Ruby & Ollie – Leah James (Part 1)

I always wanted to be a singer, that was my big dream when I was younger.  I played the guitar and sang, and that was what I wanted to do.  I still enjoy singing around the house but I am comfortable now that I didn’t make it my career.  I studied to be a Naturopath, which I did for three years and then I studied Nutrition.  I had a year left to do of that degree when Ollie came along (who’s now four years old).  I still studied for about six months when he was a new born, but gradually the load with Ollie became quite intense so I had to postpone my studies.  I am still technically deferred but I think by now I’ve lost a bit of traction.  Life has taken me in a different direction and I’m really comfortable and happy with that.  I have always been engaged with nutrition and natural medicine.  We do live fairly healthily although there’s always room to improve.  I don’t regret not finishing the course because I do use a lot of what I learnt in my daily life, and I’ve used a lot of the knowledge for Ollie.

Ollie was 18 months old when my husband and I got married, and he was pretty typical as a baby.  He had a problem with his feet when he was born but other than that there was nothing that stood out.  At six months old he had infantile seizures, they’re a type of spasm that look like an epileptic fit but he wasn’t epileptic.  It was such a shock.  He had his immunisations, and the following day he had a blank seizure and then went on to have these infantile seizures.  It was very similar to Rebecca’s experience, and when we met we shared our stories.  First there was an ambulance and then hospital, and obviously when any baby has a seizure they have an MRI and subsequent testing.  That’s when his neurological condition was diagnosed, so he was predisposed to seizures anyway.  We do have a feeling that the immunisation may have set off the seizures, but who knows if he would have had them regardless.  The seizures were really easily treated –  they stopped straight away and he didn’t need ongoing treatment.  His diagnosis is still not conclusive, but in the front part of his brain there’s an anomaly which affects his gross motor skills and fine motor skills, because this area of the brain controls movement.  The rest of his brain is fine.  It’s very hard to assess Ollie cognitively because he’s very engaged in the world, and can operate his ipad and play with his toys.  But for example there’s a toy that he loves but it’s hard for him to turn the button on because his fine motor skills aren’t what they should be. So he knows how to use the toy once it’s on and he enjoys the toy, but he struggles to turn it on which results in behavioural issues because of his frustration.

I now also have Vivienne who’s four months old.  Coping with Ollie and pregnancy was very challenging and I think I underestimated how hard it would be.  I was very sick when I was pregnant with Vivienne and had severe nausea for the first four months so I really did struggle.  Ollie’s not a big boy but he’s still over 13 kilos so carrying him wasn’t easy.  When I was fit I didn’t notice it but pregnancy really affected me.  Ollie was aware I was pregnant and noticed the changes in me.  He touched my stomach a lot, but he’s non-verbal so it’s hard to gauge his understanding of concepts but he does notice differences.  He struggled at the start with her, and it was a big step for him because he’d had me to himself for so long.  He was a little out of sorts at the beginning particularly when I was feeding, but he’s quite good now, he’s accepting her more and more.

I enrolled Ollie into Hummingbirds family day care a few years ago, which was Rebecca’s business.  She was looking after children with special needs, and I had tried all the mainstream centres but they didn’t work out so I knew I needed to step outside and find something a bit more tailored.  I travelled for over an hour to get there, but there was nothing else available.  He did really well and flourished, and I could see the change in him.  And I started thinking that we needed to do something closer to Brisbane, so I talked to Rebecca about it and she said it was something she’d always wanted to do and it was part of her long term plan – but she couldn’t do it on her own.  So that’s how it all started.  We definitely have a good dynamic and a great friendship.  I like to foster strong relationships like Rebecca does, and I also learnt a lot about the financial side as my parents had a business and I was very involved in that.  We have a great balance.  She has such a beautiful way with people and a connection with organisations and families.

It’s been very challenging, setting up a whole new business, looking after Ollie and having a new born.  I have a lot of balls in the air and I’m constantly juggling but I think it’s about having really good support to be honest.  I’m a big believer that as women we can have it all and we can do it all ( it’s a big theme in my life at the moment) but we do need to be supported.  Whether that’s from our partners or our family.  It’s interesting in Australia we have children and ask for little help, but you look to Asian countries and they are surrounded by family and community and they’re not expected to do everything themselves.  I do believe that we can have it all, but it’s often about timing.  In hindsight maybe having a baby amongst everything that is happening with Ollie, and with the business, wasn’t the most sensible idea, and it has been challenging – but I wouldn’t change a thing.  Vivienne has added so much joy to our lives.  I don’t like to compare Ollie and Vivienne, I love them equally and differently, but she has counterbalanced a lot of grief that I didn’t know I had until I had her.  She’s ticking little boxes for me and filling a part of my heart that I didn’t know was missing.  It’s been really interesting.  My relationship with Ollie is unusual – we don’t speak to each other for one thing because he’s non-verbal.   It’s amazing to have such a connection without the typical ways of communicating, and I sometimes wonder how we do understand each other.  I talk to him all the time, I have done since he was a baby, and while he doesn’t respond to me verbally I know there is still a response.  He knows when I’m there, and I know that he needs me.  I wouldn’t change my experience with Ollie, but it will be beautiful to hear Vivienne talking to me.  I am looking forward to having a typical experience, but I am grateful for both.

Establishing Ruby & Ollie’s has let me explore another side of myself.  There were days when I was with Ollie full time that I started to wonder what happened to me and what I wanted, and I really struggled with trying to find my identity again.  I felt uninspired to go back to study because I knew Ollie would take me in a different direction, but I didn’t know where.  Now that we have this opportunity with Ruby & Ollie’s I feel really inspired and passionate, and connected to myself.  I feel very confident, and I am very engaged in the business being my future.

The Shark Tank experience was quite extraordinary.   Last year Rebecca sent me an email about the Shark Tank – and I still have that email.  We applied for the show as we really needed funding, and we had tried so many different ways but weren’t getting anywhere.  It was a big challenge.  I was four months pregnant when we did the show and I was quite sick, so I really counted on my husband for support.  We rehearsed so much that it must have driven my husband crazy!  The preparation and the whole process from the application to the presentation was around four months  so by the time we actually did the show we were really ready and really confident.  I didn’t feel nervous at all.  I had known from the time we sent off the application that we would be successful.  I couldn’t see a reason why we wouldn’t be.  Having two Sharks invest with us was amazing and they have both been wonderful mentors.  Steve Baxter is a lot more hands on as he lives in Brisbane, we have less to do with John McGrath simply because he’s in Sydney.  But they have both been great and really supportive and set us up with different contacts.  We rebranded from Hummingbirds to Ruby & Ollie’s after the Shark Tank.  We wanted to make it quite personal and a kind of dedication to our children, and it’s been really well received.

To other mums out there wanting to start their own business, my advice is to get a good nanny!  In all seriousness, you need to get as much support as you can so you can prioritise and schedule because it is a juggling act.  You need to stay focused and keep your dream in your heart.  Work hard at it, because I think anything in life worth having can be quite challenging, but the end point is very special.

You can see Rebecca and Leah on their winning episode of the Shark Tank – so gutsy, and so inspiring.

Leah and Rebecca were recently guest speakers at the prestigious TEDxQUT event.

Irrespective of a child’s developmental requirements, at Ruby & Ollie’s they welcome all children. They offer care that encompasses a holistic approach to the child and families’ vision, in an educational, therapeutic, social and nurturing environment.

Ruby & Ollie’s All Abilities Childcare stems from the hearts of two passionate women. At Ruby & Ollie’s they celebrate the enjoyment of life and lightness of being. They  believe and stand by their vision that children are all unique and they will work with each child to encourage them to reach their full potential… and then aim for the stars.

This article was written by Melanie Quirk of Business Mamas, from the Fifty Two Weeks Blog –  Photos by Someday Somehow Studios