By nature, Leigh Koechner is openly raw and honest but also blessed with a lightness of being. She’s funny and quirky, too. A mother of five—with husband actor David Koechner—she does stand up, creates a variety of videos, and is the parenting expert for Jiyo, a personal well-being app. ABILITY’s Chet Cooper and Lia Martirosyan joined the Kansas-native at her family home in Los Angeles, where she discussed her mission in life, the miraculous birth of her youngest, and how she’s choosing to share her gifts with the world.
Chet Cooper: Your routine is funny. Is it true you had a head trauma?
Leigh Koechner: I did—I fell off a cliff when I was 13 years old. We were mountain climbing and rappelling down a mountain at a summer camp, and as we came back down the mountain, the trail was thin, and I kept grabbing daddy long-leg spiders and throwing them at my girlfriend’s back, because she hated them and we teased her constantly. I turned back around the other way and literally slipped off the side by goofballin’ it. I fell 10 feet and landed on my head. There was a 250-foot drop after that, so it was great I landed there. But the way I hit my head knocked me unconscious. They had to rappel down to me and then run three miles to get some board to put me on to bring me down. I guess when you have head trauma you throw up quite a bit. I wasn’t aware of it, but I was throwing up and screaming and saying wild things, and then I’d black out.
I woke up about 48 hours later in Boone County, Arkansas, in intensive care. I remember I couldn’t move my head. I had no idea where I was. There was some really drunk man chained to his bed, like handcuffed, who had been in an accident, screaming. I was like, “Where am I?” And then I looked, and I saw the owner of the camp and he said, “Hey, darlin’! You’re injured. You banged your head up pretty good.” And then I didn’t cry or anything. I was 13, and I was just lying there. But then the second I heard my dad’s voice—they put the phone to my ear—and I said, “Daaaad!” He said, “I’m on my way, baby!” He was a doctor. He took a life flight from Kansas City to come and get me. I was in intensive care for a little bit, and then in a room for about a week.
What we have found is that it jarred my short-term memory. How I describe it is, I have a little staircase in my brain. When you say, “How was last night?” I run up and look, and it’s blank. And somebody will say, “Remember? We were at Marion’s.” And I say, “Oh, my gosh, it was a blast!” There’s a little prompting that has to be done.
Lia Martirosyan: What a good illustration.
Koechner: Yeah! When I was trying to decide how to describe it, people were like, “Were you drunk last night?” I used to be a pretty big partier, and I would say, “Yes.” So sometimes I thought it was because I was drinking, and I had one drink too many. And then when I quit drinking for a while, it was still happening. That’s how we found out. It got a little bounced around up there.
Martirosyan: Daddy long-legs.
Koechner: It was the daddy long-legs’ fault.
Cooper: So how do you feel about them now?
Koechner: I just enjoy them. I have a collection of them in my bedroom.
Cooper: What kind of a physician was your dad?
Koechner: He was a plastic and reconstructive surgeon in Kansas City. Here it would be considered more plastic, but there it’s more reconstructive. When people got in car accidents, he’d put their faces back together or remove cancers.
Martirosyan: So you’ve always been in a medical
Koechner: Yes. I used to go to the emergency room with my father. He would let me put on gloves and hand him stuff. I went to the operating room and got to observe, and I loved it. I thought I would do pre-med until I got into college, but I liked partying and cocktailing way more than studying, so I went from pre-med to recreation and leisure.
Martirosyan: You have that smile.
Koechner: It’s so funny. That’s really what I majored in. In college, I was in a sorority, and I was doing the mail, that was my job that day. I was putting the mail in the mail slots. My dad had just called me and said, “What is your major? You’re a junior. You have to pick your major, because you have to get all those classes in.” I was like, “Whatever, Dad.” He said, “Pick one. I’m only paying for four years.” I said, “OK.” I was doing the mail, and I saw a picture of a beach, so I flipped it over to see where to put it, and it said, “I miss you, sisters. I love you all. I’m having a blast at my internship.” I was like, “Who knows Kim Anderson? What is her major?” They said, “Rec and leisure.” I said, “That’s what I’m signing up for.” I ran and signed up that day and called my dad and he belly-laughed, because he’s a super-smart guy. He said, “Fine. Just graduate in four years.”
I have to say, most people do not use their college degrees. It’s less than five percent or something like that. I actually used mine. I went to work at resorts around the world and set up activity programs and had some fun. I was at Club Med teaching scuba diving.
Cooper: Did you go to graduate school?
Koechner: Recently. From Club Med I ended up just moving to California—”just?” I love it here! I got a job in post-production and bounced around, and then I got married and started being more creative, having the freedom to be creative, because I wasn’t stuck in a job where I felt like I was suffocating and not filling my heart with joy.
I recently went back to school and got my master’s in Spiritual Psychology, because I almost sold a reality TV show. I remember somebody pitched it, and I was excited and wanted to do one, and then we almost sold it. I remember right before we found out I thought, “I don’t feel connected to this at all. This isn’t who I am. This isn’t what I’m about.” And then they passed on it, and I was so glad. I thought, “I’m not going to move forward in this until I know who I am and what I’m about and why I’m here.” Some serendipitous things happened. Somebody said, “You need to go to this school.” It lit me up. I started five days later. I found out the two things that I wanted to know: who I really am and why I’m on the planet. I found those things out, and now I only move in line with things that support that.
Cooper: And what are those two things?
Koechner: That I am a soul, temporarily in this earthsuit, and the gift I’ve been given is that I’m filled with joy, and I have a bright light. When I share these gifts with other people, I’ve found that it makes a difference in a very positive way to myself and to the people I touch. That’s exciting, because now it’s so clear I’m here to shine my light and to be all of me. Those are two things I know how to do with grace and ease. When we’re lined up with what we’re supposed to be doing, it’s with grace and ease we move through the world!
Martirosyan: Is that something you have to remind yourself of every day? It’s a big thing to realize, but it’s also a big thing to maintain.
Koechner: No! I think when we get really clear about what specific gifts we have been blessed with and we’re using those gifts to be of service, it’s easy. It feels good. It’s healing to me and to whomever I’m working with or talking to.
Cooper: You mean helping others?
Cooper: That’s totally selfish.
Koechner: It’s really selfish. I only help others to feel good. (laughs)
Cooper: It’s the most selfish thing you do, and people don’t realize it.
Koechner: Being of service is the best way to be happy and to feel good and be filled with joy and a sense of purpose.
Cooper: It says in the Bible that it’s better to give than to receive, probably almost every religion has something like that, and yet people wait to go to church and tithe or they do certain things, but they’re not truly giving unconditionally, but it’s so beneficial to one’s soul. We do it all the time. I think what Lia’s question was is that you get caught up in the world’s activities, watching the news, hearing people do things that harm others and the planet, and that’s when it’s difficult to say, “Am I still doing good?”
Koechner: It’s interesting because if everything on this planet were perfect and rosy and beautiful, and we all thought the same and skipped around, we wouldn’t be learning a whole hell of a lot.
Cooper: I’d be surfing more though.
Koechner: You would probably be surfing more. Without the darkness you can’t have light. I think without the things we perceive as bad or horrible, you can’t have people who can be of service to help. There has to be the—
Koechner: Yes, because I think we are here to be human—we’re here to miss the mark, to get covered up and unravel, and to get back to our greatness. Although I don’t think it’s beautiful when horrible things happen to people, but from the horrible experiences we rise, and we take care of each other, and we stand up taller and get the meat of who we are.
I don’t watch CNN, because it’s just yammering on and on about how bad things are. That doesn’t interest me. It interests my husband, but I’ve set limits. I told him, “If you’re going to be five minutes in front of the TV, do five minutes of meditation. If you’re going to do 15 minutes of ranting about Donald Trump, do 15 minutes of playing catch with your son. You’ve got to balance it out. I’m not going to watch you fill up with negative energy. It’s not welcome.”
Cooper: I would beg to differ. I would say 15 bad, 30 good.
Koechner: If you choose to wring your hands, stare at the TV, and bring your blood pressure up, it’s a waste of energy. If you know you’re in alignment with bringing light in and then sharing that, you’re doing your part for the world.
Cooper: Tell us about your parenting videos. Is that part of your mission?
Koechner: Yes! As I told you, I found out who I am and what my gifts are.
Cooper: Oh, by the way, do you have children?
Koechner: A couple.
Hi. My name’s Leigh Koechner.
I’m a mother of five kids, and I’m married to actor David Koechner.
Cooper: OK, so you are married and have five kids.
Koechner: Five kids who are very different and who are insanely perfect at showing me how much work I still have to do. Because I will talk about stuff like, “You know, when you’re a kid, just take a step back and take a breath.” I’ll teach my staff. And then when I come home, I’m shouting,”What did you say?” And then I giggle. It’s like I’m observing this crazy person.
Cooper: I think back to what Lia was saying about how you stay on the path of your being, because of the realities of life. The children are a perfect example.
Koechner: Perfect. My biggest triggers are my children. Something I learned when I, in what I call “spirit school,” was compassionate self-forgiveness. We beat ourselves up. We all are our biggest critic and our biggest bully. We are to ourselves more than anybody else will ever be. The thoughts from our childhoods still run through our heads. And most people still take those childhood thoughts, like, “I’m not good enough.” Everyone has a story they created when they were little—something happened. For example, my mother was mentally ill and locked behind her bedroom door. We didn’t have access to her. So how I perceived that in my seven-year-old little girl mind was, “I’m not even good enough for my own mother to get out of bed for.”
I was unworthy. Nothing mattered. I acted that way. I was a wild ass in school. I did whatever I wanted. I drank. I did drugs. I made out with a lot of people. I was trying anywhere to connect and find out who I was. But I thought nothing mattered because I wasn’t even good enough for my own mom. Who would love me if she doesn’t love me? Come on! And that’s from a thought I had at seven. We put those thoughts in our heads, and we live our whole lives under this teeny pebble from when we were a kid in these adult bodies! That’s why you see parents overreact when something happens to their kids, because they have a huge bag of—if I can say it—crap on their backs that they’re carrying from their childhoods, because they haven’t worked through it. They haven’t cleared it out.
Parents get so wrapped up in their kids because they’re working out their own stuff on them, as opposed to going, “Well, my bag’s really floppin’ around right now. I’m going to set it down. I’m going to look at my kid, and I’m going to listen and keep my mouth shut.” That’s really hard for me, listening and keeping my mouth shut. That’s why they are constantly showing me, “This is what you need to work on. This is what I need from you.” And when I don’t do it, they show me by how they react to me. Whether it’s a door slam or an eye roll or a shutdown, they’re saying, “You’re not showing up in a way that is supporting me. I can’t talk to you.” I’m like, “Come on, I’m sorry I interrupted. Tell me!” “Too late! Get away from me!”
So these new videos I’m doing touch my heart, because I’ve been doing all this work on myself, and then I was thinking outside myself, “Who am I going to partner with? I have all this information. I have a friend who is friends with Oprah Winfrey. Can she introduce me?” No, it became very clear it was not going to be through that channel. And then there was something else. “Is this going to be it?” No. And then right before New Year’s Eve we went to San Diego for Christmas break. It had been raining, and it was sunny one day. I got up, and everyone was still asleep, and I said, “I’m going for a fast walk on the beach, and then I’m going to meditate, and then I’ll be so excited!” I went to Audible, and it said, “You have a free book.” It was a book by Gabrielle Bernstein. She does spiritual books like Spirit Junkie or The Universe Has Your Back. I don’t like her, because she’s doing what I think I should be doing, and she makes me mad because she’s really skinny. I’m like, “I’m not listening to her.”
She kept popping back up, and I said, “Forget it. I’m going to go get something else.” So I closed that app and got something else. She popped up there, too. I believe signs like that are not an accident.
Martirosyan: They’re based on your searches! (laughs)
Koechner: She came up on something that I hadn’t used before, and then another one came up. I said, “I’ll listen to her.” I heard her say, “Are you done with holding yourself back? Are you done not being? Are you ready to—?” I said, “Yeah, I am ready! Yes, I am done! I am ready to step into my greatness.” I’m fast-walking and it ends, and I do a Facebook live. I had met this guy at a conference in Aspen called “Lead With Love,” which my friend started. I was one of the speakers. They had dinners every night. There was a group going that I didn’t know well. I went up to grab a drink and an appetizer, and this man sat next to me, and we had a conversation. We were laughing a lot. He got my business card and wanted to keep in touch, so he reached out to me. He said, “Hey, I’m doing this app. Check it out.” He sent me the app, and I got on and I didn’t get that deep into it because my kids were probably yelling at me or I was yelling at them.
And then he emailed me and said, “Would you be interested in being the parenting expert for this app?” His name is Poonacha Machaiah. He partnered with Deepak Chopra to create a global well-being app called Jiyo, and it’s amazing. He asked me to be the parenting expert. He had reached out to me, and I kept blowing his emails off. I don’t know why. I guess I still had a fear inside of my body. That day on the beach when I did my Facebook live and I declared, “I’m no longer holding myself back,” and I did all these things, I thought, “I’m texting that guy back.” I texted and said, “I’m ready to work.” He said, “Great! Let’s talk Tuesday.” And I started working with them. I shot a bunch of videos for their parenting portion. My videos are there and now I’m creating an online parenting course for them to promote with me.
Cooper: And you have kids, too!
Koechner: And I have kids! That’s what he said to me: “We had, like, a hundred parenting experts come to us. We had authors, speakers, all of these people, but I don’t find very many people who are actually living what they’re teaching. You’re living it. You’re doing the work, and you’re in it.” So when you said, “How do you decipher between getting caught up and being human and trying to stay on track with your gifts?” It is allowing both of them to exist and honoring both of them and realizing, “I’m only here to be human, because this is never changing. This is going back where it came from, but I am here to be all of this. I’m here to be vulnerable. I’m here to mess up. I’m here to fly and succeed. I’m here to be happy, to be full and to shed all the old stories and thoughts that were my blocks before, my little ball and chain that I snipped, in order to do what I’m supposed to do.”
Cooper: Good stuff.
Martirosyan: Are you going to continue with stand-up?
Koechner: Yes. I started the stand-up about six months ago. I went to see my husband perform in Burbank. I went into the greenroom, and he wasn’t there, so I started talking to the two women who were in there. And one of them asked, “Do you do stand-up?” And she said, “You should.” And I said, “Yes, I should!” And she said, “If you ever do, you have a spot here.” I didn’t know who she was, but I found out she was the owner. She sat near me during the show, and a woman opened for my husband, and she was so funny. I said, “That girl’s so funny.” She said, “She teaches a class. You should take it.” So I signed up and started taking that class, and then I started writing stand-up. I went out to the first place. You had to do an open mic between each class. I went to the first one, and they said, “Hey, would you come back and do a show?” I was like, “Sure.” The next one, “Would you come back and do a show?” “Sure.” And my teacher said, “Make sure you don’t do any shows until you’re done with the class.” I was like, “Too late!”
I love it. I feel at home. I love being on stage. I love telling the jokes. The only thing is—
Cooper: —nobody’s laughing?
Koechner: That’s the hitch. I love that everyone has to sit and listen to me. Here, in my house, everyone runs. There they can’t move. They paid for it. They’re
Martirosyan: And they have to get a two-drink minimum.
Koechner: Yes! They’ve got a buzz, and they’re stuck, and they’ve paid. I love it.
Cooper: Your backyard looks like a playground.
Koechner: Doesn’t it? I have little kidville. My heart shifted when I got involved with Shane’s Inspiration and their accessible playgrounds. My fifth child, we had frozen embryos—
Cooper: Oh, we already had lunch, thanks!
Koechner: (laughs) My fifth child was frozen for 10 years. We thawed out the four frozen embryos. One survived, and we put that child into a surrogate. They said during the pregnancy that something was wrong with her, that she had an infectious disease. We went to an infectious disease doctor who said, “She does have an infectious disease, but you need to see a heart doctor. Her heart’s messed up.” So we go to a heart doctor, and he said, “This is wrong, and this is wrong, but that’s the least of your problems. You need to go to a skeletal doctor.” The skeletal doctor said, “You have a child—.” It kept getting worse. The doctor said, “Your baby’s brain had stopped growing. The head is basically a balloon, and it grows around the brain. If your baby survives, she’ll be in a wheelchair. She’ll have to have open-heart surgery. She’ll atrophy, and you’ll have to move her limbs.” This was the picture they were painting.
I chose my surrogate eight years prior because she was the only surrogate who would never terminate under any circumstance. In our contract, we didn’t put anything in it about terminating, because I wouldn’t either. So we get to this thing, and all of the doctors are saying, “The biggest gift you can give this child is termination, instead of making her struggle and all the pain she’s going to go through and you can’t even comfort her.” And I remember coming to my husband, and I had a pastor over to pray about it, and he said, “The technology is a gift in so many ways. To have all of this information.” Basically he was saying, “Go for it.” My nanny at the time, who was married to Jesus, said, “Why would you do that to her? Let her go?” I remember thinking my whole life, “I would never under any circumstance consider abortion.” And they were saying things like, “This isn’t about you. This is about all of your children and what you already have.”
We ended up, of course, not terminating, and we made the decision not to. We were just moving forward. The doctor was like, “Wait a second, your baby’s brain is at two percent. It’s never been at anything.” And then the next time she said, “Her fingers are—the exogamic bowel’s gone.” Everything that was wrong was starting to disappear, and she was born healthy.
The doctor said, “This has been obsessing, because I’m the one who writes the medical journals. All I can say is that your baby had that infectious disease so badly that she shut down and waited for it to pass, and now she’s catching back up. That’s the only medical explanation I can find. I found a case 50 years ago, and that child was born blind.” I said, “She’s not going to be born blind.” As soon as I heard about my baby, and as soon as we decided to go through with it, I started reaching out to people to find doctors and specialists. We had a great wheelchair. I wanted to find the things that would help. Somebody introduced me to Marci and said, “You need to talk to her, she has great resources.” So I talked to her, and she said, “I’ll put you in touch with great doctors.” All of a sudden I had a community, and it was doable. It went from heartache and devastation to, “People will rally around me and help me. I can do it with whatever we’re given.”
My gift from her was that she was born healthy. She was not blind. She’s a little rambunctious and out of control, but other than that, my gift was to release my judgment on abortion. I released all these judgments that I was raised with and that my dad had said about people and things. I released all of them except that thought. He brought me to my knees by realizing that it was a viable option for us. This allowed me to shed the judgment and to know that everyone is doing the best they can with where they are. My way is not the right way.
Martirosyan: Wow! What a wonderful outcome.
Koechner: Yeah! I’ll take it! And we pause every once in a while, and my husband and I will lock eyes and look at Eve and remember. It’s the present of gratitude.
Cooper: But how cool that you were prepping her for life and planning to integrate her into society, which is not always so open and accessible. But you were getting her prepped for the best she could—
Koechner: —prepped for success, that’s right.
Cooper: That was so cool to think, “We’re going to get her the best wheelchair.”
Koechner: I remember the moment we decided not to terminate, and we were bawling, because it was all so emotional. My husband said, “Her name’s Eve.” I said, “That’s never been on any of our lists. What are you talking about?” He said [near tears], “That was the first from God, the first woman. This is our first.” I was like, “Eve’s going to have the best damn wheelchair. It’s going to be over there. It’s gonna be bedazzled!” And from that moment, it shifted. I went from devastation and heartache to f#cking—excuse me!—”Let’s go!”
Cooper: Put a dollar into the jar.
Koechner: I didn’t say that, he did. (laughs) Would you quit throwing me cuss words? It was sweet. And then one time I remember I was in the car with Charlie and Margo, six or seven years ago, and they were in the back seat, and I was driving, and I said, “Hey, guys, I want to tell you something about Eve. She might be in a wheelchair.” [near tears] And my son said, “That’s going to be really hard for her.” And my daughter said, “Oh, I can’t wait to help her!” And I was just like, “It’s going to be OK! It’s going to be what it is.”
Koechner: I put mascara on too.
Cooper: Me too.
Koechner: I’m going to grab a Kleenex for her because she’s all blubbery. I just think life gives us such wonderful obstacles and heartaches and struggles to liberate us and to learn from.