Shari Lloyd & Jenni Pirtle

Beyond "Baby Blues"

Jenni (left) and Shari (right)

The scene is typical; three women enjoying a cup of coffee at Starbucks over their lunch break, smiling, gesturing with animation, admiring each others' accessories. I had never met Shari Lloyd or Jenni Pirtle before, but they talked to me as dear friends would. Meeting these two vibrant, chatty, bubbly women, you'd never know that within the past few years, they've gone through the toughest struggle of their lives: post-partum depression. After giving birth, they both felt inexplicably anxious, overwhelmed, and insomnious, a drastic dichotomy between their post-baby selves and their normal selves. They waged and won their battles, and now strive to ensure that no woman ever feels like they did.

Shari gave birth to her daughter Sophia in September 2006 and immediately knew something was wrong. She didn't feel like herself, but when she sought help from her doctor, her inquiries yielded no results. "There were no local resources for me, and I didn't know what was happening," Shari said. She went online to look for information and discovered the Ruth Rhoden Craven Foundation, founded by Helena Bradford whose daughter suffered and died from post-partum depression. Helena advised Shari on medical treatments and helped her overcome post-partum depression. Helena recognized Shari's munificence and encouraged her to become an area coordinator for Post-partum Support International, or PSI.

Fast forward to February 2009 when Jenni Pirtle welcomed her son, John. Just as Shari experienced, Jenni innately knew that something didn't feel right. The anxiety and aimlessness overwhelmed Jenni. Her husband and family searched for help and found Shari and PSI. When Shari met Jenni, "It was like looking at a mirror," Shari said. They both had complications with their pregnancies- c-sections, a history of miscarriages, and stress throughout the pregnancy. Shari recognized the feelings Jenni described, and how she felt lost and purposeless. "You wonder if you will ever feel like yourself again," Jenni explained adding, "and why every other mother is so happy and put together. But for a first-time mom, it's hard to know what to do." Neither woman had any history of depression, making recognizing the problem difficult. "Shari reassured me that I wasn't crazy and that I wasn't alone," Jenni remembered. Post-partum depression can afflict anyone, with any pregnancy, and often women are embarrassed to say anything because they don't want to seem selfish or unhappy.

Shari and Jenni emphasized that post-partum depression is not just the "baby blues". "It's an actual, physiological thing. It's a hormonal, chemical imbalance," they explained. The imbalance can be antagonized by overwhelming environmental factors, but through progesterone treatments, antidepressants, and a slew of holistic treatment options, every case of post-partum depression is completely curable. "If we can stress one thing, it's that post-partum depression is totally treatable."

Which is why they've begun the Willows Breeze Foundation, a foundation for local women and their families dealing with post-partum depression. "We're new, but we want people to think of us if they know someone with a problem." Right now, Willows Breeze has a lending library and a 24-hour hotline for calls. They have also stocked local hospitals and OB-GYN offices with literature about post-partum depression. "We want to be the first responders if someone has an issue," Jenni said, "We want to help the woman and the family understand what is going on." Willows Breeze also works with the nurses at Hilton Head Hospital, who have been instrumental in ensuring that at-risk new mothers have the information they need. Upon receiving a referral, they immediately contact and visit the woman. They bring literature so she and her family can understand what is happening, but their biggest gift is unconditional support and understanding.

When asked how their struggle has impacted their outlook on life, Shari explained, "We appreciate our children even more because of our struggle. It was so worth it. We can't imagine our lives without them." In addition, Jenni added, "It's not a coincidence that God chose us, because He knew we would do something with it afterwards."

Up Close:

Common Symptoms of PPD: **
Feeling sad, irritable, very anxious,  irregular sleeping, trouble concentrating, remembering things, or making decisions. Loss of interest in caring for yourself or eating. Frequent crying. Showing too much (or not enough) concern for the baby. Feeling as if you are "out of control" or "going crazy."

If you or someone you know fits this description,
please seek medical help immediately.

Willows Breeze Postpartum Foundation -
24-hour contact: 843-301-5933 or 843-298-2402

Postpartum Support International

Hotline: 1-800-944-4773 .

**From the US Department of Health and Human Services and Postpartum Support International