By Charles Bonello, CEO & First-time Dad
On May 23rd, after 48 hours of labor, my wife and I welcomed our first child, Grace Kathleen Bonello into this world. Grace joins Vivvi as its VP of Baby Experience, reporting directly to her older cousin (and Vivvi’s namesake), Vivian, our Chief Baby Officer. We are over the moon with joy, and unsurprisingly I’ve had a lot on my mind that I wanted to share with our community in the hope that any other parents or soon to be parents know they’re not alone and any non-parents can get a sense of how wild an experience this has been.
Since the big day everyone, and I mean everyone, has asked some version of the question: how’d it go? While these well intentioned questions are just aimed at the main event, I can’t help but pull back a little bit and think about it in a bigger sense. And the answer that keeps coming back to me is “Gradually, and then suddenly.”
The ten months (editor’s note: why does no one ever mention that pregnancy is actually 10 months?) leading up to the big day alternately feel like a week and a decade. Everything from the building of emotions, and hopes and dreams, and worries and questions about who this little person is going to be, to the packing of to-go bags placed at the door, to meticulously selecting a playlist for the delivery, to setting up furniture and putting away baby clothes are the mini decades in my head. Those all culminated in a frenzied drive up the FDR in rush hour traffic to get to the hospital in one piece that I’m sure I was conscious for, though I can’t remember a minute of it.
Gradually, then suddenly…
The 13 hours in Labor and Delivery (and the whole day before that spent measuring contractions of increasing intensity) felt like an eternity. Sure, there’s the monotony of waiting for someone who is on their own schedule to arrive and doesn’t necessarily care about your plans (think the DMV crossed with the Post Office), but my wife really did all the hard work here, so I don’t want to dwell on that. It’s really more about the intensity of the seconds spent counting between contractions that feel like hours. It’s seeing the mother of your child hooked up to monitors that are whirring and beeping and trying to navigate her pulse, the baby’s pulse, and a million other things you can’t understand that makes it feel like something out of a Springsteen song: you’re standing at the roulette wheel in Vegas with your rent money on the line and no way back home-- utterly helpless and hoping it lands on your number. Each tick is an eternity. And then all of a sudden some number flashes red and fifteen doctors and nurses run into the room, throw you a cap and gown and tell you to meet them in five minutes outside the operating room because you’re having an emergency C section.
At that moment, with my wife being wheeled away and my amazing mother in law going into full on nurse mode, all those romantic notions and hopes and dreams I spent months building up just stop dead in their tracks and I was left praying to anyone who would listen. Now’s no time to pick sides. It’s time to get that baby into Mom’s arms.
Gradually, then suddenly, Charlie….
All that’s running through my mind as I enter the room is “please just take me instead.” But Mrs. B is in great spirits in the OR and just a flash later, there’s a crying baby in my arms who is the sum total of everything I’ve ever dreamed of. She’s screaming her little lungs out and looking at me just wanting to be held, fed and cleaned. But what is really sudden here, and what nothing prepared me for was the flood of emotions that just rock me to the core.
What I expected, and what I think everyone expected is to love this child unconditionally and with all my heart. But leaving it at that is like calling a neutron bomb a hiccup. Understatement of the century. All the structures are still there, but life as I knew it is out the window. To borrow a saying from a friend: It’s like having your heart live outside your body.
Among the flood of visitors that joined us in the hospital to welcome little Gracie to the world was my wife’s godfather, who has always been a source of strength and inspiration to both of us. At some point, I saw him holding our daughter in his arms and whispering to her, and when I got closer, I heard him whispering to her over and over: “Welcome to the world, we love you for exactly who you are.”
My wife is Irish, so she already cries at infomercials and features on CBS Sunday Morning. But hearing that just opened the floodgates for me and I’ve been adopting the whispered mantra myself in my late night burping sessions with Grace (and I’m even finding myself getting teary eyed at diaper commercials).
I’ve always loved and admired my wife. But for the work she’s done and the absolute devotion she has to Grace, I’m totally starstruck.
On the same note, I’ve always loved my daughter, even when she was just a little blip on a sonogram. But when she came into this world, for me there’s a clear line marked down: Before Grace and After Grace. My heart is no longer mine. It’s completely, irrevocably hers. And all those anxieties I mentioned in my last post -- well, they’re still kind of there but just dampened by fierce devotion to this little girl who has stolen my heart.
Gradually, then suddenly...
And it dawns on me more than ever now that we’re some of the lucky ones. Lucky to have access to such great medical care in the greatest city in the world, lucky to have such wonderful supportive family that descends on us at a moment’s notice to protect and help us no matter what, and of course, to have a happy, healthy little girl and a strong, champion of a Mom on our team.
We’re also lucky that we get to celebrate this special time together as one of joy and excitement rather than as a career or family crisis when thinking about how on earth we can ever leave our baby with someone and go back to work. That’s in part because our employers understand the importance of family-life integration, and in part because we have access to the world’s best child care at Vivvi. And that’s a level of care that I’ve of course had a front row view of, but that is really inspired by the needs of working families just like us and animated by a team of world-class, experienced educators who know way more than I ever will about how to inspire joy and love of learning in young children and turn that dream into reality on a daily basis. What I want is what’s best for my daughter, and I have and will continue to pour my heart and soul into making sure she has it.
Little Grace is so excited to meet her classmates at Vivvi in the coming months. And her dad is ever more grateful to have such a team of loving, experienced and thoughtful teachers at Vivvi to care for her as she grows from an infant full of wonder to a young child with questions about that wonder.
Now that I have the chance to think about my hopes and dreams again, it really boils down to that mantra: that she is loved for exactly who she is. And at Vivvi, we’ve made it our goal to do exactly that, not only for our little Grace, but for all the parents and families that trust us with this sacred duty to honor their hopes and dreams for their little ones and their families.