Shazi Visram on How Parenting a Child with Autism Changed Her Career: 'My Son Is My Biggest Teacher'
Name: Shazi Visram
Location: Weston, Connecticut
Occupation: Founder of Healthynest
Family situation: My husband Joe and I have two kids, an 11-year-old son named Zane and a 4-year-old daughter named Asha.
Parenting "philosophy" in a sentence: Focus on making deeper connections every day.
What was your journey to having the family life you have today?
My husband Joe and I met in 2004. It was the same day I was on the verge of signing a deal to start my first company, a line of organic baby food, and I was given a term sheet that I didn't feel good about. Joe, this sweet guy who did yoga and didn't know much about business, advised that I shouldn't take the deal if I didn't have a good feeling about it — so I didn't.
Two years later, on Mother's Day 2006, we launched Happy Baby, which has now evolved into Happy Family Organics, and Joe and I got married in 2007. In a way, the business was our first baby and we spent a lot of time growing the company in our early years together.
Happy Family was one of the fastest growing companies in the country when our son Zane was born in January 2010. The bond we were building with our son was so special. Then, around the age of two, something started to change in Zane. He stopped meeting his developmental milestones. In fact, he started regressing. It was really shocking and difficult to process because we were so connected to our son. But it was like all of a sudden, Zane was going away.
Around this time, my company was getting a lot of interest from venture capital, private equity and even requests to be bought. My dream was never to sell the company, but when Zane got his autism diagnosis, I ended up taking the first steps to sell the business because I wanted to be there for Zane. I had to figure out what to do to help him. I wanted to learn more about autism, which was something so new in our lives that we didn't expect. It was very all-consuming.
For the next six years, I dedicated myself to understanding what could've been the underlying causes of his autism, where I could've seen it coming and if I could've done something to possibly prevent it. Through my research, I learned that there was nothing in Zane's entire genetic code that suggested that he should have autism. We did every single test you could imagine and what we learned was that there are so many things we can change in our environment that can make a difference in the outcome of our childrens' health.
For example, if you're pregnant or planning to have children, one study suggests taking folic acid can greatly reduce incidences of autism in kids. Another study found that exposure to street pollution while pregnant can be associated with a higher risk of autism in kids. You can also check the quality of your drinking water by going to the Environmental Working Group's website, type in your zip code and they'll tell you exactly what is in your water and what type of water filter to buy so you can protect yourself. These were things I didn't know at the time, so for my second pregnancy with my daughter Asha, I put all of my knowledge to use.
After having Asha, who is incredibly connected and bright, and finally leaving as the CEO of Happy Family, I thought I could retire, go to the beach and continue to invest in other businesses. I was in a place where I could finally take a step back and slow down but I couldn't shake this feeling I had inside.
I had learned so much about children's health through my research and my team of doctors and I felt like I needed to share all of this information with the world, so I launched Healthynest — it's my way of sharing everything I learned the hard way, so that parents don't have to go through what we went through. We want to normalize the discussion around developmental health and we provide products that support it. Our mission is to elevate your daily routines and to drive deeper connections with your babies.
How did your upbringing influence your parenting style?
I had a very unique upbringing. I grew up in a motel and many of my caregivers were the people who worked there. My parents were always working, and so the one thing about my upbringing that really stayed with me was this inner drive to always be building something.
I have a really hard time not making the most of what I believe are gifts or talents that were given to me for a reason. My mom and dad were immigrants who brought me and my brother to this country and showed us that we had so much potential with what we could do with our lives. They risked it all by getting the motel while raising two kids, and that type of strong work ethic has been passed down to me. But now that I'm a parent, I've been trying to learn how to also enjoy life and enjoy the fruits of my labor.
What's your favorite thing about parenting?
My favorite thing is laughing and making jokes. That's the one thing my dad was the king of. He passed away the year I sold my company, so every year on his birthday, I don't work and I just drink a lot of chai and make jokes.
I love watching as both of my kids develop their own sense of humor. My daughter Asha is so funny. She's only four but she makes the best jokes. She's never met her grandfather but she's taken after him, for sure.
What's the hardest part?
Being patient is hard for me because I have two very different children with two very different learning styles. My son is my biggest teacher. He teaches me how to be patient.
What's the best advice you can share with new parents?
Stay positive and remember that there's nobody better in the world to be a parent to your child than you. That earns you a very special place on the planet. Everyone wants the very best for their baby and we all need to recognize that in ourselves.
What would you want your kids to say about you as a parent?
I would want them to say that I always prioritized their health and well-being above all else.