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Be Inspired by One of the Best in the Industry: Emma Sutherland and Leah Hechtman

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Be Inspired by One of the Best in the Industry: Emma Sutherland and Leah Hechtman

Emma Sutherland interviews powerhouse of knowledge and leader within the natural health industry, Leah Hechtman.

In this candid conversation, Leah discusses her journey into natural medicine, why it’s important to constantly be learning, how to choose the right path at the right time. Leah also shares what drew her to complete her PhD as well as some of the challenges of parenting and how becoming a mother changed her practice.

Covered in this episode

[00:38] Welcoming back Leah Hechtman
[01:35] What lead Leah to Naturopathy
[05:39] On becoming an industry leader
[07:19] Managing energy on busy clinic days
[09:58] Inspiration for new graduates
[12:32] The process of learning
[14:36] Being emotionally vulnerable in clinic
[17:30] Choosing the right path at the right time
[21:08] Leah’s PhD journey
[25:05] Choosing AMH as her PhD topic
[31:02] How becoming a mum changed her practice
[33:56] Balancing “mumma guilt”
[35:31] Challenging moments as a parent and supporting yourself
[39:57] Advice for new grads
[42:45] Thanking Leah and closing remarks

Emma: This is FX Medicine, bringing you the latest in evidence-based, integrative, functional, and complementary medicine. I'm Emma Sutherland, a Sydney-based naturopath, and one of the new hosts of the show. Joining us on the line today is Leah Hechtman, who many of you will recognise as a powerhouse of knowledge in the natural health sector. 

Leah specialises in fertility, pregnancy, and reproductive health for men and women. She's a university lecturer, keynote speaker, author, educator, and mentor to her peers. She’s currently completing her PhD through the School of Women’s and Children’s Health at the University of New South Wales, and is the author of Clinical Naturopathic Medicine and Advanced Clinical Natural Medicine. 

Welcome to FX Medicine, Leah. Thank you for being here with us.

Leah: Thank you so much for having me, Emma.

Emma: Oh, it's a pleasure. Now, I am so excited to be talking with you today. And I would love to ask you some questions about your story. And we all know that you're a rock star in our industry. Let's dive into the Leah story. I would really love to know what drew you into studying Naturopathy in the first place.

Leah: So, I was really sick as a kid. I was really sick probably from about the age of eight or nine. Weird and wonderful things and hospital admissions and all sorts of exciting things, and then, of course, there's the endo. And then there's all sorts of other fun stuff that happened after that, and technically was told I had chronic fatigue for 14 years. But, you know, through the Naturopathic lens, we look at it, and we know that there's lots of other reasons for it. It's just banner diagnosis. 

But I missed a whole year of school in year 10, and I didn't end up finishing year 12 because I was too sick. I was always going to study medicine. I mean, from the age of two, I was the kid that would put my hands on people's heads and take their headache away. I was the nurse if someone was sick, and I would give them healings. I didn't know what I was doing, but I'd be giving them energy and I'd get sick and sit in the corner afterwards. And that's probably why I got sick. I mean, I was such a sensitive kid and so intuitive and psychic and all that sort of stuff as well.

Emma: Yeah.

Leah: And then I started studying Naturopathy because my health always improved with my clinicians and I had an amazing integrative doctor that I worked with from the age of 14. And he was such a mentor to me, and he ended up being a clinical mentor as well. Because I couldn't finish school, I thought, "All right. Well, I can't study medicine yet. So, let's start studying Naturopathy." Because the idea was do medicine and then do Naturopathy subjects after, and it flipped on me. And then what a blessing that it did. I think I wouldn't have been who I am as a clinician. I mean, I'll be honest with you. I still think about studying medicine. I think when I don't have a six and an eight-year-old, I'll look at it a little bit more seriously.

Emma: Yup.

Leah: But it's so wonderful when you look back at it and you understand that the timing of everything has such intention and such magic behind it. And it guides you to where you're meant to be. So, I'm really grateful for it now.

Emma: Yeah. You know, I love that you have really brought that energetic side of things, as you were intuitive as a child. Because I remember when I first met you, and I was thinking about it this morning, it was actually in the year 2000. It was my second year of my Naturopathic studies. And you taught us bush flowers or Bach flowers.

Leah: I remember the class. I remember the class.

Emma: And it was just such a beautiful way to learn because you brought the theory, but then you brought it all to life with the energy side of things. And I love that that comes from such a personal experience.

Leah: I mean, I was... It's crazy when I look back at it now. And I think so much of my personality is a bit funny. But I was teaching energetic healing at 16.

Emma: Amazing.

Leah: I was in meditation and energy classes from God knows when. And God bless my parents for letting me do all this, by the way. But I mean, I was literally teaching meditation and energetic healing at 16 and 17. I was teaching classes at 21 because I thought I could, because I'd already started. And this was because I'd had my astrology read, and I knew that my Saturn Return was in Leo. So, I knew I had to tackle all my Leo stuff. 

So, I thought, "Okay, I better start teaching." I mean, I was 21, for crying out loud, when I taught you. It's ridiculous when I think about it now. And the fact that I had something of value to say, I don't know. I mean, I look back at it now, and I cringe, as everyone does. I mean, it's diabolical when I look at it. I was 24 when I spoke to the publisher. When I approached Elsevier, I was 24. And I said to them, "I'm being approached to write courses from everybody. We have to write this as a textbook." Who does this at 24?

Emma: Well...

Leah: Do you know what I mean?

Emma: It is. It is quite astounding. Did you actively seek to become a thought leader in our industry, or is that something that's just organically happened?

Leah: No, it's really organic.

Emma: Right.

Leah: And the thing is that it was never my intention to be a leader from an ego perspective. It was never like, "I want to be the best at what I can be," sort of thing. Because, I mean, I've got more impostor syndrome than the next person. But it's just this whole thing of, for me, it was, “I have to learn more. And every time I learn, I have to share that.” And so, that's been my driving force, and I've been so blessed.

I was thinking about it this morning before we spoke, and I was like, "I've never delved into marketing. I've never delved into anything like that." And I remember having a chat at the ripe old age of 22 at my second clinical practice space where I was sharing a space with a nurse Naturopath, David Kissinger. And he said to me, "Never market yourself. Just share information." And it always stuck with me. And from that point on, I was just sharing info. 

So, the more I learnt, the more I shared. And, obviously, the biggest driver for me was fix my own health. So, I had to learn more to understand it. So, then I could understand people. So, then I could teach others. And when I taught it, I understood it from many dimensions. So, then I could share it in other ways and help more people. It's just a cycle for me.

Emma: Yeah. And I think that authenticity shines through. And patients can feel it, people can feel it, people reading your book can feel it. 

Leah: I hope so.

Emma: It’s the authenticity that really does shine through. 

But what happens on days when you're feeling really exhausted and you've got a busy clinic day? How do you manage that energy?

Leah: It's funny. I was with a patient last night. So, I'd started at 6:30 in the morning. It's 8:15. And I do really big weeks when it's school holidays, so I can have a whole week off with my kids for the next week. And I'm there. My last patient is a woman, and you know, postpartum depression, mental health history. And we have a conversation. And I'm like, you know, it's the end of — oh, God — a really full day, a really full week. And I know it's my last patient for the week.

And I'm there, and I'm like, "I'm really exhausted." And we have the consult. And the consult's fine. And I would still think that, whenever I see a patient, I always ask myself, “Would I see myself? Was that a value for someone? Did I give them what they deserve?” And then hung up from her, and it was all fine and whatever. And then I called her back 15 minutes later, and I said, "I actually didn't say everything that you needed to hear." And we had another 20-minute conversation where I actually talked to her about really deepening her connection with her daughter and using that motivate herself out of what was going through. And it really took a lot of extra energy from me.

But, of course, when I hung up from her, I was energised because it was the truth. And it was the deep connection between both of us, and it was the human connection. And, you know, as clinicians, we do get burnt out, and we do get exhausted. But it's those inspiring, deep, enriching connection moments that energise us.

Emma: Yeah. I would have to agree. You know, with that clinical experience myself, that in that moment, you feel an enormous sense of peace and energy coming through you. And it is a beautiful experience. It's something that, I think, every graduate should know is ahead of them in their clinical path, that those moments really are just incredible. And it's the reason why you wake up and do what you do.

Leah: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I mean, I still think, you know, like, I now have got three different health appointments for myself today. One was with the vet for my dogs, but she treats the humans when you see her. And I'm getting my self-care in, and I think it's really important that I always do that. Because we'd burn out otherwise. I mean, God, what we do... I've always joked with friends and colleagues and students. I could work at Woolworths. But it wouldn't enrich me in the same way.

Emma: Yes. Exactly. And that gift of giving is something that does come full circle.

Leah: Absolutely.

Emma: But when you were a new graduate, if you can kind of cast your mind back to being a new graduate, how did you go from being in that position to then having a highly successful clinical practice? Was there any sort of cornerstones or landmarks along the way that you can highlight for us that could inspire some new grads?

Leah: The biggest thing for me has always been identifying doors. So, my personality hates feeling closed in, locked in. That's just a part of my makeup. But for me, I found Naturopathy limiting at certain points. I found our tools and what I was taught, limiting. And so, throughout my career, what I've always done is, if I ever feel dead with it or uninspired or flattened, I literally will pull it all apart, learn something new, and then recreate what is my new truth.

Emma: Right.

Leah: It doesn't get pulled apart as much anymore. But I remember when I started my master's, I remember sitting in that first class of that reproductive master's, and just going, "I know nothing. Oh, my God. What have I been doing until this point? I know absolutely nothing." And that course was so inspiring for me in so many different ways because it pulled it apart and challenged me to go, "What is my real truth through a naturopathic lens? How can I create a new truth? And what can I do to actually take my new learning, and create something that will contribute more meaningfully?"

And so, that's always been the way with which I do it. I find doors. And it's not to say that the new graduate... You know, one of the worst things, I think, new graduates do is they just keep learning, and they never integrate it.

Emma: Yeah.

Leah: But it's about remembering the rhythm of integration versus new learning, and then integrate and recalibrate, and then more learning. But just keep finding doors, keep finding inspiration, keep looking for new ways to help support the people that you want to work with, because you'll always have new challenges.

Emma: Yeah.

Leah: And I think that's the best growth model we have as clinicians because it feeds into everything else, you know? It naturally generates success because it makes you keep moving. It makes you ahead of what's happening collectively. It helps you stay abreast with everything new and how to help people. But I think if you get stuck in a protocol-driven marketing model, that sort of thing, that's where you die as a clinician. And you really can't help anyone.

Emma: Yeah. Look. There's so many parts of that that I would agree with. I definitely think, the more that you study, the less you realise you actually know. And that can be completely overwhelming when you've already been in clinical practice for a year or two. And then you think, "Wow. What did I learn in college? I feel like I've learnt nothing." 

But the process of unpacking what you've learned, dropping in new information and new insights, and then repackaging it, to me, means that to be a successful clinician, you have to be open to thinking differently about things. 

Leah: Exactly.

Emma: And you have to be open to challenging what you've been taught, and challenging the way that you do things. And I think that behavioural flexibility and that mental agility are skills that are so important for practitioners. They really are important. If we need to keep a dynamic practice that keeps us energised, we need to be able to do them.

Leah: And I think it's also... I mean, I don't want anyone to sort of leave this going, "Oh, be really hard on yourself. Set your bar so high that you'll never reach it." But the accountability... And I remember learning with a woman that I had supervision with, and she asked me this question. Oh, my God. It shocked me to my core. She said, "Would you see yourself as a clinician?" And I remember sitting there, going, "Oh, wow. That's huge." And like I asked myself last night, I always ask myself, "Will I see myself as a clinician??" And that's my barometer so that I maintain my flexibility.

Emma: Yeah.

Leah: Was I too stuck in my beliefs? Was I too limiting in how I saw the person? Was I expansive enough? Were my buttons pushed? Do I need to speak to someone about my buttons that were pushed? And all that sort of stuff. And that's not the things that you're taught in college. What you're taught in college, I think, is how to learn.

Emma: Yes.

Leah: And it does it beautifully. And as long as you realise that all you're going to get from college is how to learn and you're going to get a system to fall back on as you unravel and unpack, then I think you're winning.

Emma: Yeah. I think there's just so much more to learning than just the theoretical. You have to be in front of somebody, whether it's online or face-to-face. And when you're treating somebody, it's like looking into your own soul when you look into their eyes. It's very mirroring. And if you have stuff going on, that can really come up. And I think what you mentioned before by actually feeling those things and addressing them, is really important to your growth as a practitioner. And sometimes, the tendency is to squash that down because it's uncomfortable. But I think it's really important for practitioners to be aware that when you're sitting with some discomfort, when you're in front of a patient, there's always something underneath it.

Leah: It's funny. I often have this conversation with people that I'll supervise, or colleagues and stuff, you know, "Are you comfortable to show your emotion with your patient?" And so, if you think about the area that you and I work in predominantly in fertility and paediatrics. I know you do a lot more paediatrics than I'll do. And you think about the journey that people will go on in that fertility space. And if you're not willing to show your emotion and your vulnerability...I mean, to a point. You're not going to sit there and sob your eyes out.

Emma: Yeah.

Leah: Because it's their consult. But if they've had a loss and you don't show that it touches you, and you don't have enough of your own work that you've done to be able to connect to them in that space, what are we giving them? We're just giving them judgment and protocol.

Emma: Yeah.

Leah: You know what I mean?

Emma: Yeah. Look. I cannot tell you how many parents I have cried with over the years when I work in paeds because, as a mum myself, it deeply touches me. And it's why I'm so driven to really work hard in the space of paeds because if you can really connect with the family, you can really change that whole entire family's life. But the tragedy and the challenges in clinical practice, working with these patients, it's so tricky. But to be human with them in that moment, and to hold space for them in that moment, is such a healing tool in and of itself.

Leah: And we're not really taught that. And I don't think that we should expect our qualifications to teach us that. And I think that's what makes or breaks clinicians, whether or not they're willing to do their own work in tandem to their growth as a clinician. Because I think the clinicians that expect to have a successful practice, that don't do their own work, that aren't willing to look at their own things that come up, that aren't willing to have supervision, that aren't willing to be accountable and to look at, "Okay, I've got a deficit in that area," and be honest and humble about that, be it emotional or intellectual or whatever it might be, I think that's what makes or breaks clinicians.

Emma: Yeah. And that vulnerability to be able to do that is important. 

I like what you said before. I really like that you said you don't like closed doors. So, the way I've always thought about that is that when opportunities come my way, my thing is, "Emma, just say yes. You’ll work out the how later, but if your gut feeling is an instant yes, don't think about it so much in your head. Just say yes, and then you can do everything later to make it actually play out.” I think we have to take those opportunities even if they're scary, and run with them.

Leah: Yeah. I'd agree with them.

Emma: Yeah.

Leah: I'd agree with that.

Emma: Yeah. I mean, thinking about things, do you ever wish that you'd chosen medicine first? It would have been a different path for you, but do you think that would have been better for you?

Leah: I think if I'd have chosen medicine, what it would have meant is that I would have kept out of school for year 12. I wouldn't have had anything that would have helped me feel as though I was moving forward. Hopefully, at the end of year 12, I then would have been well enough to either repeat year 12 at school, go to TAFE, do whatever. And I remember looking at this as a decision as a 17-year-old. And I think I would have stayed...I would have entered medicine in a much more closed way. I don't think I would have had my own healing journey unravel in the same way. I would have just maintained a construct, and tried to adapt and push as opposed to discover more flexibility and more growth. Does that make sense?

Emma: It does make sense. Yeah, it really does make sense. I mean, we're all very grateful that you chose the path that you chose.

Leah: Yeah. I still don't even know that I would have been able to do it. I don't know that I would have had the stamina. I don't know that I would have had the health, stamina, or mental fitness to be able to do medicine at that point. I often think back to 17, sitting in naturopathy. I think I was able to...from a health perspective, I was able to do two subjects a semester. And it was such an achievement as well, and being around adults because, really, in naturopathy, it was all adults back then. Only a handful of people my age. There was so much growth in such a positive way that I can't imagine what medicine would have done for me. 

And then I flip it, and I look at it and I go, "Okay. So, I did naturopathy, I did the Bachelor." And then when I was at that choice point of doing the Master's, it was a no-brainer. It was a door. Like you, I looked at it and I went, "Oh, yeah. Absolutely. No-brainer.” But then the PhD was different for me because the PhD was, "Do I do medicine, or do I do PhD and have kids?" I mean, who in their right mind goes, "I'll do PhD and have kids"? It's another story. But let's leave that alone for a moment.

Emma: That's very brave.

Leah: Naïve? I don't know. Then I remember going, "No, kids is now." So, it's PhD, and then I can look at medicine later. But I was very close to doing medicine at that point.

Emma: And how old were you at that point?

Leah: Thirty-three.

Emma: Yeah. Yes. So, for a woman, that is a pivotal age where you're making decisions that really are going to shape the way that your life is going to be. You know, that pivotal "Do I have children now? Do I not? Do I want more than one child?" Well, if that's the case, then time is ticking. 

So, I can completely understand that choice. But how has that PhD process been for you? And the reason why I really do want to talk about your PhD is because I'm on the advisory board for the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine up in Lismore. And one of the things that I really want to highlight is that, doing PhDs is possible. And I think you're a great example of that because, obviously, it will not have been easy for you, juggling at the same time.

Leah: Look. PhD is definitely possible. I do look back, and actually, I think I was 31 when I was making the decision to do the PhD. And then I think I started at 32, 33. I haven't finished it. That's something to be really transparent about. I'm in, literally, my last semester which I have delayed because of all this COVID stuff and home schooling. The amount of... I joke about it with my supervisor. I said it's a life PhD. I've literally basically done two because my first one fell apart because my primary supervisor was basically told to leave the university. It was a whole kerfuffle. I had to change universities, and I had to change topics. Anything you can imagine that could happen in the middle of a PhD had happened. But, oh my God, what a journey. And I wouldn't give it up for a second.

Emma: I love it.

Leah: Yeah. And I remember sitting at the point where I was...I really want to do a PhD, going... I was given offers to do PhDs in naturopathy or combinations of naturopathy and medicine and stuff like that. I was speaking to various people, and people would contact me, going, "Oh, I hear you want to do a PhD. Do you want to do one with us?" And I was like, "Are you joking?" And I remember making a very intentional conscious decision to go, "No. I'm going to stick with Faculty of Medicine because there are more doors. And I'm going to stick with Faculty of Medicine because it will be harder." We can talk about that later.

Emma: Yeah.

Leah: But I'm going to learn more. For me, it's always about the learning. I was like, "Yeah. I could do a PhD on chaste tree. That would be interesting." But I was like, "What will I learn from this that I wouldn't be able to just do anyway on my own?"

Emma: It sounds to me like some of your decisions are organic. You know, they just sort of happen. And others, you take great thought about, and really think about what is going to, as a result of this one decision, what else is going to happen? So, there's this combination of real sort of strategic thinking as well as intuition.

Leah: Pretty much.

Emma: Yeah.

Leah: Pretty much. For me, every decision is, how many doors will open from that one decision?

Emma: Yeah.

Leah: And the PhD and the Faculty of Medicine, God, the amount of doors that have opened for me, it's astounding. But doors of knowledge, doors of different ways of thinking, doors of understanding naturopathy in a different way, understanding science in a different way, understanding the body, connecting to minds that are just spectacular. And that's what I wanted. 

I wanted to be inspired by people's intellect and their expansive thought patterns, and be able to both grow myself, but also grow how I understood naturopathy. And I look at how I've changed with how I treat, how I lecture with naturopathy through the journey of the PhD. I mean, anyone that did a course with me 10 years ago versus now would see the difference in it and how the confidence in the science and the understanding of the science is so much richer, for obvious reasons.

But then I think naturopathy is more anchored. There's more truth to it because it has a bigger construct. It's less of the, "Take chaste tree when you wake up because we think it affects melatonin levels." You know what I mean?

Emma: Yeah, simplistic.

Leah: Like, it's this real... What I wanted was...we had to create a system because that made me feel comfortable with how I was describing things.

Emma: Yeah. And I mean...

Leah: That make sense?

Emma: Yeah, it does make sense. It does. I'm curious about why you chose the topic that you did. How did you narrow it down?

Leah: So, there was me. I remember this one patient, and she's sitting with me. And it's a nurse. I'm 99% sure she's 40 years of age. And she hands over her AMH result. And I think it was 0.2.

Emma: Wow.

Leah: And I remember looking at it, going, "I don't know how to help you." Killed me. Absolutely killed me. Because the last thing I want to do for a person is not be able to find them a door so that they can move forward.

Emma: Yeah.

Leah: And I remember looking at it, going, "I don't know that I trust this test. I don't know what I think about this test." I joke about it in the context that, you know, the first PhD was just on AMH, and then we evolved it because that was the first PhD. It was when AMH was a relatively new test. We didn't understand that there were stability issues that influenced it. We didn't understand it. And I was like, "I have to be able to look at this and understand the limitations of it because people are making dramatic life decisions."

Emma: Yeah.

Leah: So, of course, I went out and tested my own AMH, which came back terrible, I might add.

Emma: Okay.

Leah: And then, of course, conceived my son in the first month. So, we know that that was fairly invalid. But I had to look at it on a felt sense, and really understand it and go, "No, there's more research here." But then I evolved the topic when the first project fell apart, and wanted to really understand ovarian biomarkers in a different way because, A, AMH had had a longer research in the three years. And so, we understood it a little bit more. For me, everything is about understanding fertility to... You know, I can look at it through a spiritual lens and go, "Yeah, of course, a woman at 56 could theoretically conceive." But then I look at it through a medical lens and go, "No, these are the limitations and the parameters."

Emma: Yeah. And I think, just being...working with women myself, they do make momentous decisions based on this data that they're receiving. And the emotional rollercoaster that goes along with that is...

Leah: Horrendous.

Emma: It's traumatic. And it really is so impactful and so gaining more understanding around these ovarian markers and AMH. Where do you think that's going to lead us clinically? I mean, I know your PhD isn't quite finished yet. But how do you think it might...

Leah: Just in final write-up. It's done. I'm just in final write-up.

Emma: Okay.

Leah: So, you know, I've got all the data, I understand what we're looking at, I understand how it all works. So, it's all organised in that regard. But where we're going with it is...the PhD is that we're testing these biomarkers that are literally just biomarkers that are secreted by the ovarian fluid. We're back where, before we had a test for oestrogen, this is what we're looking at, the research department that I'm in. I mean, it's so beautiful. We're in this really early infancy of science and understanding, how do we create an assay and what are the parameters? What does it look like? Different cohorts, what does it mean? You know, etc.

But it will add that piece of information so that in 5, 10 years' time, when the person sits in front of you and goes, "I want to make a baby," you'll test their oestrogen, their FSH, their AMH. But you'll also test their BMP15 and their GDF9 and you'll go, "Right. So, this is what we think you'll do in response to an IVF cycle. This is how many eggs we think you have left. This is the quality of the eggs that you have left because that's the two markers that I'm looking at," which will then give them more scientific information to create, I guess, definition of what is and isn't possible within the realm of science. And I put that caveat in there intentionally.

I think it's important, that thing that we straddle as a clinician, the idea of the body can heal itself and the body is capable of so much. But then you have the limitations or the boundaries of science. But I think, the more we understand the body, the more we can guide people both through a knowledge base and give them confidence in that, but also not misguide them. Because part of the motivation for the PhD was I just didn't want people to be misguiding women to either freeze eggs when they're 32 and it's not necessary, or throw themselves in an IVF cycle with donor sperm with no partner and no means to bring up a child purely because of fear.

Emma: Yeah. And I think, as a clinician myself, having more clarity around the situation by using these ovarian biomarkers, it just is so exciting to me that we could have this availability to be able to give our patients more transparency, and a little bit more certainty. 

Because I know, from any of my patients, the anxiety that this situation involves is so huge. Even patients that have never had anxiety before are now suffering from anxiety, and I'm also treating her with nervine herbs and that kind of thing. So, I'm so excited, and I know it's a few years away. But I think you are really doing some groundbreaking research that, clinically, we can actually use to really change the way these women's experiences go.

Leah: I hope so. I really hope so. I mean, what a privilege. I mean, you know it as well, the clinician in this space. What a privilege to help women and families, partners, and to create families for them. But, oh my God, the emotional challenge of this particular area of work is not for the faint-hearted.

Emma: No.

Leah: It's really not.

Emma: No. It's definitely not. I mean, you're a mum, talking about families. You're a mum of two beautiful boys. They're similar ages to my Sophia. Yours are six and eight. I mean, how do you go juggling all these different roles that you have in combination with being a mum?

Leah: I hope, well. I don't know. Sometimes, I look at it and I go, "Oh, wow." Look. I think it's about making sure that there's intention with everything that we do. And as much as, you know, I love my PhD, and ultimately, I think it's really for me, and how I can contribute. Or I love working with my patients, and I deeply, deeply care about them. My kids are my number one. My kids are the reason for everything. They're the reason how and why we do what we do. But they're our greatest teacher and our most challenging teacher. You know that point as a parent when you look at them and you realise that all of your own issues come slamming you in the face...

Emma: The mirror.

Leah: …and you can’t help them with what they're going through.

Emma: Yeah.

Leah: And it's so hard. But I mean, there is no greater joy, and there is no greater teacher.

Emma: Yeah. I would absolutely agree. And I think I have known for many years now that Sophia was put on this Earth to teach me many wondrous things, and some of them very challenging. But when I think back to how I practiced clinically before I had Sophia compared to how I practice now, it is quite different because my lens, my aspect is so profoundly changed by that experience of becoming a mum and everything it entails. Did you find...how did that change go for you clinically?

Leah: God, it makes us a much more humble person, you know? It makes us more real, it makes us more vulnerable, it makes us more understanding. You know, it's the classic...the patient, we're all Zooming at the moment. So, you know, the patient the other day this week and the baby's crying. I don't know why it's crying. And I'm like, "I'm going to let you sort him out, and I'll call you back in half an hour. Don't worry." And you just shuffle your day around because you just know that, as a mother, you're stretched. As a father, you're stretched. As a parent, your bandwidth just stretches in ways you never imagined possible. And it makes us better people, you know? And I do think that, to work in the fertility space, to work with pregnant women, God, you have a tremendous insight if you've gone through it yourself.

Emma: Yeah. I would agree. I mean, I did treat women's health before having Sophia, but the depth of my empathy was from day to night once I understood what it was like. I mean, you know, mummas...as mummas, we always have mumma guilt. I mean, how do you balance the mumma guilt? I mean, I know with Sophia, we're a big fan of hot chips and Choco Charlies if I can't be bothered cooking. I mean, how do you balance? Because we know, as Naturopaths, we know so much. And sometimes, I think ignorance is a little bit of bliss. But how do you balance all the knowledge you have around all the theoretical? And then how does that combine with the practical with your boys?

Leah: I think it's about, obviously, taking care of ourselves as parents, as individual women. I think that's really important. You know, I took my boys to Italy before this COVID lockdown stuff for a family wedding. And we joke about it still that my son had three ice creams in one day. And there is nothing in me that regrets that. There is nothing in me that thinks that that's wrong because we were driving through Tuscany, and there were all the little towns and the gelaterias. What an amazing experience. And he remembers it so fondly. And that's living, and that's beautiful shared things that you have with your kids. And there's nothing wrong with that. Do I give them McDonald's for dinner? No.

Emma: Yeah.

Leah: Would I give them hot chips if I wanted to? Sure. Why not? But it's about them understanding health and me trying to educate them as best as I can with health, but having a balance of it.

Emma: Yeah. I think that balance is important, and also acknowledging that sometimes we just have to drop the mumma guilt because we're not super women, and it's okay.

Leah: Absolutely.

Emma: One question I do have for you. If you think about your experience as a mum, what's been your most challenging moment or your most difficult experience in that space?

Leah: I think the hardest is, as they keep growing and different things keep happening, when you look at them and you don't have any answer. That's, I think, the hardest. And you just have to push yourself to keep digging to find it. And generally, I keep... It's not that they fall apart, but they have their things come up. And because I've got two, they tend to take turns. You know, as soon as one is good, the other starts to have something come up. But I do find it particularly hard when you're at your limit and you're tired, and you've got your own stuff going on. And you've got to somehow navigate to find out what's the answer for what's going on for them. But that lioness part of us that pushes us, that will protect them, and do anything for them that they need, always prevails. But there's always that moment before you find that fire in you that finds that extra bit of energy, that extra fight. I always find that...just that point just before, I find that hard.

Emma: Yeah. It feels absolutely impossible when you're in that moment. And the overwhelm can be so incredibly debilitating. I mean, for myself, I personally...I take adaptogenic herbs every day. And I literally have done that since the moment Sophia was born, literally. And I find that, occasionally, I forget and it's been a week and I haven't had them. And I really feel the difference. What do you do to support yourself on a day-to-day basis?

Leah: What don't I do? I have lots of animals. They're my spiritual family. So, I think that they're a huge part of my support and my self-care. I have a number of different clinicians that I'll see — acupuncture, energy work, kinesiology, counsellors, whatever. I take nutrients, I have vitamin infusions, I take homeopathics, herbs, whatever I need at the time. At the moment, I'm having juice cleansers delivered because it means that I'm eating regularly, and I'm having protein shakes with them or whatever. And that's nourishing me in a different way because with lockdown and home schooling and whatever, I was finding that I just wasn't eating that well.

Emma: Yeah.

Leah: I think it's about identifying what works for us. Is it my meditation? Is it exercise? Is it my friends? Whatever it is that nourishes me at different points, I just need to make sure that I'm flexible to see each situation without judgment, and then do it.

Emma: Yeah. And all those strategies, you know, seeing the kinesy, the acu, your juice cleanse, I think what we have to visually have is this toolkit where we have lots of different strategies in there, and that we're dipping in and out of constantly. Because as clinicians, when we're holding space for other people, if our cup is half-empty, our patients feel it. And as a parent, that cup can dip quite easily if we're not being really proactive and working from that preventative aspect.

Leah: Absolutely.

Emma: Have there been times for you when things have slipped up and you've just not been doing the level of self-care you need in order to function at the level that you function, and things have sort of gone a bit wobbly?

Leah: Absolutely.

Emma: Yeah.

Leah: Absolutely. Which time would you like to hear about? Generally, for me, though, the first thing that goes is my sleep.

Emma: Okay.

Leah: And it's not that I can't sleep. It's that I reduce sleep because I've just got too much going on. I mean, I find myself... When I'm answering an email at 2 in the morning, I'm like, "Right. Here we go again." So, that's usually when my wheels fall off. And when I don't get enough sleep, I can manage, and I can function, but I'm definitely not as open or as compassionate as I'd like to be. So, everything in the world has a bit of a slant.

Emma: Yeah. Sleep, it's a cornerstone of health. It's when we heal. I can't agree with you more. 

Just one last question. It's been so brilliant to speak to you today about all of these things. But I wanted to ask, if you were talking to a group of newly qualified Naturopaths, there they are and they're all beaming and excited and ready to face the world, what advice would you give them on building a successful clinical practice? What are some just couple of tips that you think are really important?

Leah: Have mentors and supervisors. Have people that you're accountable to. Have people that can help guide you, and recognise that they'll change as you practice changes. Know that you can't know everything. So, find an area that you're particularly passionate about, an area that comes easily to you, an area that you have a natural attraction towards. And focus on that because the idea of having a general practice is that you'll be a jack of all trades, but you won't necessarily be very good at anything. And remember to bring your humility into the equation. Be human, do your own work. Remember that the quality of your patients... Pardon me. The quality of your practice is a reflection of the quality of your patients. And if you're not meeting your patients' needs, and you wouldn't see yourself if you were that particular patient, or you're not actually helping them. Look at the how and the why, and fix it.

Emma: Yeah. And I love that you look through that lens of “Would I see myself as a practitioner.” And I often say something similar to myself when I'm working with a family, “If this was Sophia, what would I want to be done here?" 

And the other point that you said about mentors and supervisors, I think that we have so much more room for that in our industry. Because I feel like when you work with a mentor or a supervisor, what I call compressed time, you learn from them, you shorten your journey so that you can actually be more efficient in a shorter amount of time. And I really would encourage anyone listening today to seek out a mentor or supervisor or somebody that you can work with in order to become a better practitioner. I think that's so important, Leah.

Leah: Yeah. Definitely. And I've had many, many different supervisors and mentors of different disciplines as well. So, don't just limit yourself to thinking that they have to be a naturopath. You know, I've had counsellors, psychologists, homeopaths, integrative doctors. I've had so many different types of mentors and supervisors, and it's always been a regular part of my journey. And just being accountable to someone. Knowing that someone's on your team, knowing that someone has wisdom that you can learn, I think, is really...it's just really important.

Emma: Well, thank you so much for being with us today, Leah. It's been an absolute pleasure to have you with us.

Leah: Thank you so much, Emma. Really enjoyed connecting.

Emma: And thanks, everyone, for your company today. Don't forget, you can find the show notes and transcript on the FX Medicine website. I'm Emma Sutherland for FX Medicine. Thanks for joining us.


About Leah Hechtman

Leah is an experienced and respected clinician who specialises in fertility, pregnancy and reproductive health for men and women. Her primary passion is her clinical practice where she is inspired and humbled by her patients. 

Leah has completed extensive advanced training and is a university lecturer, keynote speaker, author and educator to her peers. She is currently completing her PhD through the School of Women’s and Children’s Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of New South Wales and is the author of Clinical Naturopathic Medicine and Advanced Clinical Natural Medicine.


The information provided on FX Medicine is for educational and informational purposes only. The information provided on this site is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional advice or care. Please seek the advice of a qualified health care professional in the event something you have read here raises questions or concerns regarding your health.

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