Tw:/ warning; this article contains information and recollections of infant death, neonatal illness and readers discretion is advised.
Dominique Ho, or Dom as she is affectionately known, gets stopped several times by people when I meet her at Ocean Grove beach for a walk and a chat.
First, each person recognizes her and her beautiful dog, then their faces light up like the Geelong Christmas tree. Next, there is a mention from an approaching runner about her work for the local business group. Finally, a few school mums sporting grins stop to say hi, and this is when you get the vibe that the company you are keeping this day might be a little bit exceptional.
The digital media go-to has a contagious, vibrant energy and humour, but a discerning eye soon recognizes a steeliness and resilience beneath her subtle confidence. For Dom and her husband Greg, it's a no-brainer; family life must always come first; ideology isn't waxing lyrical; it's scaffolded quite seriously. Their business, Viewpoint Digital Media, works around the team. But where does this idea stem from? Dom tells me it is all because of Zoey.
This successful businesswoman has a story, a precious gem she has kept close to her chest. Finally, after many years she is brave enough to share it with us.
So talk to me about Zoey.
Greg and I didn't particularly feel like we were going downhill mentally. We were crying every day but more so because of the sadness of what Zoey was going through. But then I felt myself going downhill and realized that it brought me down when I was around other parents talking about their sick children.
Finally, it got to the point where she was doing well, and we started to remove a lot of the medication because she didn't have any food at all. So, I was expressing my milk, I had milk for days, and I wish someone had educated me on donating my milk because I had an enormous amount.
I filled up their fridge to the brim. What am I meant to do with that all if my baby doesn't need it all? I was bummed to see my milk go into the bin after all of that!
Zoey started waking up, and she could hear me, and she was reacting! I talked to her and read her stories. She slowly sort of opened her eyes, and she saw me, and she saw Greg. So we didn't leave her side. Greg and I read her Alice in Wonderland.
And it was sort of, we'd always, I guess, pictured Zoey going down the rabbit hole. We thought she got lost down the rabbit hole. We were 25-year-old kids; I remember thinking, "I don't know what to do with this." It was incredibly intense.
Did you have much support around you?
I didn't realize the emotional effect or know how intense this was on everybody else. I didn't even have my phone. I didn't have my phone for four weeks.
Both our parents were there, and my Mum was good at reading me. We are very close. She was there when I needed her, and she was not there when I didn't. She actually kept everything going in the background. She kept all of our friends and family up to date. Our parents were very supportive. We didn't want to cut our loved ones off, but Zoey needed us, and we became quite protective of our time and shut out the outside world.
How did you and Greg cope together? You are a dynamic team, but this must have held incredible weight.
Greg and I have always been close, always been on the same page and best of friends. We just grew even stronger together; we only had each other. At the time, Dr Wood, Zoey's specialist, said it's not often that he came across a stronger couple after this. He said he saw so many couples pull apart. It's very sad. But Greg and I were solid, and we've been solid since.
Did you have a strong feeling? I find sometimes it is hard for people to voice intuition because there can be judgement from others. Or the 'woo-woo' perception, rather than the truth of it- instincts are kicking in!
Greg was probably a bit more optimistic about her recovery than I was.
But, for a long time, I already knew that I wasn't going to keep her and I think it was because instinctively, as I said earlier, I already knew that something was wrong, but I couldn't prove it. I couldn’t visualize her in our life.
Zoey was four weeks old. She gave it everything. The doctor, when she initially got into the hospital, said, you know, she's got a 10% chance of surviving the next couple of days. So knowing this information and having no idea of what's going to happen, she's made it to four weeks. It was the bloody longest four weeks.
But during the third week, something changed...Dr Wood told us, we've got to make a decision. She's not getting any better. She's got a third of her lungs. She's got pulmonary hypertension.
She's hit rock bottom.
She can't keep going.
We thought this is not fair. Greg and I had to make the heartbreaking decision to turn off her life support so she wasn't suffering anymore.
We held her in the room that we were staying in; we had her in a little yellow dress.
What's your fondest memory of Zoey?
Her waking up. Her waking up, we were pretty excited that she saw us.
What would you like people to know about Zoey and your experience?
What was more important than this grief is that Greg and I were so happy, appreciative and grateful that we had her; I carried her and then we were able to experience all of this regardless of how sad it is.
There are people out there who can't become pregnant, there are people out there who cannot conceive. There are people out there who don't find husbands that love them as much as Greg loves me. I'm grateful for everything and the experience of Zoey. The fact that we met Zoey, and I was able to produce all that milk. I felt Zoey kicking, and I had those, you know, connections with her.
Some people never get to have that. Even when they miscarry, they don't have that the same way. I got to talk to her. We read her stories. We changed her nappy; we were able to wipe her and dress her. We got to say goodbye which gave both Greg and I so much closure.
The medical staff on the Butterfly Ward are beautiful. They opened their hearts, and I would imagine that that would be so hard for them in so many situations. We are so grateful for what the doctors and nurses did around the clock. We got to know them. I also wondered how emotionally tasking our situation was for the nurses and what they were taking home with them. After Zoey, we decided that everything we did would be forged with the intention of being of service and benefiting others. You always have a choice in life and we wanted to contribute to the community.
I look at how you protected that space around you, Greg and Zoey, and how you had the discipline to know 'I'm not having my phone,' that this needed to be what it was. You sound incredibly present, even in knowing and trusting your dreams. That takes real ownership and authenticity of self which is uncommon at such a young age. I can see now how that translates into everything that you do. Where did that all come from?
My Mum worked her ass off to help me understand my feelings at a very early age because I was a handful. I always wanted more. I wanted more of everything. I wanted more of a laugh, more adventure, more fun, more learning. I didn't have time for school. I hated school. I was like, this is going too slow for me. I was bored. I was misbehaving. I was sent to the office. I got detention all the time for talking and being disruptive.
My Mum helped me work through these feelings; she would get judged! Nobody understood the way she parented me. She was indulging me too much, according to some (she laughs heartily). But, she taught me to understand myself and my surroundings, to better read people and my situation. My Dad taught me to have thick skin and not worry about what others are doing or what they think of me which has helped me alot through my career.
I wasn't really accepted in High School, and I didn't feel like I belonged. I was headstrong, and I decided I was wasting my time. So I told my parents I'm leaving. They said, okay, well, what are you going to do? You can't leave unless you go to do something. I said okay.
My Dad mentioned my love for cooking; what about becoming a chef?
Done, I'll be a chef. Sure thing, no worries.
I went and got myself an apprenticeship. My Dad loved ironing my chef uniform and popping in my little buttons. I worked weird hospitality hours every day when I was 16 years old. Everyone else was doing school, and I was working. I didn't go to parties. I worked early, and I worked late, and I worked all the bloody time.
The connections that you have to have to dance around the kitchen are big, right? So it's not for the faint of heart!
It was a dance, and it's a beautiful dance. It's a fucking hectic dance!
I completed my apprenticeship which took me through to meeting Greg in Melbourne. He was the general manager at a bar two doors down from me where I would enjoy my well deserved knock off drink.
You were quite successful at a young age, too, right? But this was interrupted?
I guess you could say that. I had a lot of learning opportunities which put me in a good position to help open up a new restaurant for somebody in Toorak with a team. I was 19 or 20 at the time. Then, only a couple of months after opening, Greg and I were in a car accident.
My passenger seat detached; it was pretty bad; it was all over red rover. I had a back brace and couldn't work. The impact twisted my insides; everything was stuffed. I could barely walk for a long time. So again, I was faced with a choice, I had a choice to either moan and groan and sit around or get up and do something about it. So I had to rethink my career, so I went and got my teaching qualification, and I became a commercial cookery teacher.
I did this for maybe 8 years, I then took a side step and worked in automotive for a few years as the international market for students coming to Australia to do commercial cookery dried up a bit. It was here that we were fortunate enough to fall pregnant with Zoey.
So how did you become a digital media expert?
Both my parents are entrepreneurial. They both had successful businesses for a long time, and they're both very creative but so different. My family, including my brother, share that motivation, determination, and hard-working ethic. We're all creators.
Dominique's father, Peter Lamont, is an award-winning filmmaker, photographer and the creator of the Australian TV show InsideArt.
After Zoey's passing, I was miserable. Ii didn't want to go back to my job at the automotive place as I feared people would pity me.
My Mum and Dad checked in every day if not every hour to see how I was coping. Dad always said to just focus on making it through the next hour. When that hour is up, focus on the next hour. After about a week or so, Dad asked me to come in to work with him so I wasn't home alone all day as Greg went back to work. Greg and I had several weeks off work by this stage.
I started there a couple of days just doing bits and pieces to keep me busy. My brother was there along with my cousin. I felt safe there with my family. It was just what I needed. Then after a few weeks I became really interested in Google Ads and it got into my veins, and I just kept learning more and more.
Not long after working with Dad, I fell pregnant with Aaliya. We spent the next 2 years in Melbourne before making the sea change to Ocean Grove.
Greg began working for Barwon Health, telling people's stories through incredible Video and Photography. He's a visual storyteller, and he has travelled the world with his videography; he's also a musician. Greg actually learnt his videography and photography skills from Dad. But that's another story in itself.
You then had another tragedy, didn't you?
After we had Aaliya, and before moving to Ocean Grove we tried for another baby. I already had some dreams from Zoey to tell me that this wasn't going to work. Sounds like a bit of that woo woo, right?
Zoey said to me in the dream, Aaliya will be perfect, but the next baby won’t be. Our next baby didn't make it. She was 17 weeks old.
She had a whole lot of other issues completely different to Zoey; I had all the tests, no answers.
I wanted to try again, about a year later but after seeing a specialist, they said I was too high risk and not to try again and the doctor basically said, don't bother. So I had to come to terms with that, which was hard. I wanted that choice for myself. I didn’t want that choice made for me. So I was pretty angry about it.
I decided I wanted to be really grateful for what I have, all over again. I think that's when I realized where I was working was not making me happy. I wasn't happy having Aaliya in daycare. She would cry at the gates, and she would be hysterical when I picked her up. I had to reconnect skin to skin every day just to bond all over again.
We needed the flexibility. I didn't want the guilt. Aaliya is my only baby.
Greg and I realised Aaliya needed us more. We needed to be more available for her. Greg supported me 110% in taking the leap of faith in creating my own business with the intention of growth, then when it was built up enough we could have him onboard full time too. He never doubted me. Not once. He shared my vision and was all in.
I managed to attract a couple of clients, and it went from there.
That was November 2017. Aaliya and I spent quality time together. We would disconnect from our phones, iPads, and go bushwalking. We built her up, so she had enough strength to bushwalk for a few hours at four years of age.
I wanted to be able to go to a school assembly. I wanted to be there, pick up and drop off and if I needed to go to appointments for myself or for whatever it is. I wanted to be in business, I wanted to help people grow their business which could mean they can do more for their families. I visualized what I wanted. Then the portfolio grew; we needed a team, and we wanted them to enjoy these qualities.
The rest is history!
It rings true for me that you are emotionally invested in your clients and your team.
I'm very loyal to all of my clients, and I'm emotionally invested in their business. Their digital media success is based on other people sharing the brand journey, values, and story. So it has to be authentic. The digital media space is rich with storytelling, and it's crucial that the platform captures it. You can't fake it.
I think it is because our team are always encouraged to prioritise family and to take time if their kids are unwell or have something special on for school, they are never made to feel guilty. We have deliberately systemized the business to support this.
We are working together to achieve the same goal. Both Greg and I want them to prosper in all of this.
It is crucial to create a safe space for people to be just as authentic as you; that's a big deal because it's less of an "us and them" situation. When there's not that connection, there's not that friendship. Your scarcest resource in business is to maintain a seamless longevity with your team so you can grow without forsaking quality. I think we have managed to achieve that.
Is there an aspect of business you would like to see change?
When people comment on our ethos, it really makes me question, why aren't there more businesses like this? Why can't businesses value people's lives outside of work? How do they not see that if you put value back into your employee's life, they will work so much harder and more efficiently if their family life is looked after?
You know, in life, growth and positivity can come in the most traumatic sources; you must recognize it and transform it. We have gifts come into our lives. I started Viewpoint Digital Media to honour Zoey and what she taught us and to embrace our life with Aaliya and as a family while giving that to our team and clients in some way shape or form.
Viewpoint Digital Media is lead by Dom and her husband Greg; they have developed a culture at VDM, a trend-bucking hybrid - where business and family life is synergetic. Viewpoint Digital Media has grown from one person to 9 within three years and is on the lips of most SMEs in the Greater Geelong region. To find out more about their dynamic offering, go to: https://viewpointdigitalmedia.com.au
Side note; good luck from Ponderings to Dom, Greg and the team for the upcoming Small Business Awards!
Victorian Milk bank details: https://www.mothersmilkbank.com.au
Butterfly Ward Royal Children's Hospital; https://www.rch.org.au/butterfly/
Sands Australia https://www.sands.org.au/contact
Still Birth Foundation https://stillbirthfoundation.org.au