Ebbs and Flows: Podcast host Amanda Laird on professional development, #periodtalk and smashing the patriarchy

In September 2017, Amanda Laird launched Heavy Flow, a podcast about menstruation and reproductive health. A writer, Registered Holistic Nutritionist (RHN), podcast host, entrepreneur, intersectional feminist and mother, Amanda remains committed to recognizing the parallels between prejudices within the healthcare and medical industries and women’s wellness.

Through her work with Heavy Flow, her strategic business experience, in both communications and holistic nutrition, and her journey with parenthood, Amanda is leading and changing tough conversations about periods and feminism.

We connect with Amanda to learn about what compelled her to create Heavy Flow, how her 10-years of experience in the communications industry has fuelled career shifts and growth and her upcoming book, Heavy Flow: Breaking the Curse of Menstruation, set for publication in February 2019.

Read our full interview with Amanda now!  

Amanda Laird with her daughter. Photo courtesy of: Amanda Laird.
  1. Why a podcast? Why periods?

For as long as I can remember I’ve been very interested in sex and bodies and reproductive health. I was always the friend who knew what to do when you had a yeast infection or your period was late or whatever. I learned about menstrual cups and the harmful ingredients in conventional menstrual products when I was still in high school (at the turn of the century!) and that had a deep impact on me. But still, it wasn’t until I was in nutrition school that I learned that menstruation didn’t have to be a curse. I knew when I started to see clients after graduation that I wanted to tailor my practice specifically to hormonal health issues.

The idea for the Heavy Flow Podcast came about in early 2017. I was still feeling the wound of the US election and after the Women’s March, I was feeling very fired up. I had noticed in my practice that I was spending more time explaining how menstrual cycles work and why they are important to our health and wellness than I did about what to eat! I started to ask myself why this was and that’s when I started to make the connection between the lack of menstrual health education and patriarchy. Not teaching women about their bodies isn’t an accident, it’s designed to keep them oppressed.

One thing I know for sure about myself is that I am a teacher. I am happiest when I am talking or teaching or hosting a workshop. Like most entrepreneurs, I started blogging when I launched my nutrition business. I tried so hard and wrote all these great articles but it just never took off. Then in the spring of 2017, I was between work projects and I was looking for something creative to do “just for fun.” I’ve been a podcast lover since I had a second generation iPad. I was at a mastermind meeting with some other female entrepreneurs and I had no clients, no prospects, no successes of any kind to share and when it was my turn to speak, I just blurted out that I was starting a podcast, and so Heavy Flow was born. The group was instantly excited and supportive and I just knew that this was the right thing.

Given that we’re talking about such personal topics, I think it lends itself well to the medium. There’s an intimacy that comes with having someone’s voice in your ear that just wasn’t coming across in my blogs.

  1. Over the last year, you’ve seen the podcast grow more than 775 per cent, month over month. What traits and tactics have contributed to Heavy Flow’s prosperous journey?

Consistency! I knew that if I wanted the podcast to be successful, I needed to commit to it fully. I couldn’t be releasing episodes whenever I felt like it. In the early days, I also made strategic decisions about booking guests who had well-established brands or large online followings knowing that they would share their episode with their own networks, which would help to expose the podcast to new audiences that were in my ideal market.

  1. Before you launched Heavy Flow, you spent months researching the art of the podcast. What were some of your initial worries about jumping into the world of audio production storytelling?

To be honest, there wasn’t much that I was worried about. I knew in my gut that it was going to work. I’ve shared enough bottles of wine with other women to know that once you start talking about periods, the conversation just flows (pun intended). I knew that this was the right time for a podcast like this and that it was needed in the world. At the same time, if no one listened to the podcast, that was okay too, because I was making something and talking to interesting people. I was a little worried about what my family, and in particular my dad, might think, given that [Heavy Flow covers] such a taboo topic, but they have been so supportive and now, my dad sends me every news article about menstruation from his news apps! I’ve even had some really great conversations with my 86-year-old grandpa about menstruation.

  1. How has your vision for the podcast developed over the last year?

In the beginning, I was looking at the podcast as a personal, creative project. I just wanted to do something creative and get to talk to cool people while I did it. I hit all the goals I made for the podcast in the first month and I landed a publishing contract after three episodes. Then I started to get feedback from listeners who said that the podcast had changed their life in some way. That’s when I knew that this project was bigger than just something I was doing for fun.

So, in order to make it sustainable, I’ve started to look at it as a business. In the spring of 2018, I started to work with select brands and partners to sponsor the show. I’m not looking to get rich or pay my mortgage from Heavy Flow, but monetizing has meant that I’ve been able to bring on a producer, TK Matunda, who is my literal podcast angel. She makes the show sound so good and that frees up more of my time to focus on other things like booking guests, prepping for interviews and negotiating with sponsors. She also brings a different perspective to the show that I really appreciate and I think makes us better.

  1. Talking about periods shouldn’t be weird, but for some reason, it still is. What do you hope your work with Heavy Flow has done to reduce the stigma and taboo surrounding menstruation?

I know it sounds simple, but just talking about menstruation is literally an act of resistance. We can’t demand products that are safe for our bodies and our planet, or better treatments for painful periods or medical research for diseases like endometriosis or PCOS if we can’t even bring ourselves to say the word period.

  1. Describe some of the common themes Heavy Flow discusses and investigates.

When I first started Heavy Flow, I thought we’d just talk about periods, maybe a bit about nutrition or how things like acupuncture can help with pain, but as I began to dive in, I realized that menstruation intersects with a lot of other issues that I had never considered before. Class, gender, race, ability – these have an effect on our access to menstrual products, which types of products are available to us, as well as access to medical treatment or even just being taken seriously by a doctor when we’re concerned about period pain or menstrual issues.

I also believe that menstruation is a feminist issue, as the shame and taboo are deeply rooted in misogyny. And then, there are other topics that are sisters to menstruation, like pregnancy, childbirth, sex and the topics that are even more taboo like miscarriage, infertility and abortions.

I also take issue with a lot of the privilege and white washing and sneaky diet culture that’s ingrained in the wellness world and I try to address all this on the podcast too.

  1. Have you ever received negative or harsh criticism on your work with Heavy Flow from, perhaps, people uncomfortable with discussing reproductive health? If yes, how did you cope with and handle the situation?

Thankfully, not much. The worst that’s ever happened was a very right-wing troll once left some nasty comments on a Facebook post I had shared about menstrual cups being a feminist issue. She thought menstrual blood was disgusting and gross, had nothing to do with feminism and that I was stupid for suggesting so. I told her that I thought her attitudes towards menstrual blood were a feminist issue. And then I blocked her.

  1. Outside of your work with Heavy Flow, how do you keep the period conversation going, whether personally or professionally?

On a professional level, I am an RHN and I see clients specifically for hormonal health and menstrual issues. As a nutritionist, I work one-on-one with clients who have difficult, painful or irregular periods, endometriosis, PCOS, fertility challenges, hormonal imbalances or just want to learn more about their menstrual cycles. I help them tweak nutrition and lifestyle and also to navigate the traditional medical system that often normalizes or flat out ignores their pain. I also teach workshops, including a practicum I designed for the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition called Menstrual Cycles for Holistic Nutritionists. And I wrote a book called Heavy Flow: Breaking the Curse of Menstruation that will be published by Dundurn Press in February 2019.

Personally, I kind of can’t go anywhere without talking about periods. As soon as people find out what I do, they want to tell me about their menstrual cycles. And honestly, I’m perfectly happy to chat any time. If you see me at a party, I’m probably in the corner talking to someone about cervical mucus.

  1. What advice would you give to people hoping to bring period talk into their personal lives, aiming to openly discuss menstruation with family and friends?

How do you openly discuss your sprained wrist or a runny nose? As Elizabeth Kissling wrote in her book, Capitalizing on the Curse, menstruation is just a fact of life that need not be concealed. Bodies leak and bleed and ovulate and do all kinds of gross and weird things, and none of it is anything to be ashamed of. If you want to start talking about it, literally just start talking about it.

You might actually be surprised how much others want to talk about it too. I encourage you to learn, understand and use the actual terms associated with your body and it’s functions – if you’re menstruating say that, not that Aunt Flow is visiting.

At the same time, I don’t think menstrual liberation means we’re all talking about our periods all the time. If someone wants to keep that private, that’s one thing. But feeling like it’s something that needs to be kept secret because of shame and taboo is another, and I’m not down with that.

  1. You have over a decade of experience in communications and marketing. What insights from the communications and marketing industries did you take with you to help build Heavy Flow into what it is today?

I definitely think that the years I’ve spent in corporate communications have helped me to grow Heavy Flow. When I was launching the podcast, I created a communications plan that set out how I was going to promote the show, who I was targeting, what my goals and objectives were and I measured my early successes against that plan. My experience in PR and marketing also taught me about consistency – both from a branding perspective (make all your fonts match and use the same colours on your social media profiles and website!) and also from a content generation perspective (put content out on a regular schedule!).

  1. You have also created a DIY Podcast Launch Guide that aspiring hosts and producers can utilize. With it comes a one hour live coaching session. Why was this something you felt the industry needed? How has this launch guide helped you connect with other creators and like-minded people?

After I launched Heavy Flow, I was inundated with people want to take me out for coffee to “pick my brain” about launching a podcast. After a while, I was like, wait a second, an hour of my consulting time is worth way more than a coffee. I am a firm believer that people, and in particular women and femme-presenting people who are so often expected to labour for free, should be paid for their work. So I put everything I taught myself about podcasting into one PDF and offered my communications expertise to help people launch on the right foot. Now, when people ask me if they can, “pick my brain,” I can say, “here’s my package.”

At the same time, the one thing I didn’t find when I was launching Heavy Flow was the literal step-by-step instructions for what I need to buy or how to create an RSS feed, all in one place. There’s nothing in this guide you can’t find anywhere else, but now you can get one document that walks you through the process step-by-step, so you can save that time having to read a bunch of different blog posts or eBooks and you can concentrate on planning your show.

  1. As you’ve mentioned, you’re an RHN and you graduated the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition in 2015. Why was this an important step for you?

When I turned 30, I knew that I needed to make a change in my life. I was working in a very busy PR agency that had a pretty toxic work culture and I was starting to burn out. I was working so hard and for what? I didn’t feel like the work I was doing with corporate communications clients was adding any real value to the world. It started to feel more and more important that my work helped people in some way.

I had been interested in nutrition since I worked in a health food store when I was in college and every so often, I’d flirt with the idea of quitting it all and becoming a nutritionist. I had experienced for myself how food could really profoundly affect your physical and mental health. And then, I had an interview for what should have been my dream job – it was on paper and would have meant big money. But, when I left [the interview], I just felt exhausted by it. I knew that job would make me happy for a short time and then eventually, I’d be back feeling the same way.

One night at dinner with a friend I said, “I just want to teach people how to eat!” And a few days later, a flyer for a nutrition school showed up in my mailbox. I had literally requested it a year before. It felt like a pretty sure sign that this was my next right thing. Two weeks later, I was enrolled in a part-time program.

  1. How has your experience as an RHN supported your role as the host of Heavy Flow?

I was a nutritionist before I was a podcast host. And it was through my nutrition studies and practice that I discovered body literacy and fertility awareness, and the idea that PMS or painful periods aren’t normal and there’s actually something you can do about it that doesn’t include being on hormonal birth control.

I think that studying an alternative, holistic modality made me very cynical and skeptical about mainstream medicine and that’s kind of fuelled the rage-y undertone of the podcast. It was through my study and work as a nutritionist that I recognized all the ways that the medical system fails female bodies.

  1. As you also continue to work as a freelance senior communications consultant, what advice do you have for others about remaining motivated, dedicated and organized, with a packed schedule?

I feel like this is something that I am always working on and looking for advice on myself! I think getting clear on your priorities is the first step. Once you know what you want to make time for, it makes saying no to things that don’t align with your priorities or values that much easier. Picking up my daughter from preschool at 3:30 p.m. and making dinner and eating together as a family is a non-negotiable for me most weekdays. That means not fucking around during my work time and saying no to a lot of things — sometimes that’s a new client, other times it’s a weekday lunch date with a friend.

I only work part-time, so I’ve gotten really good at being efficient during my work time. I employ all the tricks: scheduling my time, blocking social media and other sites I waste time on, putting my phone in airplane mode, using a scheduler, Pomodoro, batching tasks, setting the alarm for 5:30 a.m. …

I instituted “office hours” for when I am working on freelance clients and for when I’m working on Heavy Flow. In the beginning, I really struggled with switching between different tasks – I’d try and work on client work after doing podcast interviews and it just I ended up miserable and burning out.

  1. Are you one to goal set? If yes, how do you organize, prioritize and work to achieve objectives and aspirations?

Goal setting has always felt too rigid for me and I start off strong but usually fall off the wagon after a time. Instead, I just try and focus on what feels like the next right thing. I rely on my intuition when it comes to decision making in my business and life in general. That hasn’t always been the case – I’ve only gotten good at trusting my gut because of all the times I’ve ignored it and had shit blow up in my face.

  1. Throughout all of your experiences thus far, who (or what!) has kept you empowered to keep pushing forward?

Every time I get an email or a DM from a listener saying, “this changed my life,” or, “I’ve struggled with this since I got my first period and no one has believed me,” it lights me up and makes me want to do more. I literally could not do this work if I didn’t have a partner who was an equal parent and if we weren’t able to afford childcare – shoutout to my daughter’s amazing preschool teachers, babysitters and to my mom and sister who hang with my kid a lot so I can work.

When my daughter was born, I wanted her to feel like she could really and truly do or be anything that she wanted, and I figured that the best way to ensure that was to model that in my own life. I am also so lucky to be encircled by a group of incredible women that support me in all facets of my life from parenting to business and everything in between.

Photo by: Amanda Laird.

Readers, sign up for Amanda’s newsletter at www.amandalaird.ca/subscribe and you’ll get podcast episodes each week as well as a curated round-up of links on reproductive health and other important content. Subscribers will also get first dibs on pre-orders of Amanda’s book, Heavy Flow: Breaking the Curse of Menstruation.

Heavy Flow is available on all podcast players and via www.amandalaird.ca. Join us in following Amanda on Instagram, @amandalaird, for updates about the podcast, the book and the journey.

Amanda, thank you for sharing your story with A Quarter Young and for lighting a fire on patriarchy and misogyny. Your workflow is empowering and your transparency is contagious.

The feature photo is by Tasha Jade.

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