Sunday, October 11, 2009

Barren B*tches Book Brigade: "It Sucked and then I Cried" by Heather B. Armstrong (Dooce)

It's time once again for another session with the Barren B*tches Book Brigade, the ALI (adoption/loss/infertility) community's virtual book club, organized by Melissa at Stirrup Queens. Participants read the same book and each submit a question to Melissa, who compiles & circulates a list of all the questions. We then answer at least three of them in our blog, and post at or around the same time on the same day. Melissa will be (or already has, by the time you read this!) publishing a master list of the participants on her blog, so you can go there & tour around to see what other people thought of the same book.

The selection this time around was "It Sucked and then I Cried," by Heather B. Armstrong, AKA the blogger known as Dooce. I think the first time I heard the name "Dooce" was around the time of the July 2008 BlogHer conference in San Francisco -- when Melissa, Pamela Jeanne, Lori and Monica appeared on a panel to discuss infertility blogging. I was continually searching Google Blog for "BlogHer infertility" that week to see what the lucky bloggers attending the conference had to say about the panel, & it seemed like every other person was writing about attending a session featuring Dooce, or meeting her -- & writing about it in the awestruck tones usually reserved for royalty.

"Who the heck is Dooce?" I thought & so I Googled the name to find out.

And found the blog.

And cracked up.

And added the blog to my reader.

Those who have followed Heather's blog from the beginning, or at least longer than me, might already have known some of the story told in "It Sucked and then I Cried." The cast of characters was familiar to me -- Heather, the wildly funny lapsed Mormon, prone to CAPITALIZING FOR EMPHASIS; Jon, her handsome & patient husband; Leta, her gorgeous & precocious daughter (who was named after Heather's aunt, who died when she was 5 months old); and Chuck the goofy dog, whose daily photo post is among the highlights of my day.

But the book goes back a few years before I started following Heather's story, starting when she met Jon, got pregnant, and then gave birth to Leta. And what happened next -- namely, Heather's struggle with post-partum depression (PPD).

You would think the last thing a childless infertile deadbabymama would want to read would be a book about someone else's pregnancy and baby. And yes, there were a few moments in the book when I rolled my eyes & thought, "Oh, boo-frickin'-hoo" -- right at the start of the book, for example, when she writes:

"Without my pills I was wildly irrational, and when we did not get pregnant THE FIRST MONTH WE STARTED TRYING, I was convinced that it meant I was barren. I saw the single line on the pregnancy test and fell into a giant wad on the floor because all I could imagine was years and years of fertility treatments that would never work, and if they did work it wouldn't be until I was sixty. And then we'd have quadruplets. And they'd all have fourteen toes. Because I wasn't good enough." (pp. 4-5)
Yeah, right. Cry me a river, lady. (And welcome to my world.)

But I forgave her and read on. Because (a) she's damned funny (even the above passage, I'll admit, had the corners of my mouth twitching, even as my eyes were rolling), & (b) I was interested in her story.

Some questions & my answers:

Dooce talks about her postpartum depression in the book and what it took for her to fight it, what are your thoughts on that and your experiences, if any, with postpartum depression?

One of the main reasons why I was interested in this book was that she was going to address her issues of postpartum depression, which I struggled through with both my children. I found her frank style dealing with this issue very helpful and I could relate to her distress. Have you or some one you know dealt with PPD or depression? How did the author’s experience resonate with you?

I did not have PPD. I just experienced the typical postpartum grief that one would expect of a stillbirth mother (if there is such a thing). (Although it's entirely possible for deadbabymamas to have PPD.) But a few years after Katie's stillbirth, at the end of my infertility journey, I was stricken with anxiety.

Looking back, I can see that I've had anxious tendencies ever since I was a kid -- and the events of the past 11 years have only exacerbated them. Sometimes my mind will get stuck in a groove, like the stereo needle on a worn-out vinyl LP. I start to worry about something & it will gnaw at me for days & even weeks. Health issues, in particular. Over the past 10 years, with the help of Dr. Google, I have diagnosed myself with all sorts of maladies -- cancer in particular (colon, ovarian, brain, esophagal, melanoma...). It almost always turns out to be nothing, or something very common & treatable (skin tags, hemorrhoids, gallstones....!)

But going back to my first full-blown anxiety attack: It was late May/early June 2001. I was 40 years old & had just gotten a Big Fat Negative on my third and final IUI with injectables. Dh & I had agonized ever step of the way along our infertility journey, about just how far we were going to go with this thing. Predictably, perhaps, I was more gung-ho than he was to push ahead & take advantage of all that science had to offer. We wound up seeing an infertility counsellor who suggested setting a limit & then stopping (or at least re-evaluating). We agreed to three. And this was it. Done. No more pregnancies for us. Ever.

While wrapping my head around this, I started obsessing that I had OHSS. (Long story short: I did not.) A couple of weeks after AF crashed my party, I was having lunch with my college roommate who, conveniently, works in the office tower directly across the street from mine. It had been her birthday a few weeks earlier, & I was treating her at one of our favourite restaurants, in the concourse of the building where dh & I work.

I felt funny that morning. My chest felt constricted. My breathing was shallow and rapid. I thought it might be allergies -- it was that time of year for me. Before I went for lunch, I went into the bathroom, took off my bra & stuffed it into my purse, hoping that would make me feel more comfortable.

I tried to focus on the conversation, but it seemed to take a lot of effort. I was very aware of my back, straight against the upholstery in the booth. I started feeling like I was going to topple over onto the floor. When the bill came, I tried to reach for it & I couldn't move my hand. My girlfriend noticed. "Is something wrong? Are you OK?" she said. "I'm not feeling that well," I said shakily.

Somehow, we managed to pay the bill & walk out into the concourse. We sat on a bench & she lent me her cellphone. I tried calling my RE's office. Could this have anything to do with the drugs I had been taking? Could it be OHSS? Nope, couldn't be, not their problem. If you're feeling bad, go to the hospital. Gee, thanks.

I called dh, who worked in the same office building. He was downstairs in a flash. He loaded me into a taxi & told the driver to take us to my family doctor's office. The ride up Yonge Street seemed to take forever. I can remember breathing heavily & feeling terrified, hanging for dear life onto dh's hand. I was sure I was having a heart attack.

We stumbled into the dr's office. Thankfully, there were no other patients in the waiting room, & the dr was in. "I'm sorry, I don't have an appointment," I sobbed, "But I don't feel so good." In about 10 seconds flat, the nurse and the receptionist had me laying down in an examination room & clapped a blood pressure cuff on my arm. I can remember the nurse reading off the numbers & while I don't remember what they were, the tone of her voice was urgent.

I laid there & sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. The doctor came in, took one look at me and said, "You're having an anxiety attack." He spoke to the receptionst, she left & returned with a pill in her hand. It was an Ativan from her own prescription bottle. I popped it into my mouth under my tongue, as they told me to, & gradually started to feel a fuzziness enveloping me.

Dh explained what we'd recently been through. "Well, no wonder," the doctor said. "That's a major life disappointment."

Dh told him about the fertility drugs I had been taking. The doctor flipped open his drug encyclopedia, checked them out & asked us about dosages. "That's pretty powerful stuff," he said, shaking his head.

As we talked, they kept taking my blood pressure, & it kept falling until it was back to normal levels. They ran an EKG and that was normal too. They even did a cardiac enzyme blood test to humour me. It eventually came back fine.

I left with a prescription for Ativan, which we immediately filled at the drugstore across the street. I had to use it several times over the next week or two. It was almost like I was having aftershocks.

This episode helped to convince me that, yes, we truly were done. If I got this wound up over a mere IUI with injectables, how was I going to handle IVF, with its much larger drug dosages, higher costs and greater emotional pressures?

Things settled down, until March 2002. There was a convergence of many stressors in my life, including several big projects at work. Perhaps worst of all, a woman I knew from work, whom I'd had lunch with and commiserated with over infertility and loss issues, lost her third consecutive pregnancy -- a little boy at 22 weeks. And my mother was coming. I was taking time off while she was here -- we had a trip planned to Montreal, just the two of us, on the train -- & felt like I was rushing to beat the clock, to get all my work projects finished and get my house into some sort of reasonable order. And, perhaps, I was thinking about her spring break visit four years earlier, when I had just learned I was pregnant. How happy we all were. How much had happened since then.

The night before my mother's arrival, I went to bed, but I couldn't sleep. I was all wound up. I started to cry & to shake, violently, like I had the chills & couldn't warm up, even though dh heaped tons of blankets on me. He finally suggested I take an Ativan, & that helped me to calm down and, eventually, go to sleep. The next morning, he stayed home from work (I already had the day off) and we went to a walk in clinic, but they weren't very helpful, beyond suggesting I get my family doctor to prescribe me some Prozac. (When I asked him about it, he said I didn't need Prozac. I didn't really think I needed it either.) When my mother finally arrived on the train that night, I couldn't hide what had happened to me. I told her about as I sat in the back seat with her & sobbed while she hugged me & spoke to me in that soothing voice that mothers use to make everything better (no matter how old you are).

To my amazement, my mother told me me that I probably came by my anxiety quite honestly. She told me there was a period when I was about 9 or 10 when she was having a rough time, emotionally, and took valium. She asked if I remembered how my grandparents had come to stay with us then. My grandparents came to visit at least two or three times a year then, so I honestly didn't remember this particular time. She told me they had given her some money & told her to order herself some new clothes from the Sears catalogue, trying to cheer her up.

She told me my grandmother took Ativan from time to time. I could see that -- my grandmother did tend to fret about things. And she said one of my cousins, a kind-hearted and sensitive soul, struggled with anxiety too.

Somehow I felt better knowing there might be a genetic component to this. (On my dad's side too, when I thought about it, my grandmother as well as my two aunts also tended to be worrywarts.) I still had a few "aftershocks" for the next few days while my mother was there, & we had to cancel our trip to Montreal -- I didn't want to be sick in a strange city. But after that, things slowly started to get better. I went to a therapist for awhile, and took up yoga. I rarely used my Ativan after that, but it was a comfort to me just knowing it was there in my purse if I needed it. I still struggle with anxiety from time to time, and I suspect that at least some if not all of the "food sensitivities/allergies" that gave me so many problems this past spring were anxiety attacks in a slightly different form.

*** *** ***

So that's a long way of saying that yes, Heather's experiences with anxiety, depression and PPD resonated deeply with me. I recognized a lot of myself in her as she lay awake, night after night, waiting for her baby to start crying, unable to turn off the thoughts flooding her brain.

PPD is not something I will discount, even if I've never had it myself. Several years ago, there was an incident in my city that was front-page news for weeks. One morning in August 2000 -- just days after Katie's two-year "anniversary" and in the midst of getting ready for my first IUI with injectables -- a 37-year-old doctor, a first-time mother, left her home in an upscale midtown neighbourhood with her six-month-old baby boy, drove to a nearby subway station, went down to the track level &, cradling her baby, leaped in front of an oncoming train. The baby died instantly; the mother died after nine days in the hospital. It's believed she had stopped taking anti-depressants because she was breast-feeding her son & was afraid they would harm him. They believe she had post-partum psychosis, the most severe form of PPD.

That story haunts me still. I can never hear a story about PPD without thinking of that mother & her baby. I am so glad that Heather sought, & got, the help she needed when she did.

Heather obviously has a very distinctive writing style that comes across in both her blog and her book. What do you think has made Heather such a famous blogger? Her writing style, honesty, or something else? Do you write with the same passion and honesty that Heather does?

I WISH I could write like Heather!! (And there, I used capitals -- so maybe that's a first step, lol.) I think it's a combination of things -- her writing style, her humour, her absolute honesty (especially about herself and her own shortcomings) & her willingness to share the ups and downs of her life with her readers. I keep reading the blog because I want to find out what happens next. She recently gave birth to her second daughter and was candid in talking about how she handled her PPD issues this time around. (And the Daily Chuck photos make my day. I am not much of a pet person, but that dog has personality.)

I was not familiar with this blogger before I read this book. I did like her sense of humor. However, I did not feel like this made me know her or her blog any better. Reading this book, do you find that you want to read her blog, or if you have read her blog, is this is a good representation of her?

Having read the blog before the book, I would say it is a good representation of her and how she writes. The book, obviously, tells more of a whole, coherent story, whereas the blog (like many of our blogs) talks about what's happening in her life from day to day.

What 2-3 specific situations, quotes or stories did you most relate to throughout the book? (I found myself laughing or becoming quite reflective at times because something Heather had written about struck a chord for me and I’m curious if the other readers related to her book in this way).

I think I was most touched by the part of the book set in the mental hospital where Heather had herself committed. I was particularly touched by her descriptions of, and gratitude towards, her doctor:

"He had read my chart -- imagine that! He had done some research! On me! His patient! And within five minutes of talking to me he determined why and how the meds I'd been taking weren't working... I could tell that he wanted to see me get better, and knowing that he cared, even just a little bit, made me feel SO MUCH BETTER." (p. 193)
And a little later:

"At one point in our conversation he set down his pen and paper, paused, and then looked at me and said, "You poor woman. I am so sorry for what you have been through." And I cried. I cried hard. My God, what I had been through." (p. 196)
In my pregnancy loss support group, on blogs & message boards, I hear so many horror stories about doctors and nurses, whose attitudes toward their vulnerable patients seem to range from clueless to indifferent to brusque to criminal. Doctors who have clearly not read the chart before walking into the examining room. Emergency room nurses who have handed buckets to miscarrying women & pointed them toward the bathroom.

Who wouldn't want to have a doctor like Heather's?? Competence combined with empathy -- someone who knows what we've been through and tells us that, no, we're not imagining things, it really does suck that much. That's quite a lethal combination.

Another part of the book that struck a chord in me was the saga of the kitchen renovation. We did a bathroom renovation last fall that was far less uneventful than Heather & Jon's kitchen reno. We had dh's stepbrother do the work for us -- and I wasn't eight months pregnant. But it was a big disruption in our lives nevertheless.

Our kitchen could stand a makeover too -- if not a full-scale renovation, then certainly a refresh (restain the cupboards, change the hardware, do a backsplash, etc.). But after the bathroom reno, I wasn't sure I was up to even that. I'm still not sure I am. Just reading about Heather's reno made me exhausted.

If you are in a relationship right now, do you relate to how Heather talks about her husband, Jon, and what a great father and life partner he is? From what she described about Jon, what qualities do you have or want in your life partner?

I do relate -- because I have a pretty great husband myself. : ) He has his faults, of course, & he has own struggles with anxiety, and sometimes we feed off each other, which is not a good situation. I like to think that I am a pretty strong person and that I can handle a lot of stuff on my own. But whenever I have needed him to take care of me, as in the case of my first major anxiety attack, he has always been there. I knew that childless/free living was an option I could live with, because we already had a pretty good life together before we ever started ttc, and we could still have a wonderful life together with just the two of us. He would have been (he is!) a wonderful father, and I sometimes get sad seeing him having fun with other people's children, knowing that. But we have each other, and that is a lot more than many people have already.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens ( You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.


  1. I've read Dooce for a while now, and I've just ordered this book after reading the BBBB responses.

    Thanks for your insights. I read that passage you highlighted about the empathetic doctor to my husband and it exactly chimed with our experiences too.

  2. It sounds like a great book. Your honesty about what you went through drives home just how strongly these meds and hormones we subject ourselves to can affect us. Great review.

  3. Going to have to get this book now. Dang - how did I miss this tour?

    Anywho . . .

    I've been through PPD - 4 times. The first time was "masked" by going through my first three miscarriages back to back a year after my first son was born - I mean, who wouldn't be "depressed"? The second time (only after my boys too, never my girls) No one then, 2000, really spoke about ppd and so I wasn't really sure what was going on with me. All I knew is I was having some horribly bizarre thoughts, feelings and images and terrified by them. The third time was unimaginably awful and I can't think or talk about even almost 5 years later without a big emotional response. I should have been admitted and I am surprised my doc let me talk her out of it. (You might remember some of that as we were both on SPALS still at the time and that was where I first turned for help.) The 4th time we were prepared - I started meds before the baby was born and I was much more level as a result.

    I am so glad to see your review of a book that deals with this topic. Loss exacerbates PPD and even women who miscarry early on in pregnancy are at risk. I never expected that - personal experience and then personal research taught me that. I wish more people would see this side of PPD rather than the Tom Cruise version of it. Sadly, many people still ascribe to his view on it and dismiss it as "hyterical" female behavior - roll eyes.

    Thank you Lori.

  4. I also participated in the Book Tour and really enjoyed your openness in answering the questions.

    I was even IMPRESSED at your use of capitals! :)

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book and for telling your story. I appreciate it!

  5. I left an award for you on my blog. :)

  6. Thank you for telling these stories about anxiety. I love how you described the thoughts: "Sometimes my mind will get stuck in a groove, like the stereo needle on a worn-out vinyl LP. I start to worry about something & it will gnaw at me for days & even weeks." It is the perfect description.

    And I'll be thinking about that story about the woman who jumped in front of the train for the rest of the night.

  7. I liked the way you describe your first full blown anxiety attack. I had one a while ago--thought I was having a stroke! You describe it very well.

    I found the use of capital letters irritating--like she has to SPELL it out for me. (on the other hand, its very "blog").

    I liked reading your review of the book. Its clear you really liked it.

  8. I loved reading your review of the book and about reading your honest experiences about anxiety. I too am a total worrywart and very anxious. BTW, I left you a kreativ blogger award over on my blog. Thanks for all your writings.

  9. I was just spellbound reading your review. You portrayed your anxiety attack so vividly that I started feeling uncomfortable for you.
    I think you definitely posses a lot of the qualities which makes Dooce such a successful blogger. Thanks for your review. (Especially the boo-frickin-hoo!)

  10. At the boo-hoo part ("xTHE FIRST MONTH WE STARTED TRYING"), I felt like the capitals were actually indicating her self-awareness that it was unreasonable for her to feel upset the first month but that she was upset nonetheless.

    Thanks for sharing your story about post-partum/post-loss anxiety.