One part clinical, one part practical, one part mystical.
This is how Liz Richards, L.Ac, M.Ac. OM, the director and owner of the Blossom Clinic in NE Portland, describes the balance of how she works. Smiling at the word mystical, Liz recognizes the emotional journey she takes with her patients. As an acupuncturist specializing in helping fertility and pregnant patients, she has created a calm and welcoming space at Blossom over the last thirteen years.
She has also turned the clinic into a place where a small but supportive group of like-minded practitioners can focus on their work while receiving guidance with the business side. “I opened the clinic not only to see patients, but to support other business owners,” Liz says. “Sometimes practitioners are really good at what they do, but don’t know the business side, so I’m helping them. They’re all independent contractors. I feel really lucky. I have amazing practitioners here.”
Liz has also found a good balance of business, patient care, and quality family time. “I see patients three days a week. I love marketing and communications. That’s also where my passion lies. Not working two days a week allows me the flexibility to work on those things. And I spend quality time with my husband and two boys. We eat breakfast and dinner together almost every day.”
Everything Liz does circles back to her passion for helping people and running a business. “I came across a Steve Jobs quote the other day: ‘The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle’”, Liz says. “I think I’ve really found what I love to do, not just the healing part but the business part too. I’m not doing the social media or anything because I have to. It’s because I want to. I get to create a conversation with people and patients. That’s where I like to focus my energy.”
Tell me a little bit about your background.
I grew up in the restaurant business. My family owns restaurants and catering halls in Long Island, New York. When I was twelve, I worked in the coat room and as a hostess, and then worked in the summers throughout college. I learned my business ethic from my family, my dad in particular. But I haven’t been involved in the business since college.
I was pre-med at Cornell and I was ready to go to medical school. I even took the entrance exams, but the whole time I had it in the back of my head that I wanted to study natural medicine. And the voice was getting louder and louder. Someone finally helped me realize that medical school was a plan, and plans could change and that I had full control over what I wanted to do. So I came here to go to Naturopathic school and then switched to Chinese medicine.
What inspired you to focus on acupuncture and fertility?
In terms of fertility, fifteen years ago I was in graduate school working on my Master’s Thesis on fertility and Traditional Chinese Medicine, and my sister was going through IVF (in vitro fertilization). So I went back to New York while she was on bed rest. At the time, they didn’t give patients sharps containers for needles. She actually had to use plastic Coke bottles and they were all lined up in her kitchen and that image just really affected me. When I saw the soda bottles filled with injection needles, it solidified my desire to support women going through IVF with natural medicine and to see how I could help them before they pursued Assisted Reproductive Technology. I feel like I have succeeded at both. I love supporting people going through IVF and I go to the fertility clinic about once a week to help them on the day of embryo transfer with acupuncture. Probably 60% of my fertility patients are going through either IVF or IUI (intrauterine insemination) and also doing some sort of Western intervention. It truly is an honor to be there for them and it is the culmination of a lot of what we worked toward in our sessions. And I have a wonderful relationship with fertility clinics here so I’m far from anti-Western medicine. I have a love for science, so I bring that into my practice. Of course, I love it when I can help someone get pregnant without IUI or IVF.
You say on your website the idea of Western medicine being an investigation of the human body piece by piece…
Yes, and Eastern medicine is putting it back together.
Instead of explaining it that way, pulling it apart and putting it back together, the way I do my work here in the clinic is: one part clinical, one part practical, and one part mystical. The clinical part comes is the love of science and looking at lab exams. I have a naturopath here who analyzes hormones. Everyone has a diagnosis and a treatment plan. We’re working with reproductive endocrinologists, OBGYNs, working with the naturopath here and all coming together and helping the person.
The second part is practical. My work is very process-oriented and I’m helping people figure out how to make lifestyle changes and how to incorporate nutrition. Basically everything that is in my e-book, Nourishing Fertility: an A-to-Z Guide. It really is process-oriented and I’m working with patients to solve problems and figure out what the next step is. I’m very much an optimist, but I’m also a realist. I’m pretty straight forward with my patients; it’s a little bit of the New Yorker that comes out. That’s what they tell me anyway!
The third part is the mystical, and I feel kind of brave saying that, but, really, there’s a part of everything I do that is a little of the mystery and the unknown, and that’s where the relationship between the practitioner and the patient comes in. Their fertility journey, the practitioner is a big part of that – you can’t separate the two. It’s my intention and my acupuncture needles and whatever else I do in the room with the patient at that time. I help my patients kind of let go, at least while they’re in the room. Because not only does it help them in their own life, but it also helps their chi flow, their energy flow, to be able to do that.
The letting go part is interesting. For women who are having trouble conceiving and feel frustrated, devastated, angry, stressed…what should they do?
Well, probably the worst thing you can say to someone who is trying to conceive is to just relax and let go! Because it’s just not going to work that way! That’s not what I’m saying. But there is truth to that. Just by talking about it or getting treatment for it, or getting a consult from a reproductive endocrinologist – all those things can help you let go and get help. But it’s more than just relaxing on the table. It’s all very stressful, so it’s also our job at the clinic to reduce stress and mitigate the effects of stress on the body.
What’s the number one thing you’d want to tell women who are having trouble conceiving?
With my patients, I said before that I’m an optimist, but I’m also realistic. So when I sit down with them, I’m not going to tell them they’ll get pregnant and not to worry. We’re going to look at their labs, their Vitamin D, their iron, and figure out if there is anything clinically that they can improve and then take it from there. My advice to people is to start right away with acupuncture or Naturopathic medicine. Don’t wait. You don’t have to be actively trying to conceive to start getting care. The ultimate goal for everything is a healthy baby and healthy family, and that starts with the pre-conception care. I work with patients to help them have a shift in consciousness that the way they treat their body now is going to affect their pregnancy and the health of their baby later.
Are there any moments with patients that have really stuck with you?
So many. I can’t say a specific scenario, but I love it when my patients come back. I help them have their first baby and then they come back for their second baby. That continuity of care is really, really special.
What are your goals for the clinic in the next couple of years?
I plan on expanding the clinic to a new space in 2017. There are other things I want to do with Nourishing Fertility in the future. I want to make a guided relaxation MP3 for patients. And I designed jewelry this year, the fertility necklace and the pregnancy necklace. I worked with a local designer, Lauren Harkness, and we talked about the idea and vision, and then she designed it. We have an infertility support group here, a Hypnobirthing class with our massage therapist, and the fall cleanses campaign. A lot of stuff happening. The cool thing about running a business is that there’s so many outlets for creativity. There’s not a lack of passion.
To learn more about Liz Richards and the other practitioners and services at Blossom Clinic, visit: blossomclinic.net
Photos: Ken Rumbaugh