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Mark Zuckerberg’s baby announcement tinges Facebook with blue

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, married in 2012, are expecting a baby girl, they announced on Facebook.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, married in 2012, are expecting a baby girl, they announced on Facebook.

(Allyson Magda / Associated Press)

When Mark Zuckerberg posted a Facebook status on Friday announcing that he and his wife, Priscilla Chan, were expecting a baby, it went viral, as expected.

But the Facebook chief executive also revealed an unexpected blue note: His wife had three miscarriages in trying to have a child.

In describing their loss, the 31-year-old Zuckerberg emphasized his hope to turn social networks into spaces where people publicly express grief, breaking an unwritten rule of keeping sad stories offline.

“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,” Zuckerberg wrote.

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Even as Zuckerberg and Chan became aware that miscarriages were common among their friends, they considered the experiences “lonely.”

“We 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,” he wrote.

His Facebook post garnered more than 433,000 “likes” within several hours, including a thumbs-up from Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer. Sandberg, author of the bestselling book “Lean In,” made her own grief public last month following the unexpected death of her husband, 47-year-old Dave Goldberg. In the weeks after his death, she posted half a dozen soul-baring Facebook posts, such as: “I have learned how ephemeral everything can feel — and maybe everything is.”

Discussing sensitive stories such as miscarriages on social media is generally taboo, said Betsy Page Sigman, a professor specializing in technology and social media at Georgetown University.

“People tend to not post things that are downers,” she said. But that tendency could be putting pressure on social networks to better reflect reality, in all its ups and downs, especially for the millennial generation that came of age with Facebook, she said.

Whether Facebook can truly embrace that philosophy remains to be seen, and Sigman cautioned that the lack of human interaction online may leave users with a sense of emptiness, as they wonder: “How do you interpret a ‘like’?”

Physician Renee Dua, cofounder of Heal, a start-up that connects users with doctor visits, said she considered Zuckerberg and Chan brave for exposing Chan’s pregnancy struggles.

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“I would have had a hard time doing what they’ve done,” she said. Often, women seek out “mommy” groups online to speak about their frustration in conceiving pregnancies. But the high-profile Zuckerberg could now open the door to many people who have struggled with miscarriages -- including herself, she said -- to a broader discussion.

“It can become a subject of conversation instead of something to hide,” she said.

daina.solomon@latimes.com

Twitter: @dainabethcita

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