COMPUTER games programmer Chris Chong was excited and terrified when he found out he was going to be a father. He had always wanted children, so he thought he was prepared for it.
“I wasn’t. You never are,” he reveals.
His initial preparations were to figure out what his wife, Elaine, could eat. She had hyperemesis gravidarum, which meant that she had morning sickness all day and it went on for months during the pregnancy. It was a very difficult pregnancy. Apart from buying baby products, the couple watched videos on what to do during labour. Elaine also read a lot of books on pregnancy and parenting and shared the information with him.
The couple are now the proud parents of three sons – James, seven, Joshua, five, and Ian, who is three months.
Chong was there for all three births. “I was excited and worried for all three, too. James had the longest delivery. Elaine and I got to the hospital close to midnight and James wasn’t born till almost noon the next day. I spent most of the time talking to Elaine, taking videos/photos, watching movies on the wall-mounted TV, and looking at the graphing machine that monitors contractions, mistakenly telling Elaine that ‘This one wasn’t as bad as the last one, what …’ ” he shares.
Joshua and Ian’s deliveries were a lot quicker.
“With James, there was a feeling of numbness because I wasn’t getting that rush of emotion that I had been expecting. With Josh, it was pure terror because Elaine let out this cry as if her soul was leaving her body as he came out. With Ian, it was a lot of happiness, because I was a more experienced dad by then and was really looking forward to seeing him.”
Taking baby home also got easier for the Chongs. With their first child, there were visitors every day, so Elaine did not get much rest. Plus, there was a confinement lady who didn’t believe in breastfeeding, and the couple was under constant pressure to formula-feed him instead. Everything they did seemed wrong somehow.
“We had lots of unsolicited advice and we were full of doubt. We basically felt like failures as parents. Having the confinement lady over was pretty damaging too, because I had very little private time with Elaine and James, and not much of a chance to bond. I was always shooed away whenever I tried to help, and I ended up feeling like I was just getting in the way.
“It got better and worse after the confinement period because we finally had privacy but now we had to figure out how to care for a baby on our own. James was pretty difficult to manage as a baby, he was a really light sleeper and took ages (usually more than an hour) to put to bed, and then he’d wake up if you breathed too loudly. So it was stressful,” says Chong.
Comparatively, it was easier when Joshua was taken home from the hospital as they had experience on their side and the confinement lady was only with them for two weeks. Plus, Joshua was easier to take care of.
“With Ian, it’s been completely different. For one thing, James and Joshua are a lot more independent now. There have been some big challenges in raising the two older boys, but the experience has shown us that we can handle it. So instead of being terrified of making mistakes, we are now confident that, whatever comes our way, we can handle it. The big difference is that Elaine and I are now able to fully enjoy Ian – all of the lovey dovey rainbows and butterflies that we should have experienced with the older two, we are experiencing now with Ian.
“Comparing the three kids, the oldest kid is always the hardest because everything you do with him is new,” says Chong, whose daily duty is getting the two older boys ready for school, sending them and picking them up. On good days, he takes them to the park, too. If it rains, it’s indoor games for Chong and his boys. With Elaine busy with Ian, Chong ends up taking care of the night routine as well – getting the two older boys ready for bed.
He is hands-on all the way and helps out when he can with diaper changes, burping, and even helping Ian to poo.
For regional digital PR lead/director Elya Eusoff, it was very surreal finding out that he was going to be a dad.
“A million questions streamed through my mind. I would say I was prepared and not prepared at the same time. Planning can only do so much. There are many factors that will change outcomes of many different things, especially having a child.
“My preparations were simple. I worried about all the hardware and made sure that the baby would get whatever she needed when she arrived. In terms of fatherhood, all I needed to know was how to love my baby when she came into this world. I keep that belief close to my heart at all times,” says Elya.
Being in the labour room meant a great deal to him. “All I kept saying in my head was ‘let her not claw me and scream at me like they do in the movies’. It was not as badly described by friends or on television. It was a beautiful moment to witness so much strength from my wife bringing our child into this world. I was amazed by it. It is truly God’s gift,” says Elya.
He could not wait to take his baby daughter home. The first few months took some adjusting to, especially their sleep patterns, but it became the norm after a while.
His role in the first few months was to ensure the house was well-stocked with everything they needed. Elya also took charge of the kitchen, where he is very comfortable, making sure the family had healthy and nutritious food every day.
One thing he has learnt is that things change every single day. “And that’s one of the best experiences as a father. I see new things from my daughter and it keeps me in check!” he says of his 14-month-old daughter.
Staying out of the way
Journalist Loganath Velloo and his wife had been planning to start a family, so when they found out they had succeeded, they were thrilled. After the initial excitement passed, worry took over … right up till the birth.
“I was in the labour room for an entire night, but missed the birth in the morning as my wife was transferred to the operation theatre following complications during labour. I was neither nervous nor excited, but deeply concerned for the wellbeing of both my wife and our child.
“My daughter came into this world after my wife had struggled for more than 20 hours in the hospital. My initial feeling was one of great relief. I shed tears and said thanks to God, the wonderful doctors, nurses and staff at the hospital and all those who had prayed for the health of my wife and daughter,” reveals Loganath.
His wife was in confinement at her mother’s house, so for the first few months, he just tried to stay out of the way. He was the driver and the “runner” – fetching whatever was needed.
“My life has not been the same since my daughter’s birth. I guess I was just as bewildered as my baby in the first few months. Thankfully, I managed to cope with the adjustments needed (although my wife will definitely disagree),” says Loganath.
Their eldest is now three and their second is a year old.
The second time around everything was much easier as Loganath knew what to expect. Experience is a great teacher when it comes to raising kids, says the hands-on father. It is not easy managing two toddlers, but he says, “No matter how tired or frustrated you get, at the end of the day the looks on their faces when they cuddle up to sleep make it all worthwhile.”
Worries, worries, worries
A parent’s journey is full of worries, and Loganath is no exception to the rule.
He wonders how his children will turn out and if he and his wife are good parents. He worries about the local education system, the spiralling cost of private education, the type of environment the children will live in, the future of our country ….
“I am very, very anxious, and have had sleepless nights thinking about the future,” he admits.
Chong also worries about his boys. He can foresee them facing the same challenges he did growing up. “There is a great temptation to shield them from the pain, but there’s only so much that we should and can do – because we don’t want to take away the fun of growing up either. So, the best Elaine and I can do is teach them the ways of the world. It’s on the verge of nagging at times, but we can only hope that some of the wisdom sticks. And if it doesn’t, then we’ll be there to help them get on their feet again.”
His best advice to new dads is to figure out what sort of father you want to be and try to be that father. Everyone’s circumstances and family dynamics are different so you may have to adjust your expectations. “It helps to have someone you can model after. For me, I have an awesome father as a role model, so I basically try to be to my kids everything he has been to me. Rose-tinted glasses, maybe, but I hope that my kids look up to me the way I look up to my dad,” adds Chong.
Loganath believes that new dads should enjoy every minute of the experience. “You will never be the same again when you become a parent. That is the moment you realise you are no longer the most important person in your own universe.”