Through their family blog and now their new book Baby Zoey, the Chiong family has shone a light on the challenges of same-sex parenting in Singapore. Sassy Mama contributor Pooja spoke with Olivia Chiong about why it’s so important to share her family’s story…
In the opening pages of Baby Zoey: Our Search for Life and Family, a parenting memoir about the author and her wife’s quest to create a family, Olivia Chiong writes, “[You] will meet obstacles and sometimes even nature will conspire against you. However, instead of giving up, you work with the resources you have and do your best to make it happen.” Baby Zoey chronicles those many bureaucratic obstacles—from purchasing and shipping sperm to Singapore to obtaining a birth certificate for their daughter— and more in pursuing the Chiongs’ dream of having a biological child.
Chiong is best known for her blog where she writes about life with her wife, Irene, and toddler daughter, Zoey. Here, she shares her insights on same-sex parenting, relationships, and life hacks. She is also a long-time volunteer with queer women activist platform Sayoni and co-founded Singapore’s only same-sex parenting support group, Rainbow Parents SG, with her wife.
In Baby Zoey, Chiong also details her struggles with infertility and the lack of support for her particular situation. In Singapore, artificial reproductive technology, including intrauterine insemination is only available to married, heterosexual couples; the law actually states that anyone who wants to get fertility treatment must have the consent of their husband! “Infertility is one of those ‘hush-hush’ topics in Asia, even for heterosexual couples, let alone same-sex ones!” Olivia told me in an interview. “It’s considered shameful, and there is not enough talk, even online, about it.” Ultimately (SPOILER ALERT), the couple acquired sperm from the U.S. and shipped it to Thailand, where they received medical care.
Zoey’s birth isn’t the end of the family’s challenges either. For example, the Chiongs’ U.S. marriage is not recognised in Singapore and, in the eyes of the Singapore government, Olivia is a single mother who is a permanent resident. Even though Irene is a Singapore citizen, her daughter is not legally hers and, therefore, not automatically a citizen. For some time, the couple renewed Zoey’s social visit pass every 30 days. Had the government ever rejected her pass during that time, the Chiongs would have been forced to leave Singapore.
As a book, Baby Zoey is largely a skimming over of a series of chronological events, rather than a true and literary memoir. Many of the passages in the book were previously published on Olivia’s blog. But, no matter, because Baby Zoey is an important book. It serves as a guide to other parents who may be considering the same journey, and reminds readers that “pro-family” in Singapore is to the exclusion of many (and how citizens might work to change that).
Olivia said that one of the the reasons that she wrote Baby Zoey was because she has the privilege to do so, while other families do not. She describes a culture of fear in making one’s family situation public and the love and support (emotional and financial) that she had to make this book happen. “We have jobs that allow us to be ‘out’,” Olivia said. “The publishing of this book was a conscious choice. In Singapore, families like ours are censored out of the narrative. I wanted the world to know what was stopping us from being a family. And I want Zoey to know that our family is nothing to be ashamed of.”
At the book’s launch at Trehaus in late April, when an audience member asked whether the book would be available in the National Library, the book’s publicist guffawed. However, he and his colleagues suggested that members of the public request that their branch librarians purchase it for circulation. In the meantime, Baby Zoey is available now in all local bookstores and via Epigram Books for S$24.90.