Heather B. Armstrong is kinda like the Howard Stern of mommy bloggers. Visitors flock to her website dooce.com to see the former Mormon turn everyday life in Salt Lake City into an uproarious rant in which few topics are spared -- and no one is left unscathed.
Her devoutly Mormon parents are frequent targets. As are Republicans. Potty humor is big too, whether it’s a pregnant Armstrong trying to empty her bladder in a cramped airplane bathroom or her daughter’s love of the word “poop.” But mostly Armstrong invites the world to watch just how much life has changed for a website designer, live music lover and early-adapter-of-all-things-Web who is now a wife to the saintly Jon and stay-at-home mom to daughter Leta. (Two dogs, Coco and Chuck, have become celebrities in their own right.)
Armstrong has also used that evolution to cast a spotlight on her years-long bout with crippling depression and how medication made it all better. Her new book, “It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita,” chronicles her decision to stop taking drugs so that she could become pregnant and her struggles to adapt to motherhood as well as her subsequent descent into postpartum depression. She held off returning to her pre-pregnancy medications because she wanted to continue breast-feeding her daughter -- and did so, until the pangs of anxiety became so disturbing that she feared harming herself, or her family.
“I thought about suicide every day during those months. I thought about how I would do it; perhaps I would hang myself with the dog’s leash, or maybe I’d grab every single pill we had in the cabinet and drown them with a couple shots of tequila. I wanted to do something, anything to stop the pain,” she writes.
Ultimately Armstrong checks herself into a mental institution and credits it with saving her life, giving her time to focus on herself and allow a doctor to supervise the administration of a powerful drug cocktail that worked almost immediately: “I felt a difference within two hours, and if you ask Jon he will tell you that when he saw me that afternoon he saw Heather for the first time in seven months, not that awful woman who liked to throw keys at his head.”
In the book, like her blog, Armstrong is remarkably at ease with portraying herself in an unflattering light. Letting it all hang out on dooce.com led to Armstrong’s firing years ago -- after she wrote some unflattering things about her workplace and her boss. But that dismissal -- which pinged its way around the Web -- only helped boost her following when she returned to blogging and never looked back. (No wonder. It is estimated that she makes $40,000 a month from her website, enough to allow St. Jon to quit his day job and manage his wife’s empire.)
She uses her blog to fly in the face of convention, empowering women -- parents -- to raise their families according to their own rules. She’s increasingly gaining a platform as the media’s go-to quote on “Mommy 2.0,” whether it’s how new moms can use social networking to feel less isolated or the controversy surrounding early childhood vaccinations.
She gets plenty of flak for her outspokenness, and she routinely bars comments on particular blog posts that she knows will bring out the crazies -- the folks who harshly criticize her decision to blog so openly about her child, how she treats St. Jon and even how she chose to treat her own depression. (Armstrong gives as good as she gets -- some of her best posts round up the more outlandish comments she’s received and give her the chance to have the last laugh.)
The uninitiated won’t have any trouble keeping up with “I Cried,” which is written in the same casual style of the blog, and with her amusing use of punctuation and the caps lock key to convey a sense of two girlfriends talking to each other over a Starbucks. Some fans, though, might be disappointed that the book so closely echoes the blog. (There’s already some grousing in the blogosphere that the book feels like a “best of” dooce.com.)
Oddly, “I Cried” can feel too hesitant when it comes to discussing the depths of Armstrong’s depression, like it had to be dragged out of her. Even though it’s signaled throughout, the darkening cloud still feels like it comes out of nowhere, descends and is just as quickly cast away by the all-knowing doctor. In the acknowledgments, there is a line that suggests what might have been left out: “Thanks to my father . . . especially for being willing to believe that what I went through was real.”
Equally real is the tangible, LOL-way in which Armstrong writes about love -- love for her husband, love for her family, her sanity and, most of all, her surprise at how much her love for a little girl named Leta has affected her. Another acknowledgment that did not make the book: Another daughter is on the way.