUTY WITHOUT STANDARDS. What do I mean by beauty without standards? Well, as a retailer business, I am offering the OTHER options. I am NOT offering your typical Kim Kardashian or Kylie Jenner styles that everyone thinks they need to have in their closets.
I'm envisioning a bigger picture, and I want to bring elegance and sexy back without having to look like your typical social media celebrities. My focus is to encourage women to be okay with not having to buy these popular outfits just of the simple fact that a famous Instagram influencer is wearing it. With all due respect to all women in the industry, I truly believe social media celebrities are overrated and it is definitely time for a change. The social media platform has been making it easier for consumers to shop directly from brands and influencers. That’s actually great for business, what I’d like to encourage is to push the “OTHER” that is not seen because it’s not supported as a popular trend by current influencers.
Well, we see similar styles, similar faces, similar makeup, etc. all circulating social media. Many famous bloggers often post photos of upscale items or trending products that are "A MUST," and consumers can’t help but copy them. Then the social effect occurs when trying to mimic the same lifestyle by purchasing the same items. All of this is still fine because fashion is fashion regardless. However, the problem occurs when a person loses their self-esteem, due to its false standards, which, in my opinion, is quite a shame.
What are some things you’re doing now to prepare for your launch next year?
Becoming a fashion model has opened many doors by enabling me to meet the right people in the same industry. I initiated a network strategy by placing myself as a fashion model and set up projects and collaborations that were mutually beneficial for both parties. I have been supporting other business women by promoting their brands, and in return, I have been putting myself out there building business relationships. My whole idea here was to embrace women empowerment, women supporting each other by lifting each other. I genuinely believe there is so much space for every woman to succeed without competing. I believe in a more community over competition movement, where women have a support system where we can share tips, struggles, and success stories with each other through networking. Although someone else's success might provoke some intimidation, I feel it should instead stimulate some motivation. I have a strong desire to learn from other successful business women who embrace healthy competition by supporting each other in the process of running their business.
When we first spoke, you mentioned wanting to raise awareness on a very special issue. Tell us about a challenging time in your life and how did you deal with it?
As a woman, I felt that had already achieved so much in life: school, marriage, and multiple careers. All I was missing was one essential role: to become a mother but I was not getting any younger. Not being able to become pregnant was extremely stressful and the most challenging phase in my life. I tried and did everything I was supposed to do, and nothing was happening for me. Different doctors gave me a variety of diagnoses, but it was just not working it out. Depression came in hard at times. There were moments where I would just give up on everything and sadness would all but consume me. I'm coming forward with this now because I would like to share my story to hopefully offer other women a relatable experience. Rather, know that you are not alone and that there is hope. I never really shared these emotions with anyone -- not even my husband -- because I was afraid people would think me weak.
Keeping everything in, crying alone in the shower, --or at random times in the car while driving alone -- and keeping it all inside is the worst thing you can do. I personally sunk into a deep depression without telling anyone and disguised it in front of others. Deep in my heart I knew I was meant to be a mother before anything else. So, after a long stressful journey I sought the help of a fertility specialist. This fertility clinic gave me something I never thought I would gain back: HOPE! After conversing with the fertility specialist, he was honest and warned me of the risks and that the process was not a guarantee. All I knew was that I wanted this with all my heart and I was willing to go through everything to become a mother. So, I started fertility treatments.
Going through fertility treatments was extremely difficult. It was mentally and physically exhausting, expensive, frustrating, and isolating. The problem concerning IVF is that there is still so much silence and shame about it. Even I was ashamed, I wanted to keep all this to myself because I felt embarrassed.
Or rather, it was always about how I thought other people would react. Public and cultural ignorance on the process and the careless, insensitive comments of others cut me deep when I had already sacrificed so much. Comments like, “You’re too skinny, that’s why you are not getting pregnant." or “Are you sure you want to do that, [IVF] that’s not normal.” The lowest point came when I discovered someone very close to me had gotten rid of all my left-over IVF treatment needles. I was keeping those for a reason, and apparently, that person felt it was their place to destroy them so others wouldn’t see. My husband and I were distraught and in shock. This person had violated our wishes and had no right to destroy something so meaningful to us. Every needle meant something. Every day was different; sometimes the pain was horrible and other days not so bad. The entire IVF process was draining and exhausting in so many ways. The worst part is not knowing if everything you’re doing will result in a successful pregnancy. Women need to create a support system to educate our loved ones and create connections to stop ignorance and empower through knowledge. Infertility does not have to be suffered in silence, and together we can create sensitivity and awareness.
Thank you for sharing such a truly personal and inspiring story. We’re all wondering: Did IVF work for you?
After eight long years of silently dreaming of becoming a mother, God blessed me with positive results through IVF treatment. I am not going to lie; IVF was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to go through. By far, it was the most physically, mentally, and emotionally draining event in my life. The entire process drains your self-worth and weakens your mental state; leaving you hopeless and afraid at times. Doctors were so brutally honest yet offered no guarantees. They discussed the chances of multiple pregnancies and the possible risks associated with it, such as risking my own life, fetal deaths, miscarriage, or premature delivery. I remember the doctor repeatedly saying, “In your case, I do not recommend twins.” Knowing I had no control of my embryo could possibly split into two was nerve-wracking. I went to sleep every night afraid I would lose my child or my own life in the process. I would pray every night and ask God to protect my child and me. I told him I fully accepted whatever his plans were, I just wanted us to be okay.
Because this experience felt like a true miracle, my husband and I decided not to choose the gender of our baby. Rather, we accepted whatever God decided it would be. For a little over four months we didn’t know the gender of our child until our family revealed it to us at a gender reveal. When I learned it was a baby boy, I immediately imagined myself playing basketball with him and teaching him how to rebound, dribble a ball, and how to be a team player in life. Even after the first trimester, it was still unbelievable that I was finally going to be a mother!
A lot of times I would think, this is too good to be true! At the beginning of my pregnancy we decided to keep it to ourselves and I waited three full months to announce it to the world. Announcing the words, “I’m pregnant!” WOW. No words could explain my excitement. I am so blessed that IVF worked for me and I will forever be grateful. After a very long IVF journey of physical and emotional pain I later realized I should have done things differently.
I met some women who also had gone through similar experiences (some with stories far worse than mine) and I didn’t give myself the time to reflect. I remember leaving the clinic with a huge smile on my face after learning I was pregnant. I was walking towards the elevator, as was another woman, coming out of the fertility clinic. She noticed my excited face as I clutched my results. She immediately knew I had received good news. She congratulated me and wished me the best of luck. With a smile she said, “This year will be my year, I just know it!” Intrigued, I asked her how long she had been trying. She replied, “This is my fifth attempt.” I couldn’t help but lean over to hug her and wish her all the best. As I walked towards my vehicle, I realized how lucky and blessed I was. I couldn’t even imagine having to go through what I did four more times.
I have such admiration for all the women who go through this because IVF can wear on your spirit, especially as a woman. I realized some women were not as lucky as I was and would have to repeat the process multiple times unsuccessfully.
I wish I’d been more open to talking about it during the first stage, but I just didn’t want anyone to know. The fact was that plenty of other women were also going through a similar process that involved a high financial expense, mixed hormones, and self-administered shots. It was a great relief to know that I was not the only one. It somehow made me feel I like I was part of this 'clan' of strong and brave women who were surviving each stage along the way. IVF was incredibly emotional. Moreso for me because I isolated myself and internalized everything.
What would you like to say to other women going through fertility treatments now?
To any woman who is going through fertility challenges: my advice is to talk about it and let everything out. The good, the bad, your hopes, and your failures. It is totally okay to vent to your support system and know you are not alone. Avoid the mistake of making your supporters feel awkward with your silence. If they love you, they genuinely want the best for you and will have a sincere interest in your process.
On Giving Birth
When the moment arrived, nine months later, I was extremely nervous. All I wanted was my child to be okay. In the days leading up to the birth, I was afraid of dying in labor. But I was not scared for me. I was terrified of leaving my baby boy without his mommy. All that mattered was him and no one else. He was born on a cold November night at 11:45 pm and he was the most precious baby I’d ever seen. The moment he was placed in my arms our hearts connected and in that exact moment I realized every single painful moment of IVF process was completely worth it. I could now say if I had to do it multiple times, I would do it all again. I finally had my son with me, and he will forever be my priority in life. I will keep my promise to God on becoming the best mother I can be.
We've covered upbringing, dreams, & motherhood. Any final advice for young women who want to be their own boss?
My advice to young women entrepreneurs is to stay realistic. It is okay to dream big and aspire to greatness, but understand that success is easier said than done. Becoming your own boss and converting your ideas into a business is all fun; however, it does not mean that following that passion should be your only focus. There are so many other essential aspects of running a business that one must comprehend and prioritize.
Though fun and creative ideas are also important, there are other crucial aspects which include: legal administration, payroll, taxes, accounting, bookkeeping, marketing strategies, customer service, etc. I would advise women to focus on making your passion into a profitable company, where your customer’s needs are taken care of. Do so by building an excellent reputation to where your business is trusted and in return generates income. Do not be afraid of asking for help with legal and accounting paperwork. You will be so busy with everything else that you will eventually need to rely on someone to help with the administration of everyday duties. If you are set to run this new business alone, I would highly advise setting apart a budget for hiring someone to do this for you.
They are many options out there for bookkeeping, payroll, and legal assistance. Find someone that fits your budget and business needs. If you feel that you can do all this on your own and at the same time run the day to day business responsibilities, that’s totally okay. Just realize that we are not perfect, and it’s okay to seek guidance.
Adapt to the idea that building a business is like a never-ending project where your will constantly adjust, improve, and innovate. Don’t make the mistake of falling behind on modernization, do not become a conformist. Always stay ahead of the game by learning to anticipate the needs of your customer. I have learned that if you don’t innovate, you will eventually fall behind. We currently live in a highly-competitive world where innovators constantly push limits. I believe innovation is a major key to success, it is the most important component in order to grow your business. I highly encourage the younger crowd to become involved and connect with all types of people in your particular industry. Networking is a big must. Having community support and building work relationships is always helpful and feels very empowering when women support other women.
Stay with that positive mentality and surround yourself with a good support system that embraces and empowers women who aspire to succeed together, not compete against each other.
On Getting Social
Stay with that positive mentality and surround yourself with a good support system that embraces and empowers women who aspire to succeed together, not compete against each other. Though fun and creative ideas are also important, there are other crucial aspects which include: legal administration, payroll, taxes, accounting, bookkeeping, marketing strategies, customer service, etc. I would advise women to focus on making your passion into a profitable company, where your customer’s needs are taken care of. Do so by building an excellent reputation to where your business is trusted and in return generates income. Do not be afraid of asking for help with legal and accounting paperwork. You will be so busy with everything else that you will eventually need to rely on someone to help with the administration of everyday duties. If you are set to run this new business alone, I would highly advise budgeting for this.