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Satya Nadella: birth of son with cerebral palsy was a turning point in life

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“It has shaped my personal passion for and philosophy of connecting new ideas to empathy for others,” the Microsoft CEO says.

Satya Nadella

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says becoming “a father of a son with special needs was the turning point” in his life.

In a LinkedIn Post, the Hyderabad-born tech executive says it has helped him “better understand the journey of people with disabilities” and has shaped his “personal passion for and philosophy of connecting new ideas to empathy for others.”

Nadella’s son Zain, 21, was born with severe cerebral palsy.

The Indian American, who succeeded Steve Ballmer as the CEO of Microsoft three years ago, writes about the excitement he and his wife, Anu, felt while the two were expecting Zain.

“My career as an engineer was taking off, while she was building her career as an architect. We were far from our families in India, but settling into our new life together in the Seattle area. Even more exciting, however, was that Anu was pregnant with our first child. In the apartment we were renting next to the Microsoft campus, we spent months busily preparing for his arrival — decorating a nursery, putting plans in place for Anu to return to her career, envisioning how our weekends and holidays would change….We were ready to add a new joy to our life.”

The birth of Zain changed the couple’s plans.

In the post, Nadella excerpts a section from his recent biography Hit Refresh:

 One night, during the thirty-sixth week of her pregnancy, Anu noticed that the baby was not moving as much as she was accustomed to. So we went to the emergency room of a local hospital in Bellevue. We thought it would be just a routine checkup, little more than new parent anxiety. In fact, I distinctly remember feeling annoyed by the wait times we experienced in the emergency room. But upon examination, the doctors were alarmed enough to order an emergency cesarean section. Zain was born at 11:29 p.m. on August 13, 1996, all of three pounds. He did not cry.

Zain was transported from the hospital in Bellevue across Lake Washington to Seattle Children’s Hospital with its state-of-the-art Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Anu began her recovery from the difficult birth. I spent the night with her in the hospital and immediately went to see Zain the next morning. Little did I know then how profoundly our lives would change. Over the course of the next couple of years we learned more about the damage caused by in utero asphyxiation, and how Zain would require a wheelchair and be reliant on us because of severe cerebral palsy. I was devastated. But mostly I was sad for how things turned out for me and Anu.

Nadella writes that his wife’s reaction to Zain’s birth was very different from his. “For Anu, it was never about what this meant for her — it was always about what it meant for Zain and how we could best care for him,” he writes. “Rather than asking “why us?” she instinctually felt his pain before her own.”

He continues: “Watching her in those first few days, weeks and beyond taught me a lot. Over time, Anu helped me understand that nothing had happened to me or to her, but something had happened to Zain. As his parents, it was up to us not to question “why,” but instead to do everything we could to improve his life. Anu is an amazing woman, mother and partner. Her empathy for others runs deep, and from her I have learned that when I infuse empathy into my every day actions it is powerful, whether they be in my role as a father or as a CEO. She inspires me with her willingness to share more about her journey as a mom in the hope it can help others.”

The Nadellas got married in 1992. Besides Zain, they have two daughters, Tara and Divya.

Hit Refresh: The Quest to Rediscover Microsoft’s Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone was published last month.