Justice and Equality for our children of LGBT parents please

A couple of hours ago, I got news out of Singapore that made me jump out of bed at 4 am to get on my laptop and write a blog post. This news makes me so angry with how Singapore continues to blatantly discriminate against LGBT parents and their children while waving around the so called “family values”.

You can read about the news here: Singapore court rejects bid by gay man to adopt child he fathered through surrogacy.

I was fortunate enough to get a copy of the decision brief and here are the important highlights, with my own indignant comments.

The judge starts off pretty nicely and recognises that it is in human nature to want to have children and even states that “to raise a child” is “one of the most meaningful of human experiences.”

Then she proceeds to list the facts against the case.

This first fact already shows how much is wrong with the current situation in Singapore.

First of all, this case is definitely different from most adoption cases as the applicant (who I shall refer to as James because these are real people we are talking about, not figments of our imagination) is the actual biological father of the child (who I shall refer to as Noel) HOW MANY ADOPTION CASES DO YOU SEE IN SINGAPORE WHERE THE APPLICANT IS THE ACTUAL BIOLOGICAL PARENT? That first line is already so so so wrong. Yes, the intention to adopt is because he loves children and has been in a loving and committed relationship with his partner (who I shall refer to as Shawn) for 13 years. However, it is not his intention to adopt a random child. This is his biological child who I am sure was conceived after much thought and planning. Because gay people do not have children on a whim. It comes after much planning and saving because let’s face it, surrogacy is not cheap.

Secondly, once again I am reminded that women are second class citizens in Singapore. Honestly, why is a woman’s right to assisted reproduction reserved only for “married women with the consent of her spouse”? If a woman wants to have a child and has the means to afford it, why can’t she have a child? After all, it is “one of the most meaningful of human experiences” and we are depriving people of this experience by simple virtue of them not finding the right person to parent with? What kind of logic is that? But I digress. This post is not about womens’ rights. It is about the rights of a child and his loving parents.

The second point of her brief states:

Key points to note:

  1. The choice to use an anonymous egg donor is the choice of James and Shawn. Plenty of people around the world chose anonymous sperm or egg donors and in fact, open donors only became an option in recent years.
  2. James and Shawn did not take up adoption proceedings by choice. They have to do so as Noel would not be granted Singapore citizenship since he is considered an illegitimate child. Given that Noel is a US citizen, Noel would have to leave Singapore every 90 days to get a new entry visa. Wouldn’t you want to get Singapore citizenship if your child has no rights to live in Singapore?

I will share why these facts are important later in this post.

The following points are from the Platform of the Decision:

Thank you for recognising that the Adoption of Children Act does not specifically address a case such as this one. However, would it have made a difference if James and Shawn were married? No, because as stated above, same gender marriages are not yet legal in Singapore and so for all intents and purposes, even if James and Shawn were married overseas, it would not be relevant. So given that this is the first case of its kind in Singapore, any decision made by judge Shobha Nair would be setting the precedent. Again this is an important point to note.

She continues to elaborate on how the Adoption act is being interpreted in this case.

The surrogate is NOT the biological parent of Noel, but was instead the gestational vehicle. The money was definitely NOT used “to encourage the movement of life from one hand to another” but was more payment as part of the surrogacy contract. While there are no laws to govern surrogacy in Singapore, laws have been established in the US for some time. The laws in US protect surrogates by ensuring that surrogacy is done with all legal and financial aspects are taken care of.  There are definitely fees involved to pay the surrogate for having to carry the pregnancy to term, not forgetting all the medical fees during pregnancy and childbirth. A sum of US$200,00 may seem like a lot, but when you consider you have to also pay for legal fees and all the other additional expenses, I think that doesn’t seem like a lot. Also the laws in US ensure that the payments are not made to the surrogate to entice them to sell the child. It is more reimbursement for the inconvenience they have to go through for 10 months. This was not a totally unrelated person buying a child. This is a biological parent getting help to have a child.

 

But it is. Because everything about this case highlights the challenges facing people in same gender relationships who wish to have children. How we are deprived of “one of the most meaningful of human experiences.”  James and Shawn cannot “form a lawfully recognised family unit” because they can’t even get married. While they are raising Noel as an informal family unit, Shawn has no legal claim on Noel because the laws in Singapore don’t allow for it. Even James is struggling to get legal rights as we can see in the decision on this case. How can Judge Shobha Nair pretend otherwise when this case has set the precedent for future cases?

“The law mirrors the morality and wishes of the majority of Singaporeans” The last I checked, we haven’t done any referendum on same gender parenting in Singapore. While it is true that this is not the sole basis on which this decision was made, I think its fair to take into consideration how this ruling will affect similar future cases.

Yes, it is an attempt to formalise the parent-child relationship. However, this attempt wouldn’t even be needed if the law would just recognise that Noel is the child of James and it is Noel’s birthright to be a Singaporean. Instead of having enter and exit Singapore every 90 days or to continually apply for Long Term Visit Pass, Noel should automatically be allowed to live in Singapore as he is the biological child of James.

I disagree with her assessment based on a number of points:

  1. The “right to know his mother” is irrelevant in this case as that is not his mother. It is simply the egg donor. A mother is someone who is a parent to the child. In this case, the egg donor gave away the egg with clear understanding that any child resulting from the egg is not hers. She has no wish to have a relationship with the child or she would have chosen to be an open egg donor. It is the choice of James and Shawn to be the only parents that Noel knows and I believe other parents in Singapore who have opted for egg or sperm donors will agree that this is a deeply personal choice. It does not mean that the donor is automatically deemed a parent of the resulting child and I find it insulting that the Judge even brought up this point.
  2. While the adoption order would not be the sole reason for ICA to consider allowing Singapore citizenship for the child, it would obviously be an important factor.
  3. Being a Singapore citizen is important for Noel as it unlocks educational opportunities for him in Singapore. Without Singapore citizenship, he is subject to the insane primary school system that randomly allocates none citizens/PRs to an available school that may or may not be geographically near his home. It also subjects Noel to higher school fees and excludes him from other benefits such as Edusave.
  4. Just because his parents are relatively well off and can financially support the child should not be a reason why Noel is considered to be unsuitable for adoption.
  5. The fact that this adoption has been denied simply is against the welfare of the child.

This ignores the fact that James IS the biological parent of the child and probably fully intends to share with Noel how he was conceived out of love. This is not about providing for Noel financially. This is about Noel being given a place in Singapore. The only home he has ever known and the place where his parents, grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousins live, play and love. The difficult circumstances only exists because Singapore refuses to recognise that the world is changing and that family units are no longer simply the cookie cutter model of the past. This is allowing a child to be equal in the eyes of his peers and not set apart because of bureaucratic red tape.

Every parent wants the best for their child. Given that Noel will be third class citizen in Singapore, of course I imagine James and Shawn will have to consider moving overseas if Noel is not granted Singapore citizenship. The facts are simple – Noel will not have access to the same level and quality of education as a Singaporean in Singapore. Therefore putting him at a disadvantage. James and Shawn will have to choose to move away, taking their considerable talents with them. In a time when Singapore government seeks to address the talent drain in Singapore, this is an obviously undesirable outcome. On top of that, Noel would have to be taken away from the only home he has ever known and move away from his grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousins because of this discrimination. How can the court consider this not against his interest? For all the “family values” it tries to promote, the act of denying this adoption order is the act of denying a child his family. He will not be able to experience what it means to be a real Singaporean, even when both his parents are born and bred Singaporeans. There will be no singing of the National Anthem or reciting of the National Pledge. He will be an outsider in his own country. He will never experience the joys of National Service. He will always be an outsider looking in.

I cannot believe that the court can look at all this and still consider that it is in the best interest of Noel for the adoption petition to be denied.

If you are interested in it, you can read the full document here: Brief Grounds of Decision – 26.12.2017

This decision is absolutely appalling. I hope James and Shawn consider appealing the decision as it is important that Noel be given his birthright. This also strongly highlights the many challenges we face as parents in a country where we and our children are considered second or even third class citizens. We are denied “one of the most meaningful of human experiences” by simple virtue of the fact we are LGBTQ. It is time for things to change. There should be “justice and equality” for all, especially our children.

 

It’s nice to have some rights

This morning I went to the clinic with my wife for our yearly medical check up. We brought baby Vicky along. 

Over the course of 3 hours, we met with a number of healthcare professionals. All of them cooed over baby Vicky and no one seemed surprised or uncomfortable with the fact that two women had a baby together. 

Among them was a medical assistant, who had administered my allergy tests last week. Previously, she had given me a rather odd look when I mentioned my wife. So I was caught by surprise when she casually talked about her wife during our conversation today.

The other person who came out was our primary care provider. We had picked her because in her bio, she had shown interest in promoting good health for the LGBT community. So we knew she was at least gay friendly. So while it wasn’t a surprise when she mentioned that she has talked about having children with her wife, I felt honoured that she choose to come out to me.

Today’s experience makes me appreciate being here in the US. It feels great to be able to comfortably go into any medical setting together with my wife and not be questioned about our relationship. To have a baby with us and not be asked “Who is the real mother?”. I do not take such encounters for granted because I am always reminded of the struggles we face back in Singapore.

The contrast was especially highlighted when I was getting a copy of Vicky’s birth certificate. The effort it took for us to get Zoey’s birth certificate was pretty monumental, so I am glad we managed it this time with minimal fuss. Initially when I got the first copy of Vicky’s birth certificate, it had Mother and Father stated on it. When I pointed it out, the lady at the counter immediately took it back and amended it to Parent. This is what it feels like to be accepted and have rights. 🌈

When will we have this in Singapore?

Bye 2016!

As 2016 comes to a close, I had the opportunity today to reflect on the good and bad of 2016. Here are my thoughts during the final hour of 2016.

On the personal front, it’s been a challenging yet fulfilling year.

I think the worst part of 2016 was the few months I spent as a single parent while Irene was in Seattle because it showed me my inadequacies as a parent. I remember the first couple of weeks were particularly painful for me as I found myself struggling to manage Zoey’s meltdowns due to the void that Irene had left behind. It was compounded by the fact that we had started Zoey at a new school and I was still working full-time. On the bright side, it taught me more patience and helped me forge a stronger bond with Zoey. So for that I am thankful.

The best thing of 2016 was definitely getting pregnant with BB8. Even though it has been a tougher pregnancy than when I was pregnant with Zoey, the fact that we managed to get pregnant on the first try was a blessing. It saved me loads of stress and of course lots of money as well. So that was good.

On the family front, I think we have been fortunate that things have gone well despite the time we had to spend apart from each other. They say distance makes the heart grow fonder and I think in this case, it is true. Zoey missed Irene a lot while they were apart and their bond now is even stronger than before. It puts a smile on my face everyday to see how they interact, play and enjoy with each other. I find my relationship with Irene has also improved over this past year as we navigated new challenges and built a new life in a new place together.

While the world has had a pretty bad year (just the number of talents we lost this year was devastating), I think overall the Chiongs had a good year.

As a reminder for myself and quick reflection, here is a quick run down of the significant events in 2016:

January – Spent my birthday in Bangkok, the first overseas vacation Irene and I went on together without Zoey.

February – Rushed to Jakarta when we thought we were losing my grandma. Fortunate that she pulled through and we still have her with us now. A timely reminder to treasure our loved ones as time marches on while we are distracted in our lives.

March – Met Margaret Cho and caught her show.  Zoey turned 3. Irene left for Seattle and this started our family’s biggest challenge to date.

April – Zoey was the flower girl for the first time at Daryl and Nicole’s wedding. Submitted PR application for Zoey. Launched my second book Baby Zoey – Our Search for Life and Family.

May – Grandma turned 86 and we were able to celebrate it with her. Zoey and I flew to Seattle to spend a month with Irene. Did IUI during this trip and was rewarded with a positive pregnancy test.

June – Left Seattle knowing that we will need to move sooner rather than later as it showed us how much Irene’s move had affected Zoey. Had my secondary school 20th year reunion.

July – Indulged in some me time as I watched a couple of local productions including Boo Jun Feng’s Apprentice and Wild Rice’s Hotel, both of which are excellent.

August – Lots of quality time with Zoey as I wind down at work and start preparing for the big move. Managed to get a US visa for our helper Siti.

September – Mega change as I pack up my home for the past 18 years into a 20 ft container and move to Seattle. Saying goodbye is hard, but I know it is worth it.

October – Battled jetlag, a car accident, doctor challenges, credit card fraud, house hunting, tenant replacement and head lice, all within the first month of arrival.

November – Moved and settled into our new home. Hosted our first Thanksgiving dinner with our friends who came to be with us. Discover I have gestational diabetes, but manage to keep it under control with proper diet.

December – We enrol Zoey into a bilingual preschool. We get snow in Seattle and Zoey gets to build her first snowman.

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Overall it’s been a good year and I’m looking forward to what 2017 will bring.

Gestational Diabetes and other complications with this second pregnancy

People say every pregnancy is different. In my case, it has been drastically so.

When I was pregnant with Zoey, it was an uncomplicated and pretty easy-going pregnancy. I didn’t have much morning sickness. While I did lose some weight in the first trimester as I learnt to manage the nausea, my appetite returned soon after I entered the second trimester. In fact, my appetite improved to the point that I enjoyed my food possibly a little too much and eventually put on a significant amount of weight, somewhere in the range of 15 kgs. From my memory I puked maybe a total of 3 times throughout the pregnancy.

So I optimistically thought that the second pregnancy would be a breeze.

How wrong I was.

This pregnancy has been a challenge, right from the beginning. I know some people would say that due to my age (I’m 36) this is normal as I’m now considered a “high risk” pregnancy. However, it sometimes feels as if I cannot get a break!

It started with me having some bleeding during the first few weeks. I had returned from Seattle in early June while I was about 6 weeks pregnant, feeling fairly confident that things would be easy. Unfortunately, this baby had other plans. Within a week of my return, I found myself having some bleeding. A trip to the gynae found no obvious reason for the bleeding, but I was put on progesterone pills plus jab to try and stem it. The bleeding would continue on and off for a few weeks, with each episode prompting a trip to the gynae for another jab.

Then the morning sickness started and it was brutal. I could not keep the food down and spent a lot of time eating and puking. I struggled to eat anything at all and there were days when I survived on cream crackers and water. The smell of food was a huge trigger and I started carrying little puke bags wherever I went. I lost about 5 kgs in the first trimester because of this. The nausea only started dissipating around the middle of the second trimester.

The next complication came when I had ultrasounds done. They found multiple fibroids in my uterus, the biggest measuring over 5 cm. Given that I have a history of fibroids, I was not surprised to find this out, but it has become a cause for concern during this pregnancy as the fibroids have grown as the pregnancy progresses. For some women, the fibroids shrink during pregnancy. For others, as in my case, the fibroids grow bigger and can sometimes compete with the baby for space and blood supply. Due to this, I have been closely monitored during this pregnancy, having more ultrasounds scheduled then normal. Right now the biggest one measures around 9 cm with multiple smaller ones between 2 and 5 cm. There are too many to count and they cannot be removed during the c section as there is a concern there may be too much blood loss. There is a chance they might shrink after the pregnancy so here’s hoping.

At the same time, the doctor finds out that I have iron deficiency anemia, something that has been a recurring issue for me, with or without being pregnant. So I’ve had to go on iron pills on top of my prenatal vitamins which of course make me constipated and needing to up my fiber intake.

Then the back pain started. I had the same pain while pregnant with Zoey, but it came quite late in the pregnancy, towards the end when carrying the extra weight in the front caused me to have back pain. This time it started around the middle of the second trimester. It got so bad that I would have shooting pain down my leg when I walked or stood for too long. Fortunately my gynae referred me to a physical therapist who helped provide me some exercises to keep it under control. I’ve also learnt to make myself more comfortable, whether while sitting, standing, walking or lying down. Having prenatal massage done once a week has helped make things more comfortable.

Then I found I had a particular tooth that could no longer be flossed. Every time I brought a floss to it and tried to force the floss between the gaps, I would break the floss instead of bring able to get into the gap. So I ended up going to the dentist where I discovered that this particular tooth has a fracture and is now lodged tightly against the neighbouring tooth. This of course has to do with the fact that I’m a grinder. I normally wear a mouth guard to sleep, but because of the pregnancy, I’ve stopped wearing the guard as my gums bleed when I do. This in turn has caused more grinding pressure on the tooth, causing it to split. Fortunately the fracture has not progressed far enough for it to hit the nerve, however I had to have a crown put in to prevent the fracture from splitting the tooth in half. Being 8 months pregnant and having to sit in a dentist chair for a couple of hours while getting this done is not pleasant, but at least it’s done now and I’m kind of glad it’s fixed. At least I didn’t need a root canal.

Which brings me to the latest complication in this pregnancy and the reason why I am writing this blog post.

I recently read this article – Doctors Shocked At High Rate of Gestational Diabetes in Singapore, where they talk about how the rate of gestational diabetes is surprisingly high in Singapore. The article appeared at the right time as 3 weeks ago, I found out I have gestational diabetes. It has also made me wonder if it is possible I had gestational diabetes in my first pregnancy and simply did not know it because I was never tested.

In the United States, they test all pregnant women for gestational diabetes between the 24 and 28 week mark. Even though I am not in the traditionally high risk group, I had to take the 1 hour glucose test which consists of drinking a really sugary drink and having blood drawn an hour later. I failed it with a score of 146 mg/dl when the passing rate is below 140 mg/dl and so had to take the 3 hour glucose test.

The 3 hour glucose test requires fasting the night before and blood is then drawn 4 times during the test. First, the fasting glucose score which is supposed to be 94 mg/dl or below. I scored 96 mg/dl so I marginally failed. Then I had to drink the sugary drink again and my blood was drawn 3 times at hourly intervals. The 1 hour passing mark is 179 mg/dl and I scored 153 mg/dl which was a pass. However, the 2 hour passing mark is 154 g/dl and my score was 180 mg/dl. 3 hour passing mark is 139 mg/dl and mine was 151 mg/dl. All in all, I failed 3 out of the 4 scores.

Fortunately, my test results were not high enough to warrant going on insulin immediately. Instead I’ve been tasked to watch my diet and moderate the food I eat in order to keep my glucose levels steady throughout the day. This basically means taking smaller meals more frequently and having snacks between the 3 main meals per day. I also have to use a small machine to test my blood glucose 4 times a day. Once in the morning before breakfast and then 2 hours after breakfast, lunch and dinner. The target is to have a fasting level of between 60 to 95 mg/dl and be below 120 mg/dl 2 hours after each meal. On top of this, I have to keep a food journal of everything I am eating so I can figure out what foods to avoid, how big portions should be and whether my blood glucose levels are stable.

I would be lying if I said this has not been a source of stress and worry. Given that there has been a lot going on in this pregnancy (International move followed by a local move, car accident, credit card fraud, Zoey getting head lice and spreading it to the family just to name a few), this is definitely another added stress that I don’t need. For the past 3 weeks, I’ve been diligently watching my diet and taking my blood glucose levels 4 times a day. I’ve tried to keep my levels even, generally below 100 and I was feeling quite pleased with the progress. Never mind that I’m sometimes a little bit hungry, nothing a handful or almonds or some crackers cannot solve. So I thought the situation was under control.

That is until we had our prenatal check up today.

So it turns out that because of my dieting, I’ve not put on any weight in the past 3 weeks. The bigger problem now is the fact that baby’s growth has slowed down. At 33 weeks and 2 days, baby is about 1.8 kgs. The doctor is concerned that baby has gone from the 8 percentile to 6 percentile in less than a month plus amniotic fluid has decreased, although not to a level where it is a cause for concern yet. Instead of being monitored every 2 weeks, I now need to go in every week for monitoring to see if baby is facing Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). I want to say that I generally have small babies. After all, Zoey was only 2.44 kg at birth and she’s fine now. Also measuring our tiny Asian baby against the American sized babies is probably going to put us on the lower end of the scale. However, the fact is that baby is not putting on as much weight as it used to and it likely has to do with the fact that I’m not eating as much as I used to. This also means that there is a chance we will have to get the baby out earlier if baby is really not thriving inside of me.

Most people with gestational diabetes have the opposite problem. They tend to have babies who are bigger and thus diet watching is a way of making sure the babies are not too fat. In my case I have a serious dilemma now. Should I continue to eat less and risk baby not getting enough nutrition? Or should I just eat more and not worry so much about the blood glucose level given that it seems to be under control over the past 3 weeks?

Either way the last few weeks of this pregnancy promises to be interesting. Already my gynae is talking about pushing up the date of our schedule c section. We were originally planning for a 38 week c section on 20th January. Right now this is up in the air. It is very dependent on whether baby continues growing on target and if I can balance my nutrition while managing this gestational diabetes well. I’m just hoping baby stays put and doesn’t make an early appearance because an extended stay in the NICU is the last thing we need!

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A shot from maternity shoot we did a couple of weeks ago.

It’s our 2nd wedding anniversary

So as cliche as this may sound, I woke up this morning thinking – WOW! I cannot believe we’ve been married for 2 years. How time flies and how things have changed.

2 years ago, on this day, I woke up at 7 am to get ready for our wedding at San Francisco City Hall. I remember letting Irene and Zoey sleep in while I got ready. It was a simple ceremony filled with some raw emotions, a little bit of tears and a lot of love. I’m ever grateful to my family of friends for being there.

Now 2 years later, I wake up living in Seattle, a full time stay home mom, working part time on my various projects and with another baby on the way. Somehow it feels as if so much has happened in the past 2 years that its almost like 5 years instead of 2.

Life is unpredictable and if you told me on our wedding day that we would be living in Seattle 2 years later and I would be pregnant with our second child, I would have laughed. Back then, it seemed impossible. Life was so different and I was pretty sure our future was in Singapore for at least another 3 to 5 years. While we had discussed the possibilities of moving overseas, the reality was it did not seem achievable at the time.

What I did not count on was the determination of my wife to make a better life for us. She worked hard over the past 2 years to get where she is now. Knowing that software engineers are better valued overseas, she researched how to ace interviews with the top tech companies. Not content with that, she started taking various online courses to upgrade her technical skills. She applied for positions at different companies and went for a number of interviews just to gain experience on how to handle coding interviews. She eventually starting receiving job offers, but she patiently waited until the right one came along.

Amidst all this, she still found time to take care of Zoey during the numerous nights when I worked late. She was supportive of the path I was carving for myself, even though it meant me having to attend multiple networking events every week. She understood when I took time to write 2 books and often gave me her thoughts on my blog posts before I posted them. She supported me through it all knowing that we both had goals to achieve and being together sometimes means sacrifices on both our parts.

And I think this is what marriage is about. Two people, working together, to build a life that is worth living. Sometimes you need to make hard choices. We had to separate the family for 6 months. Irene decided to focus on her career instead of carrying our second baby because it makes better financial sense for us. While she admits she wasn’t keen on being pregnant anyway, I’m also grateful that she is willing to take on the burden of being the breadwinner for a couple of years while I focus on the family. I’m appreciative that she recognises being a mother is also a job. Zoey is definitely a happier child since we have moved to Seattle and the family is back together. She gets more time with both parents and has grown a lot in the past couple of months. Fully potty trained, able to articulate her feelings and blossoming into a happy, healthy, creative and confident child.

So having a balcony is quite cool #toddlerfun #toddlerweekends #SeattleAdventures

A post shared by Liv (@ebelle24) on

 

People get married for a variety of reasons. When we first got the piece of paper, it didn’t mean very much as it was a technicality that issn’t even recognised in many parts of the world. Yet this piece of paper has changed our lives in a number of ways. While I do not think it deepened the connection between us, it did enable us to explore the possibilities with the doors it opened. It is the key that allows our family to be together in the US. It will be the key for Irene to have equal rights over our second child. So while our relationship anniversary is generally a bigger deal than our wedding anniversary, we did go out and celebrate our wedding anniversary tonight.

 

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Our 2nd wedding anniversary dinner tonight – awesome Japanese dinner at Sushi Kashiba

Before the day ends, I want to give a shout out to my amazing, loving, determined and hardworking wife. Thank you for everything that you do for me and our family. It’s been a fantastic 2 years of marriage and I look forward to the many more years to come. <3