e006 – Moving Through Infertility – with Justine Dowd PhD, Hillary Smith and Leisha Laird

Podcast Episode

Today’s episode might be a trigger for some. October is Infertility and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month and we thought it was important to talk about this topic that is very real for so many.

There are so many people that struggle with this on so many levels. Today we have three very special guests. Not only are they all upcoming contributors in the YGTMAMA series, but they all study and practice different kinds of medicine specializing in fertility. It’s incredible how little resources and education are available and how unspoken these issues actually are. The incredible struggles, the massive percentages, the undiagnosed reasons. Today we are going to get super raw and real about infertility and pregnancy loss and hopefully help and empower a lot of mamas.

Justine is a CIHR funded post-doctoral fellow working in the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Calgary. Her research is in the area of health behaviour change and she is specifically using evidence-based strategies, such as self-compassion, to help people feel great – whether it is dealing with the multiple demands that come with being a mother or coping with chronic illnesses. As a new mother herself, she is well versed in the ups and downs of motherhood, and the importance of self-care so that you can be the best YOU possible.

Justine explains in this episode that she battled with what Canadian doctors diagnosis of “unexplained infertility”, she and her husband struggled for over two years to get pregnant with no real justification as to why they could not. It was only when they went to see an autoimmune infertility doctor in Las Vegas, that they got some answers. He explained to them: “There’s no such thing as unexplained infertility, it's just undiagnosed and it’s just finding the right healthcare professional who can figure out what's going on.” Justine wishes that she didn’t feel so alone while she was going through her infertility struggles. She advises women if you don’t feel supported with the healthcare professionals who you’re working with, don’t give up, keep searching. She assures us that there are people out there who can help you, so pull them together, there are people who are out there who will believe in you.

Hillary is a naturopathic doctor focused specifically on the areas of fertility, prenatal, postpartum and children. Puzzling cases put fire in her belly and she is passionate about helping women. She has aspirations of becoming Prime Minister however, she takes it as a major accomplishment when her kiddos give her an award for the best tummy tickler. Hillary thrives in chaos, is obsessed with chocolate chip oatmeal cookies and loves to belly laugh!

Hillary explains that in the naturopathic field they are always trying to look for the root cause as to what issue is going on and treat it from a holistic standpoint. Instead of using pharmaceuticals they treat with homeopathy, high dose nutritional supplements and herbal medications. She describes the field’s main purpose as: “Helping the body shift back to its own normal healthy template again versus band-aiding the situations.” She feels very strongly about working side by side with Western medicine doctors to help support their work with naturopathic medicine.

Leisha loves skiing in the mountains, floating in the ocean and Bananagrams. She values connection, especially family game night with her kids. She has a daughter who is 10 and a toddler whom she has decided inspired the movie boss baby. She is a Chinese medicine doctor and acupuncturist. Her practice focuses on fertility, prenatal, postpartum and being well. She is inspired by the resilient women she has the privilege of walking beside.

Leisha delves into what Chinese medicine is and explains that it works along the same principle as naturopathic medicine in that they look to the root cause of the issue. It is ancient medicine based on pathways where energy or “chi” passes through the body. They focus on the nervous system in helping increase blood flow in the body, which is extremely important in terms of fertility issues. The main focus is on getting hormones where they need to go.

The Mamas delve into self-compassion, which is treating yourself with the same care, love, and kindness that you would treat other people. Normally we are much kinder to others than we are to ourselves. Dr. Kristin Neff has defined it in terms of 3 main areas:

  • Practicing self-kindness, rather than being critical
  • Being mindful, acknowledge a current situation with non-judgment and acceptance
  • Common sense of humanity, acknowledge that we are not the only person in the world who has felt this way, so we do not feel so isolated

Justine expands that practicing components of self-compassion can really reduce those feelings of stress, anxiety, self-blame, shame, and loneliness. She recommends recognizing how you speak to yourself as a great place to start by replacing negative comments with positive ones and actually acknowledging your real feelings. That it is okay to feel jealous, resentful, and angry BUT by practicing mindfulness you recognize and acknowledge them by doing your best to sit with them. She admits it may be painful but it will help in the long run in terms of how you’re coping with whatever pain you’re dealing with. Sabrina agrees that sometimes being tough sometimes means actually leaning into being vulnerable and feeling all those emotions.

“Figure out who your heart family is … who can really show up for you and hold space for you.” ~Leisha Laird

The Mamas get into how stress can affect infertility. Leisha recommends when you are going through fertility struggles to really identify who the people are around you who will hold space for you in that really vulnerable time. She claims that fertility can really bring shame up in you. Stress manifests in so many different ways, but you are standing in the center, with physical stress, emotional stress, and mental stress. She goes on to explain that the brain can put you into a fight or flight response when cortisol is released to deal with this stress. This takes the focus away on the digestive system and in turn stresses out the physical body as well. It is a cyclical issue. She has two suggestions for her clients to help combat this stress response the body goes through:

  1. Set an alarm on your phone to remind them to breathe 5-10 times every hour during the day, it will reset the parasympathetic system.
  2. 20 minutes per day alone outside in nature, to allow you to tap into the magic of life, to ask ourselves the question of: How can we shift to what is working in life? To go to a place of expansion instead of contraction.

Hillary expands on Leisha’s point that when women are going through fertility struggles, the tendency is to go into a lot of mind work: What am I doing? How do I do that? What can I work on? etc. “How do I step away from that mouse on the wheel in my brain and really get into my body and asses where I am at on that level too?” She explains that naturopathic medicine can help slow down this wheel with the woman and go there with them by going more in-depth with them in their body. She recommends getting into the body and finding that place of stillness and quiet, that gut piece, that intuitive piece of who am I? And grounding yourself in that.

“It's important to step away from that mouse on the wheel in the brain and really get into the body and asses where it is on that level too?” ~ Hillary Smith

The Mamas share their advice for Mamas who may be in the thick of their journey in terms of fertility struggles. Justine counsels “the kinder you can be with yourself the less you will suffer, then you will have the energy to keep going to find your answer.” Hillary says that just giving a hug is sometimes enough, having a space to go with open arms. Leisha adds to this: “Figure out who your heart family is … who can really show up for you and hold space for you.”

“The kinder you can be with yourself the less you will suffer, then you will have the energy to keep going to find your answer.” ~Justine Dowd PhD

Resources from our Amazing Mama Guests…

From Justine:

  • Holistic Fertility Day Retreat - 15% off for our YGTMAMA Listeners (email Justine for discount and reference YGTMAMA - the podcast):


Connect with Justine:


Instagram: @justinedowd.phd

FB: JustineDowdPhD


Connect with Hillary:


Instagram: @drhillarynd

FB: @drhillarynd


Connect with Leisha:

Instagram: @Leisha Laird

FB: Leisha Laird




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