Last week, Mark “Facebook” Zuckerberg announced the happy news that his wife is pregnant, along with the normally private information that the couple had endured multiple miscarriages. With that announcement came a flood of empathy and support and appreciation.
Sharing certain things is difficult. Especially when the news is so closely related to your body. Some things are so personal that many people receive difficult health news and immediately make the decision to keep it private. I completely understand this. In early 2009, during my pregnancy with Cassidy, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. At the time, my response to this news, in terms of emotion, was SHAME. I felt I had failed my little fetus. I completely took responsibility – one of the many downsides to being natured and nurtured into leadership tendencies is that you tend to take responsibility for just about everything. I was certain I had eaten too much Goodfella’s Pizza in college (holla, Bobcats!) and I was paying for it dearly. Whenever I thought of it – pretty much constantly because I had to test my blood sugar 4 times a day – I would shut my eyes and bow my head in shame and think “it’s my fault.” So, my shame led me to what we have constructed as an acceptable euphemism: privacy. Hey, there is nothing innately wrong with being private – but we would do well to examine our reasons for desiring privacy. In my case, it was because I was totally embarrassed and ashamed. I assumed that anyone I told would nod knowingly and judgingly and condemn me for every carb they had ever witnessed me enjoy. I shielded myself from that by telling very few people about my diagnosis. As time went on and keeping it secret became cumbersome, I found a level of comfort and reduction of shame through the sisterhood I found in online communities of ladies with the same issue. That, along with my natural extroversion, allowed the news to creep out timidly. Typically I would follow the bomb drop with statistics about how common it is and how even skinny people get it and how well I was managing it through a heroically strict diet. I steered people toward admiring me for eschewing sugar during pregnancy, desperately managing their ideas about me to protect myself from the judgment I anticipated.
Years later, with that far in the rear view mirror, I talk easily about gestational diabetes. I have grown in a number of ways that allow me to feel less concerned about that judgment, less bothered by those kinds of worries. I am a bit gentler with myself and others – by the way, I have found that the gentler we are we ourselves, the gentler we can be with others – and I have seen plenty of bad things happen to good people, both as a result of their own choices and a result of the strange non-formulaic, apparently senseless ways of this world. Grace is in order in both cases. And if you don’t want to give me grace and prefer to judge me, I can see now that is way more about you than it is about me. You and God will have to work that out, and it will probably be quite beautiful when you get around to it.
I share about cancer freely. I am sure some people have thought what I might have done to give myself cancer. We think that way if we are afraid and want to feel sure it won’t happen to us. The person with lung cancer smoked – whew, that won’t happen to non-smokers, so it’s ok. The child drowned because the mom let the 10 year old babysit -whew, I would NEVER do that, so it’s ok. Apparently senseless, non “obvious fault” tragedy is so much scarier. The bowling ball rolled out the window and hit him on the head and killed him?? He was just WALKING ALONG? Wait, I do that every day! That might happen to me!!!! Arghghghgh! I also know some people don’t think like that at all. Naturally empathetic people just care. They just want to care for and comfort you. They don’t care if you have HIV because you had unprotected sex or Hep C because you used drugs. They just feel for you.
That fear of judgment isn’t the only thing that prevents us from sharing. Some worry that others will see them as weak. Many people confide in me these days and a friend recently shared a cancer diagnosis. This person didn’t want to be seen as incapable of doing their job. Another person in a similar situation didn’t want the fuss and attention. Yet another person didn’t want his family to worry. I do understand these issues. But I’m here to tell you there is something else to consider.
My cousin recently called to tell me about how much he enjoyed a recent event where military and other people shared stories of overcoming insurmountable odds and thriving after experiencing trauma. They did so with grace and humor. It clearly inspired the audience deeply. Those people chose to overcome their fear and value of privacy for the purpose of encouraging others. Everyone is going through something. And most of our world’s big problems (divorce, death of a loved one, a scary diagnosis, severe injury, intense failure) feel huge and solitary. We feel alone in our situation. Until someone else bravely shares. Our tight, closed, scared selves relax a tiny bit and we hopefully whisper “You, too?”
Lost babies is one of the most taboo subjects around. I hear there is an underground network of people who privately rush to the sides of the recently bereaved. I am thankful to not need admission to that club of support, but I guarantee you, there is love to be found there that exists no place else. I know Mark Zuckerberg isn’t everyone’s favorite visionary. But his vision is clear – that social networks operate to bring people together and inspire openness and collaboration and progress. He took it straight to the heart with this one and I’m joyful on behalf of those who have felt they were required to grieve privately. Many will choose the same quiet grief, even now that the door has been blown open. But those who have longed for a bigger space to walk through their sorrows – Mr. Zuckerberg has knocked down some walls, put in a coffee shop and installed Wi-Fi. He has invited you to join him in that space.
My hope is that my decision to share openly about cancer has made it a little easier for someone else. I share to create a bigger space, to make more room. You can totally hide by yourself in the dark and deal with it on your own. I judge ye not. But if you want to come on out, there is plenty of room. And pizza. Even though I only eat that very occasionally now because it causes cancer. Just kidding. Like 97% kidding. It’s actually aspartame. Or Kenny G.