With 1.5 million readers a month, Heather Armstrong's website, Dooce.com, might very well be the most popular personal blog on the Internet. Dooce began in 2001 and rose to infamy after Armstrong became one of the first bloggers fired for writing about her employer on the Internet. But now that she is a self-employed, stay-at-home mother, most of her entries are about her family. In 2004 Armstrong gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Leta, and she used her blog to chronicle her pregnancy, postpartum depression, and all the little things that no one bothers to tell new mothers until it's too late. It Sucked and Then I Cried is a memoir of the first nine months of her daughter's life, Armstrong's first nine months as a mother, and the mental breakdown she had because of it. Armstrong talked to TIME about her blog, her baby, and why no one ever told her that being a new mother was hard.
Okay, so the part about labor terrified me. Is it really that bad?
Let me put it this way: I remember being in a certain point in labor and the pain is almost too much to bear. My mom is there, and my sister, and my sister-in-law and they've each had multiple children. I turn to them and say, "Does it get worse than this?" And they look at each other and say, "Don't tell her. No no no, don't tell her." And they all shake their heads and they won't tell me it's about to get worse even though I'm in the thick of it. It was almost like this conspiracy. This initiation into motherhood. (See the best and worst moms of all time.)
Then does it get better once you have the baby?
It only gets worse. I spent so much of my time worrying about labor, and yes, the pain was awful, but after a while it's over. But then you have to live with what it does to your body afterwards. Breastfeeding hurts. Going to the bathroom hurts. Other things hurt. And you're tired and your clothes don't fit right and it takes a long time to go back to normal. I wish someone had told me, "Those first three weeks after labor are going to be the worst three weeks of your life. They're going to be physically the most unbearable pain you've ever lived through."
What had you been told when you were pregnant that turned out not to be true?
There's once piece of advice that people love to give and I'd seriously love for it to be outlawed. Parents go, "Oh, you'll be fine, you'll just sleep when the baby sleeps." I remember Leta being about two months old and someone said that to me. I almost punched her in the face. It's not possible. She'd take a cat nap and wake up in 15 minutes later, how am I supposed to sleep for exactly those 15 minutes?
Why are people upset about breastfeeding versus bottle-feeding?
People are so upset. You read these baby books and they tell you, "You don't bottle-feed. It's something you just don't do anymore. Women across the centuries across the millennia have been feeding people with their boobs! You should be able to do it! You should sacrifice everything that you are to do this for your child, don't you understand?" That's seriously what they say. There is a cult of people out there who dedicate their lives to making sure the creed of breastfeeding is out there. Yes, it is very healthy for your child. Yes, it's a bonding experience between you and your child. Yes, it helps you lose the baby weight. But it's also very, very difficult for a lot of women. It makes me angry that women are made to feel guilty if they can't do it.
You suffered from terrible postpartum depression. What was that like?
It was this constant state of panic, of me thinking that the world was going to end and I was going to die homeless and naked on the street. I suffer from depression, but this was different. What I'd experienced before was sort of a low humming that's always there but manageable. Postpartum depression was an all-out panic. You're suddenly responsible for another human being. Normally you'd cope by sleeping, but you cant do that. (Read TIME's 1992 article about drug therapy for depression.)
Your daughter is five now, do you have any limits on what you will and will not say about her on the Internet?
My boundaries have completely shifted now that she's older. In the beginning I was simply chronicling what every parent goes through. Most children's stories between the ages of 0-3 are really similar. Everyone's screaming and crying and pooping, it's the universal story of living. But as Leta becomes more unique, a real person, I find myself more and more guarded about what I will and will not share about her. If there ever comes a time when she asks me to stop writing about her, I would absolutely do that.
Does she know about your blog?
She does! I'll read what I post to her and she's really bored with it. It's like, "Uh, you wrote about me again? Whatever mom."
Your blog is enormously popular. It supports your entire family and is your main source of income. Is that weird?
Sometimes, when I think about it. I'll go to a Bruce Springsteen concert and there will be 30,000 people in the audience and I'll think, multiply that by 50 and that's how many people are reading my website. It's very strange to conceptualize because I very rarely meet them in person. When I do it's humbling. (See the 25 best blogs of 2009.)
So basically, having a baby sucked. But now you're pregnant again.
I am. I'm 28 weeks along.
You're going to do it all over?
Yes I am! I want to practice my new skills! I've learned so much. I think it will be a completely different experience. The first time, I was reluctant to ask for help because I thought that meant I was a failure. As a new mother everything you do is like, "Did I screw up? Am I a failure? I'm a failure, aren't I?" But I can ask for help better than anyone now.
Is having a baby worth all of this pain?
Definitely. Even during the darkest, bleakest, worst part of it I still had this beautiful chubby, delicious baby that I never knew I could love so much. I remember the noises she's make and her smell and the way she's sit up. I would never trade Leta for anything, but it's still very hard. Everyone tells you that having a new baby is the most awesome, memorable experience and you'll never be the same again and it's true, you won't be, but not in the way that you think.