Parenthood to Eugene Toh has been a journey of ups and down, and one that has seen him and his wife go through multiple miscarriages and pregnancy complications with each birth.
But the father of four boys aged two months to six years old is hesitant to describe his parenthood journey as “difficult”, for fear of putting off other couples still on the fence about whether or not to have kids.
“I won’t characterise my journey as being difficult in any way,” said Eugene, an economics tutor who runs a tuition business together with his wife. He’s mindful that “there are a lot more people who have gone through more difficult journeys that we have.”
“I’ll say it is challenging, but immensely rewarding.”
To many, the obstacles that Eugene, 34, and his wife Eileen, 32, have faced may indeed seem overwhelming and daunting.
Their first pregnancy two years after their wedding ceremony ended in a miscarriage after six weeks.
“I don’t think a lot of people know how to process the grief that comes with miscarriage. And I think a lot of fathers also don’t know how to process the grief,” shared Eugene, admitting that he too, is one of them.
“I tried to suppress my own emotions because I felt I had to be there for her. So even though I was feeling very emotional and miserable myself, I tried to keep myself in good spirits so that I can support her.”
The couple suffered two more pregnancy losses within the next few years, the most recent which left an indelible mark due to the trauma of the experience. Eugene would only reveal that the loss was due to a medical issue.
“Even though it has been some time, the feelings of grief don’t go away just like that,” he shared, admitting that he “hasn’t fully processed” those emotions.
PHOTO: Eugene Toh
With each successful pregnancy, there were also complications.
For their first child, Edison, a large blood clot “bigger than the baby” was found next to the foetus during the first trimester. The clot thankfully went away on its own after dissolving. And for their fourth child, Eileen was warned that she could risk a uterine rupture.
All four children — Edison, six, Elon, four, Elias, two, and Edward, two-and-a-half months — were also born premature.
Their fourth child will be their last, as their doctor has advised against having more children due to the dangers of having multiple C-sections.
Eugene’s rocky parenthood journey also nearly made him pursue a career in the medical profession.
It was in part spurred by the callous manner in which a doctor informed them of his wife’s first miscarriage.
“[The doctor] just said, ‘You know what’s going on right? So there’s nothing much you need to do, you can go home now.’ She didn’t even give my wife an MC,” shared Eugene.
“I mean, for us, the news was very hard to process,” he said adding that he thought the entire situation “should have been dealt with more delicately”.
However, an expensive lawsuit he was slapped with by a former business partner put paid to his medical dream. Although he eventually won the court case in 2019, Eugene shares that he has yet to receive compensation of more than $300,000 owed to him. But it didn’t matter, as Eugene had long decided by then that he was committed to a teaching career.
This was thanks to a chance encounter at a hospital with a former student who became a doctor. Their conversation made Eugene realise that his work is just as meaningful.
“She told me that there was fundamentally no difference in what she was doing and what I was doing, which is helping people, just in different ways.”
“Looking back, I don’t think I made the wrong choice to continue and I really feel a lot of satisfaction in what I’m doing.”
Despite being a tutor, a job he’s held since he was a cash-strapped national serviceman, Eugene is one who believes grades are not everything. In fact, he shared that he wouldn’t even mind if his kids failed their subjects.
“If they did their best [but still failed], then so be it,” shared Eugene. “Different people have different strengths and weaknesses.”
That’s not to say he’s not motivated to provide the best for his children in whatever way possible.
PHOTO: Eugene Toh
“Before I became a parent, I definitely thought I’d be one of those who’d be more focused on work, while my wife would be more focused on the family, but it is really not the case,” says Eugene, who professes to be just as hands on with the kids as his wife.
And while he used to scoff at so-called kiasu parents who’d go to great lengths to guarantee the best outcome for their child, Eugene changed his tune when he became a dad.
“For example, I thought it was absurd and insane for parents to send their kids to far away schools and spend so much time driving them around.
But when his kids came around, Eugene decided that they had to attend a Chinese-medium pre-school and enrolled them in one that was quite a distance from their home.
“We gave ourselves a lot of excuses, such as ‘it’s just walking distance from our workplace’, but it was something that we’d have never considered doing before. So we drive them half an hour to school and half an hour back every day,” said Eugene resignedly.
His lesson learned? “We cannot judge parents for doing certain things until we become parents ourselves.” Not that he admits to being a kiasu parent himself. One thing he won’t do is to send his children for enrichment classes unnecessarily.
“It’s not something we force upon our kids, we always give them the option,” he said, sharing that his older kids learn the piano out of interest and go for swimming classes.
The latter is “due to our undue fears about drowning and not because we want them to be Joseph Schoolings”, he joked.
One value that Eugene hopes to inculcate in his children however, is the love for reading. The self-professed bookworm in his younger days shares: “If you cultivate a love for reading and a love for learning, you won’t dread learning new things, because it will always be interesting.”
It’s not surprising then, that his dedication his kids’ education extends to his students as well. In 2018, he bought plane tickets to New York for just three days in order to film videos that would teach students the meaning of price discrimination and standards of living.
Eugene is also known to book out entire cinema halls for his students after the exam period and dangle Hai Di Lao hotpot treats as an incentive for those who do well in their homework. At one point, he was even giving away air tickets to students who performed well in their tests.
When asked why he does these ‘extra’ things, he says, “My job is to help them learn and do better. If they don’t, then I’ll find ways to get it done.”
‘Don’t Think, Just Do’
In spite of the struggles Eugene and his wife Eileen went through, one has to wonder how they mustered the courage to have more kids.
Eugene shared that it was their love for kids, particularly on the part of his wife, which spurred them on in persisting despite the setbacks.
“I used to imagine my ideal family with two kids, but never four.” But he admitted that “not a lot of thinking” was done when it came to growing their family.
“I was telling a friend, if you have to think a lot about having kids, you end up not having any, because I think for a lot of people, they would try to rationalise and end up thinking that having kids is not worthwhile.
“They need to become a parent to know how rewarding parenting is.”
But celebrating Father’s Day with his brood will have to wait.
“I feel like celebrating Father’s Day when your kids are very young is very self-serving. It’s only meaningful when your kids can celebrate for you, right?”
His advice to would-be parents still considering their options? “Don’t think, just have [children],” says Eugene. Take it from the father of four, who shares, “the toughest jump is from two to three (kids), after that, the fourth one doesn’t feel that crazy anymore.”
This article was first published on AsiaOne and republished on theAsianparent with permission.
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