[Exclusive Interview] Ryan Kwak Seong Hoon on the beauty and chaos of parenthood

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"I’m far from being the most devout person. But that day, I truly thanked God from the bottom of my heart that everything went smoothly. I’d never felt so humbled and grateful before..."

Earlier this month, Korean principal Ryan Kwak Seong Hoon earned hero-dad status in Singapore parenting circles, after dramatically delivering his baby girl on a Pasir Ris pavement.

Over here at theAsianparent, we were super-excited when Ryan, who runs the SEJONG Korean language school here in Singapore, agreed to have a chat with us about all things related to parenting and life in general – and of course, more exclusive details about his gorgeous wife’s road-side delivery!

Korean principal Ryan Kwak Seong Hoon

Before baby made five! Korean principal Ryan Kwak Seong Hoon and his gorgeous family.

Korean Principal Ryan Kwak Seong Hoon on Parenting, Dramatic Deliveries, Love and Life

With movie-star good looks and a picture-perfect family, at first glance, Ryan comes across as a dream husband and dad. And he remains so, even at second (and third!) glance. 

What is strongly apparent about Ryan is his absolute devotion to his stunning wife Valerie Cher Goh, and his gorgeous kids Joseph Alexander Kwak Tae Jin (two years), Jacob Aaron Kwak Tae Yang (one year), and Avery Rose Kwak Tae Ri (newborn). 

Like every beautiful love story, of course, we start from the very beginning, including how Ryan met Valerie. 

Korean principal Ryan Kwak Seong Hoon

This beautiful couple have an equally beautiful love story .

‘She was my first love…’

Ryan tells us that he first came to Singapore when he was just six years old. His father was an architect for the Hyundai construction company. And he was posted here for the construction of Suntec City.

The young Ryan spent several years in international schools before finally transitioning to the local school system. And it was there that young love blossomed. 

Valerie, he tells us, was his first love. They met in Junior College where they dated for a short while, but eventually went their separate ways. He had to head to the army – “I had attained Singapore PR while I was in JC”, Ryan explains – and she to Australia for university.
 
They were apart for many years. But even though they both saw other people during that time, Ryan could not get Valerie out of his mind. Determined to get his girl, he made it a point to contact her via Facebook messenger once every year.
 
Persistence pays, they say, because finally, in the fourth year of this communication, Valerie replied!
 
Ryan explains, “I knew I had to seize this opportunity, so I cashed out my meager savings and booked a one-way ticket to Australia to date her.”

The rest is history and now they have three beautiful children, and a lifetime more of memories to build and cherish.

As you know by now, Ryan and Valerie are parents to three kids under the age of three. Their boys are feisty little toddlers. So, we wanted to know what a day in the life of this household is like, and their strategies (including discipline) to tackle their tiny, cute army of little ones.

Korean principal Ryan Kwak Seong Hoon

Managing two zany little boys is not an easy task. 

‘Our house is a constant war zone!’

As only to be expected, and in Ryan’s words, their house is a “constant war zone.” He describes, “there are balls being thrown around, trains crashing into each other, superheroes leaping off the couch, all the time.”

To make things even more fun (and chaotic!), the two boys feed off each other’s energy! Their doting dad describes them as “extremely rascally and active”.

He also explains, “although having two toddler boys in the house drives us mad sometimes, the great thing about having such a close age gap is that they really are the best of friends. No one makes them laugh like each other does!”

What about discipline? A must in this household, primarily to ensure the boys’ safety, explains dad. Ryan describes himself and Valerie as “pretty strict” when it comes to parenting.

Explaining, he says, “we never thought we’d be strict parents but when you have two boys, they play pretty rough/dangerous sometimes. That’s when we need to show them we are serious about important things like safety.”

He bemusedly points out that his boys have also learnt to comfort each other after one gets a scolding from mummy and daddy. Cute! 

The benefits of having a sibling don’t stop there, though, in the Kwak household.
 
Daddy Ryan tells us that his older boy used to be a very picky eater. But now, “competition” from his brother has made him much more open to trying new things and feeling the “pressure” to finish his food. (We’ve all done this and secretly rejoiced, right mums and dads?)
 
Now that you’ve had a glimpse into a day in the life of the Kwak family, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: details of “that dramatic delivery”!
Korean principal Ryan Kwak Seong Hoon

Their life may be chaotic, but it really is full of love!

‘It was the first time I really felt true fear in my life…’

It’s not every day that you deliver your own baby. And it’s certainly not every day that this happens in the wee hours of the day, on the side of the road in the rain. But this is exactly how Ryan and Valerie’s little girl was born.

Once you get past the “just like in the movies” quality that the birth of Ryan and Valerie’s third child had, you realise just how scary the whole situation must have been for the couple. 

We wanted to know what thoughts ran through Ryan’s head when he realised that his wife was about to have their baby then and there. Did he panic? How did he stay calm? We’re sure you want to know too!

Ryan tells us. 

It wasn’t like labour for her other births, Valerie told her husband. “My wife kept telling me that this feels different, it’s not normal contractions and that the baby was coming, but I didn’t believe her,” explains Ryan.

And even though their gynae had warned them that subsequent children are born faster, it didn’t hit them just how fast this could be. 

As they set out from their home to go to the hospital that morning, with Valerie already experiencing contractions, Ryan tell us that he thought her contractions were just progressing faster than usual, therefore the pain was much greater. He was confident that they’d still be able to make it to the hospital.

Despite Valerie’s protests, Ryan convinced her to make her way down to the car.

“It wasn’t until I saw the baby’s head coming out that it really hit me that she was giving birth right then and there. I felt immense guilt for not believing her earlier and would not have been able to forgive myself if anything went wrong,” he says. 

It’s clear that Ryan felt immense guilt at how the events panned out that day. “She could have had a home delivery instead of having to deliver on the pavement. I spent the day feeling extremely guilty, despite everyone’s reassurances that I couldn’t have known it would happen that way.”

Thankfully, everything went smoothly (yes, yes details coming up!), but the grateful daddy never felt so thankful in his life. 

“I’m far from being the most devout person,” he says, “but that day, I truly thanked God from the bottom of my heart that everything went smoothly. I’d never felt so humbled and grateful before. It was also the first time I really felt true fear in my life, as well as the immense pressure of being responsible for a life and death situation, of my own beloved wife and child no less!”

Korean principal Ryan Kwak Seong Hoon

Despite everything Valerie went through, she’s glowing with love and pride here.

‘She was so fragile and a small shivering thing in my hands.’

So, did Ryan panic? He most certainly did.

 
Reminiscing, he describes how just after he delivered his daughter, he froze and stared at her in his hands for a split second not knowing what to do. “She was so fragile and was a small shivering thing in my hands,” is one vivid memory he shares.
 
At that moment, he instinctively started calling for help, but there was no one around. But, even as exhausted as she must have been, Valerie’s maternal instincts kicked in then and there.
 
She gave her husband some instructions and he quickly snapped back to reality. “My wife was surrounded by a pool of blood being washed around in the rain but she reached over and pulled the deflated water bag off the baby’s head and then I tried to try suck the mucus out of the baby’s airway like they do the suction in the hospital,” explains Ryan.
 
But the moment his lips grazed his daughter’s in a “kiss of life”, she started to cry. Intense feelings of relief and love flooded Ryan: “That was when we knew her airways were clear and she was alive and well.”
 
By then, the ambulance was on its way. Ryan proudly recalls how his wife even managed to hobble to the car while cuddling the baby (with umbilical cord still attached between them). She lay a towel over the seat and camped in the car, keeping the baby out of the rain while they waited for the ambulance to arrive.

A Timeline of the Dramatic Delivery

4am: Valerie had her first contraction. She thought it was a Braxton Hicks spasm and went back to sleep.
5am: Valerie started timing her contractions. 
5.15am: There was hardly an interval between contractions – baby was definitely on her way, and fast. 
5.35am: Ryan and Valerie went downstairs to the car. It was a huge struggle because of the pain. 
 
Giving us more details of the birth, Ryan explains how just as they exited the lift and were on the small pavement between the lift and the car, his wife squeezed his arm super tightly and screamed in excruciating pain.
 
Ryan recollects how Valerie’s body instinctively gave a huge push, and just like that, the baby’s head came out.
 
She was in her pyjama shorts so the baby’s head was trapped in her shorts, which she pulled down. She immediately sat down on the ground and screamed for Ryan to pull the baby out. Her body was still pushing, and all Ryan had to do was guide the baby out.
 
Thankfully the baby came out head-down (in the correct position). Her shoulders didn’t get stuck, and the umbilical cord wasn’t around her neck… A million things could have gone wrong, but she came out smoothly.
 
From there, they removed the deflated water bag that was still covering the baby’s face by just sliding it off gently, and tried to clear the airways.
 
Ryan tells us that the one thing they couldn’t do was to clamp the umbilical cord. Even though they didn’t have anything to do this with, in hindsight, he feels he could have clamped it with his fingers. The cord was cut once the ambulance came. 
 
Next, the paramedics wrapped the baby in a foil blanket. Ryan carried the baby to the front of the ambulance. Meanwhile, Valerie was on the gurney in the back, still having contractions and trying to push the placenta out!
 
In absolute admiration of his wife’s courage, Ryan tells us how he knew his wife was exhausted from the pain and blood loss. Yet, she worked hard on pushing the placenta out despite still bleeding heavily. She even remembered to say “thank you” to the paramedics whenever they gave her advice or helped her!
 
Wow, dramatic delivery indeed!
 
After all this, we couldn’t help but wonder how their two little boys welcomed their brand new baby sister.
Korean principal Ryan Kwak Seong Hoon

We wish this wonderful family all the very best!

‘Mummy, what happened to your tummy?’

Their older boy knew he was going to be a big brother all over again. Ryan and Valerie told their son, “There is a small baby in mummy’s big belly that will pop out soon (just like baby birds pop out of the egg in his Dr Seuss book). He would whisper into my then pregnant wife’s belly button: ‘Taeri! It’s your big Brother! I’m waiting for you! I love you.'” Awww!
 
The cuteness continued after her birth, too. Big bro apparently asked Valerie, “Mummy, what happened to your tummy? It’s so small now! Taeri popped out!” He also caresses his baby sister and tell her he loves her just like he did to his brother when he was born, explains Ryan.
 
Their younger son, says Ryan, is generally the “rougher” of the two. But he’s been very good about taking the cue from his big brother.
 
He tries to pat ‘lil sis as softly as he can manage and gives her little kisses on her head. The proud dad also tell us that both his sons are also extremely alert to when their little sister cries. They will often run to their parents shouting “Taeri is crying!”
 
So, with three kids under the age of three, wow on earth do Ryan and Valerie manage?

‘A Daily System of Routine’

Yes, that is their secret: routine. Ryan also shares that they prepared well in advance for the new addition to their family. They hired a helper and booked a confinement nanny. Still, things were pretty crazy the first week, he explains.
 
Now, things are better as they’ve established a daily system which the boys are getting used to. Even though Valerie is still recovering from blood loss and battling with mastitis, she doesn’t fail to wake up almost every hour either to pump, tend to the newborn, or tend to their one year old son who still wakes up at night sometimes, says Ryan. 
 
Daddy too contributes by taking care of the boys in the day while Valerie gets her confinement massage, pumps breastmilk, has an afternoon nap and has her confinement meals and bath.
 
During this time, Ryan tells us that he’ll usually take the boys to the playground, feed them their lunch and dinner, send their older son to preschool, bathe them, change their diapers, and complete their night routine of preparing their night milk, story time and brushing their teeth.
 
He doesn’t neglect his wife either. This devoted husband keeps his darling wife’s spirits high by playing her favourite shows for her while she pumps. Or sometimes, he sneakily gets her her favourite candy/snacks (when the confinement nanny isn’t looking)!
Ryan’s final words of advice to all expecting parents is to be prepared!
 
He suggests always reading up in advance on what you should do in cases of emergency births or home deliveries. Keep towels and water bottles ready in the car because you never know when you might need them! They are very useful for if you water bag breaks while on the way to the hospital, says Ryan. 
 
And, after listening to his incredible story, we couldn’t agree more. 
 
We’d like to thank Ryan for taking time off his busy parenting and work schedule to have this chat with theAsianParent. We wish you and your beautiful family all the very best!