At first blush, Heather Armstrong is a potty-mouthed, in-your-face Internet star. She has turned her humorous musings at Dooce.com, a blog she started eight years ago, into a bona fide financial success. Her posts have ranged from complaining about her computer-programming job - from which she was then fired - to her Mormon upbringing and her neurotic attempts to conceive a child with her husband, Jon.
But she has also become an outspoken survivor of post-partum depression. Blog readers came to know of her breakdown after the birth of her first child, Leta; Ms. Armstrong even chronicled her stay in a mental hospital.
In her new memoir, It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown and a Much Needed Margarita, she revisits those days with a searingly funny, yet poignant, look at how she came through the other side. We caught up with Ms. Armstrong, now pregnant with baby girl No. 2, at home in Salt Lake City, Utah.
One of the things that draws women to your site is that you're great on the indignities of pregnancy. There are so many of them.One of your latest entries is all about the challenges of using airline and airport bathrooms while on your book tour. Have you sorted yourself out?
I got four different e-mails from four very separate women who said they got to this point in pregnancy and had to be rushed to the emergency and be catheterized because they couldn't pee. I said, "Please don't tell me that!"
You thought the blog might wind down when you got pregnant the first time, but it didn't. Was there just too much good material?
I really thought that I was going to give it up because there was going to be no way I was going to have the time to do it. I remember trying to write my last post in my head, my farewell to the blogosphere, because I've got more important things to do, like raise my child. Then, I found writing about the experience was so helpful in figuring out how to articulate what was good about it and what was frustrating about it and getting through it. There were many days in the months after my daughter was born that my husband would call me from work and say, "I just read your website and I had no idea you were feeling this way." I'd say, "I didn't either."
One of the topics you were most honest about was your post-partum depression. Had some of your trademark humour come from not wanting to let on just how badly you were feeling?
Absolutely. I joke about Utah having more children per capita than anywhere else in the world. You're surrounded by very blond and pretty and thin and happy moms. And I just wasn't. Making fun of myself was a way for me to feel better. There were days when the crying never ended. The sound of my daughter crying made me physically ill and was preventing bonding from taking place. Part of breastfeeding was that as magical as it was, it really tore me down. She would only eat at night. I was very worried about my milk drying up. I peeled away the snarkiness and the sarcasm to say, "I can't sleep. I am not enjoying this. I haven't bonded with my daughter and I want to kill myself."How did your readers respond?
People telling me that I wasn't weird for the way I was feeling - that was part of the encouragement for me to check myself into the hospital and take care of myself. This sea of strangers whose faces I've never seen and probably never will see are responsible for saving my life.
You chronicled most of this on the blog. Did you have the urge to pull back?
When my therapist and my husband were telling me I was going to end up in the hospital, I remember thinking: I can't end up in hospital, because I have 30,000 readers who are going to think I'm insane - that can't happen. When it came to that, and I was going to be gone for four days inside a locked facility, I decided to write about it and see what happened. If everybody stops reading me, well, my sanity is more important.
After a horrible first night on a mental-illness ward, you met a good doctor.
He put his pen down and said, "I don't want you to think you're not special, because you're special, but I've seen the clenched hands, the look in your eyes. I have seen this a hundred times over. I have a cocktail that works. Let's try it."Your recovery was quite quick.
People don't believe me. They gave me very large doses of medicine. The medicine he gave me would sedate a whole herd of bison. But I was in such a state that it allowed me to sit still for the first time in seven months. My husband came to lunch two hours after I had taken the medication. I was a different person.
So, do you feel more equipped with baby No. 2?
There's so much more that I know about. If she doesn't eat for three hours, I'm not going to die; she's not going to die. My milk isn't going to dry up. ...I'm very excited to bring this baby home and say, "Look at the skills that I have! I am a master!" People ask me about how I'm ready to go through this again. I say, "I have this five-year-old who knows how to tell jokes. That is so worth it."