You may have noticed Tuesday that two of the world's most successful people had a baby. Along with his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, Mark Zuckerberg announced his baby's birth on Facebook, joined the long (relatively speaking) and ongoing tradition of posting a photo of their new offspring on the social network where we all announce our procreation. Looking at the photo, it's easy to respond with the usual mix of genuine congratulations, weariness, envy, and tiniest bit of of Schadenfreude that one feels upon encountering yet another baby announcement on Facebook. The train of thought shuttling through the brain is so familiar at this point: good-for-them-cute!-enough-with-the-life-events-name?-they-have-everything-get-ready-to-never-sleep-again-hahahaha.
Or maybe you didn't respond to the baby news at all because you were distracted by the simultaneous revelation that the Zuckerberg-Chans are giving away 99 percent of their wealth to the betterment of humanity. That’s a worthy distraction.
But there's something we shouldn't overlook about this announcement, something that, amid the well-wishing, is likely to fade into the background: Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg had three miscarriages before this pregnancy.
Why does that matter now, as they’re looking toward the future? Why bring it up in their happiest moment? Because a few months ago Zuckerberg and Chan did something not quite as remarkable as the decision they announced Tuesday but for a particular population of people, the people who have trouble bringing a healthy pregnancy to term, profound: They talked about their miscarriages, in a pregnancy announcement no less.
If you’ve had a miscarriage, particularly before having a child, you know how excruciating the cascade of pregnancy and birth posts on social media can be. The evidently effortless conceptions, the people who announce at nine weeks because what could go really wrong? I remember a colleague posting her ultrasound photo and due date a few days after I lost the pregnancy that my wife and I thought was going to result in our first child. They would have been born around the same time. What had she done right that we hadn't?
The answer is nothing, of course. Human reproduction is remarkably inefficient, especially for women over age 20, and some people's is more inefficient than others’. Zuckerberg got at this in his pregnancy announcement:
It's a lonely experience. Most people don't discuss miscarriages because you worry your problems will distance you or reflect upon you — as if you're defective or did something to cause this. So you struggle on your own.
Rather than cover up the anguish that almost certainly accompanied the three losses they had before the pregnancy that recently resulted in their daughter, Zuckerberg and Chan chose to include that part of the story. They did it, Zuckerberg explained, in the "hope that sharing our experience will give more people the same hope we felt and will help more people feel comfortable sharing their stories as well." I don’t know them and haven’t talked to them about this, but I imagine they also didn’t want people to look at their announcement and think it had been easy or perfect. Maybe they wanted people to have an inkling of what they'd been through, what their lives had really been like all those months. When I was going through it, I often wanted to stop someone in the street and tell them the whole thing. There is only so much pain you can hold in before you explode.
So like their pregnancy announcement photo, the photo of them with their healthy baby isn't just a birth announcement. Or at least mine wasn't. It’s the end of a specific heartache that nothing else soothes, it’s the feeling that you are no longer cursed. It’s the return of the feeling most privileged people take for granted until they can't have a baby: the sense that you are still someone to whom good things happen.
Because here is the thing about being baby-challenged: it saps your perspective. A life can be complete without a child. In fact, I think those without the burning urge to procreate may be the luckiest among us. To feel complete unto yourself — what a gift. But if you want a child, if you existentially need one, you start to see the world as divided between two groups of people: those who are able to have kids, and those who aren’t. No matter how much you have, it can make you feel forsaken. If you believe in a god, maybe you feel punished. If you don’t, you become acutely aware of how much in your life, in fact the most important things, are determined by luck, and how little control you have. Neither is comforting.
As a result, you have to completely reorganize your thinking. Or I did, at least. To protect myself, I learned to think about pregnancies only in clinical terms, as possibly temporary conditions; if I didn't think of them as being connected with a possible child, I didn't have a child to lose. I remember my wife trying to comfort both of us by putting the loss in perspective, “It wasn’t a baby. It was a chance.”
When you look for answers in the aftermath, when you google and you google and you google, you read that most people who have a miscarriage go on to have a healthy baby. It's true. It happened to Mark Zuckerberg. But until the moment your child is placed in your arms, you do not stop believing that you will be one of those for whom it never happens. (On days when I’m feeling sorry for myself, I think about those people who for the fourth or fifth or seventh time feel the blood where blood shouldn't be or stare at the blank screen where a heartbeat should be but isn't and get up the next morning and go to work alongside me without me ever knowing. I think about the strength in how they manage to go on.)
So when we reread Mark Zuckerberg's announcement and think that he and Dr. Chan are the luckiest people on the planet, it’s worth remembering the backstory, the same backstory behind so many similar status updates.
Zuckerberg and Chan’s greatest fortune is not the wealth they are giving away. It's not that idea Mark Zuckerberg had in a college dorm room, and it's not the intelligence and drive that earned Chan her medical degree. It's not even how amazing Chan managed to look in a formal gown while pregnant. It's the thing no amount of effort or strategy or will or money can guarantee, the thing that could have gone a different way but for once didn't: the healthy kid in their arms.
Through absolutely nothing besides good luck, they crossed over to the other side. They finally got to be the people posting the photo. That was part of yesterday’s announcement, too.
Image: Pool/Getty Images News