Heather Armstrong on Parenting, PPD, and Her Love for Brad Pitt

Filed under: Books for Parents

Heather B. Armstrong

By now, you probably know the back story: In 2001, Heather Armstrong started a blog she called Dooce (after her repeated and much-mocked typo for "dude") where she wrote about things like her love of Carnation milk and her boss. A year later, after the boss found her site, Armstrong was fired from her job, a move that brought the word "dooced" into the slang vernacular ("getting fired because of something that you wrote in your weblog").

These days, Dooce.com is one of the web's most popular personal blogs, with an average of 5 million readers each month, and Armstrong, a former Mormon who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, is one of the most recognizable faces in the blogosphere. She is also mom to a 5-year-old daughter, Leta, and is awaiting the birth of her second child, also a daughter, due in June. And she's written a New York Times bestseller, It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, A Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita, which chronicles her struggle with post-partum depression.

Armstrong's book, which draws heavily on posts from her blog, was inspired by the response of readers who followed the story of her post-baby breakdown. "I got a lot of emails from women who said, 'Thanks for writing this, my sister doesn't really use the Internet, can I print out what you wrote and send it to her?'" Armstrong says. "I thought, there's probably an audience of women who need this story."

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Armstrong herself had no support system when Leta was born in 2004. "I didn't have the village, or even the neighborhood, to come take the kid so I could sleep," she says. Her husband, Jon, was working full time and Armstrong was alone with her daughter and her fears. "I felt like asking for help was an admission of failure," she says, and so she didn't. But then in August of 2004, when Leta was 6 months old, Armstrong checked herself into a psychiatric ward because her anxiety was making it impossible for her to function. At the time, she wrote on her blog: "I have to believe that going to the hospital is at least going to let me clear my head, or that it may actually provide an answer. I have to believe in something right now because I don't feel like I have any hope. This anxiety is so painful, and I don't see an end to it."

Celebrity Parent Quotes

    "The key to beauty is always to be looking at someone who loves you. Henry, who can't say all the words...sometimes he'll see me and go, "Ma-ma!" and throw himself on me. Or Finn says he likes my earrings. Or Hazel will say, "You look pretty, Mama," first thing in the morning...They're seeing the things that [my husband] does.

    The coolest thing you can do for your children is to love each other in their presence." -
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    "I'm like an alcoholic. It's like, I don't care if I cry, I don't care if I'm fat, I'm just gonna do it for one more week, one more month, and then, when I see how much good it is doing her, I can't stop. It's a very powerful thing you know."
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    "My first job in all honesty is going to continue to be mom-in-chief," she said, "making sure that in this transition, which will be even more of a transition for the girls ... that they are settled and that they know they will continue to be the center of our universe."
    Michelle Obama

    "I think I'm a pretty cool dad."
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    "There is no such thing as 'fun for the whole family.'"
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    "Sometimes I end up having to wipe my son's nose on my shirt, so it can't be silk and cost $800."
    Keri Russel

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    "I think our kids will look back on all that as being really funny when they get older, because they think of us as being really dorky -- in fact, the dorkiest people on the planet! We are very much just parents together, although we have moments of being sexy and fun, and I do find him very sexy, obviously. I believe we are together for all the other reasons."
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    "Giving birth is like taking your lower lip and forcing it over your head."
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    "We found a great rhythm. Contractions started kicking in. I sat there with her, right between her legs. We got tribal on it, we danced to it! I was DJ-ing this Brazilian music."
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This time, though, Armstrong is confident that things will be different. "I feel so much more ready for it," Armstrong says of the post-baby anxiety. "I have put physical things in place in my offline life" to prevent the collapse that followed Leta's birth. The biggest change this time around is that Armstrong's husband, Jon, will be working from home rather than driving away to an office every day. "There's an actual physical person who will be in my house with me," Armstrong says. "I'm not scared at all."

Having her husband at home has been the biggest payoff of Armstrong's blogging success. In September of 2005, Jon Armstrong quit his job; since then, he has helped Heather manage the website. But Armstrong loves having her husband work at home for more personal reasons. "It's given my husband a chance to have a relationship with our daughter that he wouldn't have had," she says. Armstrong's success as a writer and blogger has given her family an opportunity that few have, to be together all the time, and has allowed her husband to be a full-time father to their daughter. For Armstrong, that matters more than anything.

What fascinates Dooce readers more than anything, though, is the financial success of Armstrong's blog. Last week, Oprah Winfrey announced that Armstrong earns $40,000 a month on the advertising at her web site. Armstrong calls this number "inaccurate" and "grossly inflated," and says that the talk of her earnings is her least favorite part of her work. "It's no one's business," Armstrong says, adding, "it's not polite to talk about money where I come from." But she understands the fascination with her earnings; blogging, she says, is a new medium, and "If that number is real, then holy shit!" What is the most remarkable, of course, is that Armstrong has made a career -- and a successful one -- out of writing about her family, telling the same stories that all mothers tell about their babies. Her success, both as a blogger and as an author, validates all those stories in ways that nothing else does.

For Armstrong, blogging isn't about being famous or making a living; it's about telling a story. "I come from a long line of Southern storytellers who like to sit around and make each other laugh. This was the perfect medium," she says. "I am so lucky to be able to do that for a living; it's one of the greatest joys in my life to be able to do that. I imagine sitting around with my family and trying to make my brother laugh, because he has this great laugh."

Leta's birth morphed Armstrong from cutting edge blogger to mom blogger overnight, much to the dismay of some Dooce readers, who vocally expressed their displeasure. These days, Armstrong says, her readers are primarily women; based on turnout during her recent book tour, lots of those women are pregnant. "I signed someone's belly in Seattle," she says with a laugh. But while Heather Armstrong may be the Internet's most famous mommy blogger, she's not handing out parenting advice. "I only give parenting advice when people ask me," she says, "because I wanted to punch people in the face when they gave me advice." What's the worst advice she ever got? "Oh all you need to do is sleep when they sleep! It does not happen that way. You get to a point where that kid doesn't take but a fifteen minute catnap," she says, slipping into her famous Southern drawl.

What about the best advice? Still laughing, Armstrong admits that her favorite piece of parenting advice came from Brad Pitt. "They had just brought Zahara home," she says, and she read an interview with Pitt, who said "Here's the thing with kids; you've got to give them warning." That little piece of wisdom was the key, Armstrong says. "I don't know why we hadn't though about that before," she says, "it changed our lives." They give Leta, now five, a heads up for everything, and life goes smoothly. "I have a huge place in my heart for Brad Pitt, and not just because he's so sexy," Armstrong confesses.

As she looks forward to the arrival of her new baby, Armstrong says that her biggest concern is "folding her into my work schedule." That, and naming the baby. "I would tell you what we're naming her, but Jon hasn't made up his mind. We're going to be that couple who leaves the hospital with an unnamed baby. I can't believe we're going to be that couple," Armstrong laughs.

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